The Puzzle of the No Longer Missing Portrait
One of the more interesting personalities among my distant ancestors and relatives certainly is Dr. Amos Pollard, head surgeon of the garrison at the Alamo, who perished with the rest of the defenders on 6 March 1836. Amos was born 29 October 1803, with the location usually given as Ashburnham, Worcester County, Massachusetts, even though the birth is not found listed in the published vital records of Ashburnham. His birth is recorded in Surry, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, where it is generally agreed that he grew up. The Surry record is a transcription made in 1905 of some earlier record. His father, Jonas Pollard, moved from his birth place of Ashburnham to Surry sometime around 1808 by most accounts. Mentions of him in town records of Ashburnham are known from 1802 and 1804, where he was at times appointed as hog reeve and to the school committee. Jonas later appears in town records from Surry from at least 1816 to 1822, often as a town selectman.
Amos studied medicine at the Castleton Medical College in Castleton, Vermont, founded in 1818. He graduated from the three year course of study in 1825, after which he practiced in Boston and New York City. New York City directories list him at several different addresses in Manhattan from 1828 until 1834. However, a letter he wrote in February of 1835 to the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison in Boston, editor of the Liberator, and published in that newspaper in May of 1835, states he had been in Texas for eightteen months, putting his arrival there about August of 1833. In that same letter, he mentioned practicing in both Boston and New York City.
He married Fanny Parker 26 October, (1828) in Landgrove, Vermont (although one record, apparently a later transcription of the original, gives the year as 1820. A second record, in a different Familysearch database, gives the year as 1828). His residence is listed as New York City. They had one daughter named Fanny, possibly with the middle name Oella. Her birth date is not known, but she was likely born in New York City. His wifes death is given variously as 1831, 1834, or sometime after his death at the Alamo. She is buried in Landgrove, VT, and the date on the gravestone is 14 April 1834. The stone also lists her age as 24 and birth year as 1810. However, her birth date is known to be 29 November 1806, so the stone must be wrong on either her age or the year of death. Regarding the fate of their daughter Fanny Oella, one source, Maurice J.Pollard, The History of the Pollard Family in America, 1960, 1964, says she died about 1907 but he is mistaken about that.
There is no clear information as to whether Amos & Fanny's daughter, Fanny Oella, was ever in Texas in those early years. She may have just remained in New York and then Vermont, either with her mother or her mother's family, depending on just when her mother died. What is known is that Fanny O. Pollard married Josiah Wilder in Weston, Vermont on 6 February 1850. Their first daughter, Fanny Oella Wilder, was born in Weston on 27 August 1850. According to another very dilligent Amos Pollard researcher, Ann Dennis of Texas, somewhere in the first few months of 1851, the family traveled to Galveston, Texas, in order to pursue a claim for monies owed to Dr. Amos Pollard for his service to Texas at the Alamo. Their second daughter, Emma Jane, was born in Galveston on 7 February 1852. Tragically, both parents and Emma died in the fall of 1853 in the Yellow Fever epidemic that swept Galveston. Fanny Oella survived. Her grandfather, John Wilder, father of Josiah, traveled to Texas and brought her back to Vermont. There she went to live with her uncle and aunt in Brattleboro, Ranselure W. Clarke and Lucy Wilder Clarke. Lucy died in 1864, and Ranselure married her sister Susan Oella Wilder in 1868. Fanny Oella Wilder, who was also sometimes known as Oella Clarke, never married. It appears that she lived in the household of Ranselure Clarke until her death in 1902. She was enumerated with him in the 1860, 1870, and 1880 US censuses. Sometime after 1880 they apparently moved to Hornellsville, Steuben County, New York. Ranselure died there in 1899 and Fanny in 1902. There are also records of Ranselure's daughter, Mary, marrying one Milo M. Acker from there in 1890, in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Of particular interest is the location of a portrait of Amos Pollard done before his death at the Alamo, probably in Boston or New York. He is one of only four defenders for which such a portrait is known (the others being Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, and William Travis). According to Maurice J.Pollard, Fanny Oella Pollard willed the painting to her cousin (although he mistakenly says second cousin) Fanny Oella Chafin. She was the daughter of Amos sister Betsey Almira, who married Samuel Evans Chafin. Fanny Oella Chafin in turn willed it to Ruth Chafin (Stockman) Johnson, daughter of Fanny Oella Chafins sister Eleanor M. Chafin, married to George Charles Stockman in Walworth, Wisconsin. Ruth Chafin Johnson and her husband, Edward Hjalmar Johnson lived in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where the painting was said to be hanging in their living room in 1932 (Maurice Pollard).
Clearly, the sequence of bequests described by Maurice Pollard was in error, as Fanny O. Pollard Wilder had died in 1853. It was actually Fanny Oella Wilder (alias Oella Clarke) who passed on the painting of her grandfather. Most likely, the painting remained in New York and/or Vermont when Dr. Pollard went to Texas, or it must surely have been lost. Fanny Wilder was likely able to take possession of it in Vermont when she reached legal age. According to Ann Dennis, Fanny may have asked her cousin, Mary Clarke Acker, to give the portrait to Fanny Oella Chafin, in order to get the portrait back to the Pollard side of the family. The second transfer, from Fanny Chafin to Ruth Chafin Stockman Johnson then probably took place as Maurice Pollard described in his book.
The final part of the story is that the original portrait was given to the Alamo by Ruth Stockman Johnson. Ms. Dennis has seen letters and newspaper articles in the library of the Alamo describing the bequest of the portrait. At one time, it was on display in the Alamo, along with the portraits of Crockett, Bowie, and Travis. Apparently there were moisture problems in the area of display, resulting in the removal of the portraits from public view, as noted by this writer on two visits, in 1997 and again in 2014. On the 2014 visit, the reconstructed Alamo hospital room did have an illustration of what it might have looked like during the seige, and the face of Dr. Pollard was clearly copied from that in his portrait.
Sources for all the above information can be found at the following website:
Prepared 24 September 2019; Updated 10 September 2021