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Mystery solved: Politician in the portrait was former congressman

State House Bureau

September 27. 2012 2:30PM

Former N.H. Gov. and U.S. Sen. Henry Keyes of New Hampshire 

CONCORD - What was once thought to be the portrait of Gov. Henry Wilder Keyes has been determined to be a portrait of Jacob Hart Ela, a former state representative and congressman from Rochester.

The Senate research staff made the identification of Ela as the person in the portrait by studying the portraits in past issues of the New Hampshire Manual of the General Court or Red Books, said Senate President Peter Bragdon Thursday.

The Keyes portrait was removed from the second-floor hallway of the State House where other governors' portraits hung after the Joint Legislative Historical Committee decided last month it was not a portrait of the former governor and U.S. senator.

According to the Biological Directory of the United States Congress, Ela was born in Rochester July 18, 1820, and served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 1857 and 1858.

He was elected and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1867 to 1871and was the auditor for the treasury of the U.S. Post Office from 1881 until his death in 1884.

The authenticity of the Keyes portrait was questioned by former state representative and congressional candidate Dean Dexter, whose grandmother knew Keyes' wife. Since then, lawmakers have attempted to determine if a new portrait of Keyes could be located or commissioned and who might be the real subject of the Keyes portrait. Speculation had been the person was a relative, possibly Keyes's father.

The portrait was found in the Legislative Office Building in 2005 and was determined to be a portrait of Keyes by then-state curator Russell Bastedo. Last month he told the joint historical committee the portrait had a plaque saying, 'Presented to the state by Henry W. Keyes.'

'It's an original document, and I can't argue with an original document,' he told the committee. Keyes was governor from 1917 to 1919.

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