About the Artist: Sarah Ann Lillie Hardinge (1824–1913)
A sense of wide-eyed wonder is apparent in the watercolors that document Sarah Hardinge’s years in Texas just after the War with Mexico, when immigrants poured into the state intent on taking their share of the cheap land. Perhaps no other record offers as full a picture of early Texas settlement as the pictorial diary of Hardinge, who saw the Texas frontier from a woman’s point of view—as a place to establish a home and raise a family.
In 1850 Hardinge inherited from her brother a large parcel of Texas land located on the east side of the Colorado River in Matagorda County, about ninety miles southwest of Houston. Not long after she married Dr. George Hardinge in November 1851, the couple set out from their home in Brooklyn to claim Mrs. Hardinge’s inheritance and establish a life in Texas. She began immediately to make a visual record of the still little-known country that would be her new home.
Her watercolors follow the Hardinges’ efforts to settle in Texas, from their arrival in Austin in February 1852 to their moves to the area around Seguin and, later, San Antonio. Understandably, Hardinge’s first painting was of her new residence in Texas, the handsome home of Thomas William Ward, mayor of Austin and commissioner of the General Land Office. The Ward house must have seemed a hopeful sign of the prosperity that awaited her and her husband.
Sadly, such prosperity as the Wards knew in Austin in the early 1850s was not to be for Sarah Hardinge, for within a few years her husband had squandered their opportunities. Besides financial trouble, Sarah Hardinge was also troubled by her fear of American Indians and her oldest son’s poor health. In 1856, the Hardinges were forced to return to her family home in Boston with their three children born on the Texas frontier. George Hardinge continued to speculate wildly with his wife’s inheritance, and he probably returned to Texas in 1857. Sarah Hardinge divorced him for “desertion” in 1865, and she married the Reverend Harrison Daniels ten years later.