Historical Object of the Week: Silhouette of Thoreau's Mother Cynthia Dunbar
A weekly look at some of Concord’s most historical items.
The Concord Museum’s collection of more than 250 objects related to Henry David Thoreau includes this 4.5 inch diameter silhouette of his mother Cynthia Dunbar.
She had her silhouette taken, as did her mother and stepfather possibly on the same occasion, about 1804-1806 by Boston profile-taker William King. All three silhouettes are in the Museum’s collection.Cynthia was about 17 when the silhouette was made. She attended Bridgewater Academy in southeastern Massachusetts, about 20 miles inland from Plymouth.
A needlework mourning picture in the Concord Museum collection was worked by Cynthia in 1804. In 1812, Cynthia married John Thoreau in Concord. They had four children, Helen, John Jr., Henry, and Sophia. Mrs. Thoreau belonged to the Bible Society, the Female Charitable Society, and was a founding member of the Concord Anti-Slavery Society. The silhouette descended from Mary Moody Emerson through the family of Mrs. Leander Gage and was a gift to the Museum in 1939.
To learn more about the Concord Museum’s Thoreau collection, read An Observant Eye: The Thoreau Collection at the Concord Museum, by David F. Wood, available at the Concord Museum Shop.