Friday, July 29, 2011

The Extraordinary Portrait of James Hackley

One of the colorful figures of Fort Wayne during the era of the military fort was Capt. James Hackley. Hackley served in the Third Infantry and had been stationed at Fort Dearborn (Chicago), where he became acquainted with Dr. William Turner, who would marry William Wells's daughter, Anne. Turner returned to Fort Wayne where he held several prominent posts, including for a time, Indian Agent.

Anne Wells's sister, Rebecca, became interested in Hackley after a cousin told her to "set your cap for him." Her uncle, Samuel Wells, also thought well of the young captain and recommended the match. The two were wed in April 1817 and moved to Fort Dearborn, where they remained a year until returning to Fort Wayne, when Hackley resigned his army commission.

The Wells daughters were prominent in the early fort community, not only because of the reputation of their father, but because they had inherited a sizable amount of property, including several Indian reservations (inherited through their Miami mother, a relative of Little Turtle). Hackley rose to prominence because of these connection. He became a Mason and held other local offices. For a time the Hackleys and Turners shared Wellsington, the former home of William Wells located near what is now Spy Run Avenue. But problems began to fester when the Wells estate was divided in 1826. Hackley became angry about the inheritance and the portion allotted to Anne Turner (whose husband had died in 1821). In a fit of rage, he tried to murder his sister-in-law while she sat in an upstairs room, but she managed to escape through a window. Despondent, Hackley committed suicide by hanging himself. A large funeral was held afterwards, mostly because his widow, rebecca, was highly respected. The Masons agreed to participate, contrary to their usual discipline.

The portrait of Hackley inthe History Center's collection is painted on ivory and obviously dates before 1818, when Hackley was still an army officer. It remains one of the museum's treasures - a rare artifact with an image from the military era of Fort Wayne's history.

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