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In this portrait miniature of William Cheever, he is portrayed as a young man, in his 20s or 30s; as well to do, with gold buttons on his waistcoat and jacket; and with his powdered hair “en queue,” or in a ponytail, as was the fashion of the day. The engraving on the back, “William Cheever July 27. 1752. Decr .. 7. 1786[,]” confirms that the piece was used for mourning and that Cheever was relatively young when he died.
Cheever was born in Menotomy (now Arlington), Mass., and his parents, William Downes Cheever and Elizabeth (Edwards) Cheever, were members of the First Church in Boston. After graduating from Harvard College in 1771, Cheever worked as a merchant for his father’s business, first in Boston and then in Amsterdam. By 1784, he had returned to Boston, where he purchased property on Battery and Commercial Streets. He died just two years later, in 1786.