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It was an unusual assignment for famed Philadelphia portrait artist Thomas Sully.

So unusual, in fact, that Lynda Cain, the co-head of Freeman’s Auctions American department, thought that the portrait might not even be a Sully when she first saw it.

That stylistic variation – the slight differences and overall manner – might be easily explained by one thing: It was a portrait of a deceased person.

Anne Caroline Coleman’s story is one well known to many Lebanon Countians.

Hers is the story of Lebanon’s brush with the only Pennsylvanian president.

Hers is also the story of the most tragic romance of a family that left an unmatched imprint on Lebanon.

It’s a story that in some ways ended on Dec. 9, 1819, when Coleman took a lethal dose of laudanum – whether this was an an act of suicide or simply a mistake in dosage remains debated. But a couple things are agreed upon: Lebanon lawyer James Buchanan was the other half of the tragedy, and was blamed by the family for Coleman’s death. His love for Coleman would linger the rest of his days. And the other: Coleman’s story was sadly in other ways just beginning.

Read More: Our town: A love story lost in time

Sully began the portrait of Miss Anne Caroline Coleman on Jan. 11, 1820, less than a month after her death. He finished it Jan. 28, 1820.

“This was an interesting portrait because it was done posthumously so the family must have asked him to do that from sketches or earlier portraits,” said Cain.

The portrait was put up for auction through the Morris-Rawle Family Collection. It is thought to have gotten there by way of Daisy Elizabeth Brooke Grubb, the last member of the family to live at Lancaster’s Mount Hope Estate, who Cain said collected family and regional artifacts avidly and had a keen interest in her family’s past and genealogy.

The Grubb family – which began amassing its wealth when patriarch Peter Grubb began tapping the Cornwall Banks around 1737 – had numerous business connections to the Colemans, starting with Irish immigrant Robert Coleman, who was hired as an apprentice at the Grubb’s Hopewell Forge furnace. Over time, Robert Coleman acquired more control over the Grubb operation, culminating in his seizing of a controlling interest in the Cornwall operation. (Robert Coleman’s great-grandson, Robert Habersham Coleman, is better known today, for the legacy he left in Mount Gretna and elsewhere in the county.)

A later Grubb descendant married into Philadelphia’s Rawle family (PDF).

The portrait sold at auction on May 2, 2023, for $42,500, plus a 31% buyer’s premium and state tax. It had been estimated by the auction house to sell for $3,000 to $5,000.

The painting was purchased by a descendant of the Coleman family, and Cain said that a bidding contest – possibly a vibrant rivalry between two arms of the Coleman family, or maybe someone with a particular interest in Buchanan or Lancaster history – drove up the price to greatly exceed the estimates.

Cain remarked that it’s noteworthy that Coleman remains so compelling, and that her portrait has gone back home to the family.

“I think it’s great,” said Cain.

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