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John Wesley Little

The material in this summary was written by James Wright Little, a descendant of Thomas Laird Little, and a cousin to Pj Little of Carthage, Missouri. Pj contributed the content and she can be reached via e-mail at The Sullivan County Genealogical Web Page is grateful to James and Pj for this historical information. Courtesy of Larry Pardoe, you may also examine a brief genealogical chart at Descendants of John Wesley Little.

Richard Watson Bennett
Picture by John Wesley Little

Courtesy of Sue Shaner
Picture is owned by Sue's father: Gerry Verus Shaner, son of Verus William Shaner (of the Hughesville, PA Shaners) and Rhoda (Taylor) Campbell (of the Muncy Valley Taylors). Gerry lives in Phoenix, AZ.

John Wesley Little, a renowned Pennsylvania artist, and the youngest child of John Polhemus Little and Martha Hallock Edkin, was born in 1867 near Forksville in Sullivan County, PA. John Polhemus was the sixth son of Theophilus Little, Jr., and Elizabeth Holmes and a twin to Josiah Little, a Civil War casualty. While John Wesley was still a young child, his father moved to Picture Rocks, PA and established a wood manufacturing business which produced ladders, bows for covered wagons, sleigh runners and other bent wood products. Best known as "Wesley" the young John was introduced to the world of labor when he worked in the commissary (employee lunch room) at the factory for which his father paid him the princely sum of 12 1/2 cents per hour.

By 1884, he had established an interest in art for he entered a pencil sketch for a dog titled "Old Rover" in a local contest. Encouraged by friends, he went to New York in 1888 and stayed with family friends while he studied at the The National Academy of Design. His formal education ended eight years later in 1896.

The next five summers were spent near Lewis Lake, Sullivan County, where Wesley taught budding artists at the Eaglesmere Chautauqua Association for $2.50 per week. During the winter, he painted watercolors from sketches he made at earlier dates. It was during this period that he met Dr. William C. Martin who was to later become his friend and mentor.

In 1899, at the invitation of Academy school chum Harry M. Walcott, he went to Paris and indulged in extensive travel on the continent, returning in time to teach the summer season at Eaglesmere. The rolling stone gathers no moss and he was soon 'discovered' by art buyers in Philadelphia and Williamsport. The notoriety, coupled with prosperity, enabled him to return to Paris the following year where he also traveled to Brussels and Venice. Returing home he met his future bride, Miss Susan Heim, at the Williamsport Railroad Station. They were married in December of the same year after a whirlwind courtship.

Wesley and his bride first lived in Fort Washington, PA **, which enabled him to join the Sketch Club and Water Color Club of Philadelphia, memberships he enjoyed the rest of his life. The following five years found Wesley showing his work at many prominent art exhibits from St. Louis to South America. He made one more trip to Europe and England before moving his family in 1905 to Picture Rocks. It is here that he remodeled an old barn into a studio.

** Editor's Note: In August 2007, Susan McReadie of Chester County, PA, reported an incredible discovery likely traceable to the period before 1905 when the artist lived in the Philadelphia environs. She found an old, damaged painting. Here is her story:

A little over a year ago, an older woman in the area gave me a plastic bin (acutally one of those bins for recyclables) full of pieces of stained glass. Some of these she had been given long ago and others she collected. She hadn't used the materials in years herself and the bin was sitting in her gargage. I'm sorry to say that along with the glass, the bin contained some old recyclables and lots of straw, but remarkably, at the bottom, was this painting [shown below]. I loved the sheep, but realized the painting was pretty much a goner, so I'd set it up on my work bench in the basement to admire while working on my glass projects. About a month ago I was toying with my genealogy research (Googleing about on the internet) and I thought to read the name on the painting and see if I could find out anything about the artist. I think the fact that I was looking for my own family history drove me to want to return this to one of Mr. Little's family members. Someone who might care for it and appreciate it inspite of it's wounds. I therefore e-mailed Bob Sweeney at the Sullivan County Genealogical Page for help.

Coincidentally, at the same time, Bob Sweeney was visiting the Sullivan County Museum and Historical Society in Laporte and asked if there were a Little relative who might want the painting. Who should be there that very day but Nnancy Spencer, a Little relative, who entusiastically agreed to give the painting a home. The happy ending is that Bob informed Susan and Susan carefully mailed the painting to Nancy in Sullivan county. A photo of the picture and the painter's signature are at the bottom of this page. A few years later, by 2009, Nancy had conserved this photo and an enhanced version is also shown below. Now back to our story.....

Their first home was a 50-acre farm where Wesley supported his artistic talents and family with income from farming. The farm was successful, and in 1911 he moved the family into a house in Picture Rocks proper, located on the corner of Center and Water Streets. There, encouraged by buyers, he continued to paint.

During this time, he was very active in his community, first forming a reading circle as there was no local library. He was instrumental in getting a road built and bridge across Muncy Creek to Ardenwood. He also served as Burgess (Mayor) of Picture Rocks at one time.

In 1915, he traveled extensively in California, exhibiting his work and winning a Silver Medal at the San Francisco Exhibition for work he had done in England ten years earlier. He then went to South Dakota under contract to a rancher to produce three paintings. He was paid $500 and train fare.

Wesley and Susan had three children who all graduated from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, due to in part to their father's talents. He paid for their tuition with paintings in lieu of cash. All had distinguished careers and went on to obtain the Master or Doctorate degrees in finance, statistics, and administration.

However, it is to their daughter Jean that the Little family owes much for her "dedicated perseverance in preserving our (Little) family history" as we know it today.

Source: John Wesley Little (subtitle: A Paper), by James Wright Little.

History and Genealogy of the
Theophilus Little Family
by John Wesley Little
Book Cover and Credits Page
Courtesy of Sue Shaner.
Per Sue: John Wesley Little died around 1923 and Susan his wife died in 1965. D. Brady died in 1962, so the book was completed at sometime during that time span.

Unidentified Painting and Signature Line
by John Wesley Little
Recovered by Susan McReadle
Delivered to Nancy Little Spencer
Likely Painted Prior to 1905
Courtesy of Susan Mcreadie

Same Painting Restored
Courtesy of Nancy Little Spencer

As fate would have it, the legacy of John Wesley Little goes on beyond the story of the preceding painting. In July 2009, Douglas S. Gordon of Trinity Lutheran Church in Williamsport, Lycoming County, PA, contacted Bob Sweeney with the following message:

Trinity Episcopal Church has recently begun an extensive restoration of the mural Angels Appearing to the Shepherds which was painted by S.R. Hartmann of Philadelphia in 1929 based upon a sketch of J. Wesley Little. I'm guessing that Mr. Little was selected to design and execute the mural for Trinity Church, but died prior to completing the project. It was carried out my Mr. Hartmann, who most likely was a colleague of Mr. Little.
I would like to connect with any nearby descendants of J. Wesley Little so that we can show them the mural which has graced our church nave since 1929.
Would you be able to help me get in touch with any one of his relatives?
Thanks you so much for any assistance you could provide.

Since Nancy Little Spencer is indeed a relative of John Wesley Little, I was able to put Douglas and nancy together immediately, as reflected by Nancy's response to Douglas:

Mr. Gordon ~~ Yes, I have received Dr. Sweeney's email. I would like to view the mural at Trinity Episcopal Church. My husband and I could come August 10 at 10:00 a.m., if that is convenient for you. If it isn't, please let me know and other arrangements can be made.
It is possible that I may see the great-niece of J. Wesley Little this weekend at the annual Little Reunion. If I do see her, I'll ask her if she would also like to see the mural. Since she is quite elderly, I can't guarantee that she'll come.
As Dr. Sweeney told you in his email, I also own a (signed) J. Wesley Little watercolor. It is also of sheep and, like yours, is quite beautiful.
I would very much like to see your watercolor. I will also bring my J. W. L. painting for you to view.

Below is a "work in progress" photo of the painting restoration, courtesy of Douglas Gordon. He promises "professional" quality photos when the work is done:

Angels Appearing to the Shepherds
Painted by S. R. Harmtann 1929
From a Sketch by John Wesley Little
Trinity Lutheran Church
Williamsport, PA
Under Restoration July 2009
Photo Courtesy of Douglas S. Gordon

Copyright 2001 Robert E. Sweeney and individual Contributors. All Rights Reserved. Prior written permission is required from Robert E. Sweeney and individual Contributors before this material can be printed or otherwise copied, displayed or distributed in any form. This is a FREE genealogy site sponsored through PAGenWeb and can be reached directly at ~Sullivan County Genealogy Project (

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