George Eskridge, c. 1715
This portrait is significant for its unusually early date, its provenance that firmly identifies the sitter, and the political prominence of George Eskridge (d. 1735). The canvas is dated by an inventory of the sitter's estate that also lists a portrait of his wife Rebecca, who died in 1715, a terminus ad quem for the pair of paintings. These canvases remained in the Eskridge family until they were given to the Society nearly a century ago. For thirty years, from 1705 to 1735, George Eskridge served with distinction in the House of Burgesses. He was appointed to important committees—Public Claims, Propositions and Grievances, Courts of Justice, Elections and Priviledges—and often was selected to prepare bills for the House and convey, in writing, the views of the House to the governor, his Council, or London.
Eskridge's elegant dress and impressive wig were expected accoutrements of the emerging gentry of the colony. Unlike many of his contemporaries in England and his successors in Virginia, he is not, however, presented as a haughty aristocrat, but instead is shown to be concerned with other matters. To judge from the contents of his library, those were intellectual and spiritual. Eskridge collected some two dozen books about law, nearly a dozen on world history, and twice that number of religious treatises. The sober, thoughtful reader of those volumes is captured here on canvas. It is little wonder that so capable and solemn a man was selected by Mary Hewes (by means of her will) to provide "tutelage"] for her soon-to-be-orphaned daughter, Mary Ball, later the mother of George Washington. By Eskridge family tradition, Mary Ball named her son out of devotion to George Eskridge.