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A Tale of Two Thomases

William Shakespeare famously asked “What’s in a name?”[1] Try naming a baby, a new pet, or a company—the challenge to pick the perfect moniker can be daunting. Naming children in Tudor England used to be a bit formulaic: the first son was named after the father, and the first daughter was named her after her mother or grandmother. Younger children would be named after other close relatives of their same sex until every name was used generation after generation. In Agecroft Hall’s history, there have been three main families—the Langleys, the Daunteseys, and the Williams/Mortons. If you look at the Langley family tree, there are enough Roberts and Richards to confuse the best of us, and the Dauntesey family had at least one William per generation. Once in Virginia, only one generation of the Williams (then Morton) family lived at Agecroft Hall. All this name talk is a rather lengthy introduction for two accomplished men named Thomas, both of whom currently “live” at Agecroft Hall. At first they seem to have little in common with one another, but they are linked by similar ambitions. Both men were prominent citizens of their day who chose to be depicted by native painters. Both portraits were painted at times where foreign artists were generally more highly esteemed, but these men placed their faith in their fellow countrymen. Their portraits demonstrate their pride not only in their own talents and accomplishments, but also in those of the artists of their country.


Our first Thomas (chronologically, but not in importance) is Sir Thomas Crompton whose 1590 portrait hangs in the upstairs hallway. He is painted wearing quite an impressive figure-eight ruff, a collar style that was popular for about thirty years starting in 1580. He is depicted wearing clothes suitable for a man of his statue in life. Crompton (c. 1553-1608), was a judge of the admiralty and the first member of Parliament for Oxford University. The painting, by Robert Peake the Elder, is inscribed with Crompton’s age, 37, and the year, 1590.

Peake was considered one of the finest English painters of his generation and was rewarded with an appointment of serjent-painter to King James I/VI. He shared that position with John De Critz. He went on to become a painter for the Prince of Wales, Prince Henry, and after his death at the age of 18, he was painter to Henry’s younger brother, Charles, the future King Charles I. Over the course of his career, he painted a portraits of a number of the members of the royal family. While Crompton had no direct link to Agecroft Hall during his lifetime, he is emblematic of the men who were leading England as the country rose in power and prominence in Europe in the late 16th century. Both politically and artistically, England was coming into its own, and this painting is a testament to English ambitions of the era. We are pleased that the portrait has hung on the walls of Agecroft Hall for the past 34 years.

Our other Thomas, Thomas C. Williams, Jr., had a direct link to Agecroft Hall. Without him, Agecroft would not be standing where it is today. Williams, referred to as T.C. by many and known as Tom to his family, purchased Agecroft Hall, sight unseen, at auction. He then paid to have the manor house dismantled and shipped from its original location in Lancashire, England, across the Atlantic Ocean to its new site in the Windsor Farms neighborhood which Williams was developing into a new suburban community in Richmond, VA. Williams was a businessman with interests in a variety of industries including banking, real estate, and tobacco manufacturing. On the 1910 census, he listed his occupation as “Capitalist” – a term that certainly encompassed his varied business interests. In this portrait, he is appropriately depicted as a businessman in a dark suit and tie. This Thomas portrait hangs in the Williams Library, overlooking his collection of books, many of which he inherited from his father, Thomas C. Williams, Sr.

T. C’s portrait was painted by a Virginia born artist, F. Graham Cootes (1869-1960) who was educated at the University of Virginia and the New York School of Art (known today as Parsons School for Design) in the early 20th century. Afterwards, Cootes opened a studio in New York City and became a popular illustrator and portraitist. His most famous portrait is the one he did for another Virginian, President Woodrow Wilson. That painting is Wilson’s official presidential portrait which resides in the collection of the White House. T.C. Williams could have engaged any number of European or American artists, and so the choice to hire a fellow Virginian speaks to his pride in his Southern heritage. Other individuals named Thomas have lived at Agecroft Hall in various times but, without ‘our’ Thomas, Agecroft Hall would have most likely been demolished where it stood in England, and it most definitely would not have ended up on the banks of the James River in Richmond, VA. Later, his foresight and philanthropy set the foundation for Agecroft to become a cultural attraction for generations after him to enjoy.

In conclusion, while several centuries and an ocean separate our two Thomases, they are undeniably linked not only by their common name, but also by their desire to be remembered as civic minded men of accomplishment. While little of their personalities is revealed in either portrait, we can see the importance they put on professional success and their pride in being respected members of their communities. In addition, each man lived in an era when his country was rising in its prominence on the world stage. Consequently, when it was time to have their portraits made to memorialize their lives, they chose native born artists. They were proud of themselves and their communities, and they wanted to make sure that their legacy would be preserved for future generations. We’re proud that they call Agecroft home.

[1] Romeo and Juliet Act II, Scene 2

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