Nova Scotia

Why did someone steal this portrait from a rural Nova Scotia church?

Almost 40 years after a portrait of a prominent Loyalist was stolen from a church in Weymouth, N.S., a documentary film crew is hoping to find out what happened to the oil painting.

James Moody's portrait was passed down through the family for generations and was stolen in 1981

James Moody was a prominent Loyalist who settled in Nova Scotia in 1786. (Submitted by Rick Moody)

Almost 40 years after a portrait of a prominent Loyalist named James Moody was stolen from a church in Weymouth, N.S., a documentary film crew is hoping to find out what happened to the oil painting.

Moody came to Nova Scotia from New Jersey in 1786 and settled in the area now known as Weymouth. He was a shipbuilder, provincial politician, military officer and farmer, and died in 1809 at the age of 64.

The painting was passed down through the Moody family and ended up in the hands of John Moody of Ottawa. His son, Rick Moody, says his father donated the painting because he wanted it to be made available to the public.

James Moody had donated the land upon which St. Peter's Anglican Church was built, so it was a fitting place for the painting to be displayed. The original church was constructed in 1790, but burned down in a fire in the late 1800s and a second church was erected and remains there today.

John Moody donated the painting to the church in 1979 and it was stolen in 1981.

A replica painting of James Moody hangs at St. Peter's Anglican Church in Weymouth, N.S. (Submitted by Brian McConnell)

"It was extremely sad to him that that would happen," said Rick Moody, the fifth great-grandson of James Moody.

The day the painting was stolen, a wedding was being held at the church. The reception was held in the church hall and at some point in the evening, a person who entered the church noticed it was gone, said Brian McConnell, a lawyer from Digby, N.S., who is investigating what happened to the painting as part of a feature-length documentary about the Loyalists called The Good Americans.

"This photo of the painting is on the internet and has been on the internet for several years, but there's been no suggestion, no followup," he said.

Rev. Michael Boyd and Betty and John Moody are shown with the James Moody portrait on June 10, 1979. (Submitted by Brian McConnell)

"No one has indicated anywhere that they've seen this painting, so that leads me unfortunately to believe that it is possibly in someone's private collection hanging on a wall or that they did not realize what they were taking and didn't value it, only valued the frame."

A replica painting was put up in 1983 to replace the stolen one.

In his spare time, McConnell is a Loyalist researcher. He said the painting is an important work.

Researcher Brian McConnell is shown wearing the uniform of a King's Orange Ranger from the American Revolution. (Submitted by Brian McConnell)

"It's considered now that one in four Nova Scotians has a Loyalist ancestor, so it's a genuine artifact of a part of Nova Scotia history that really should still be on display," said McConnell. "And I'd hope that if anyone has seen it or the interest that we're able to generate that they would come forward."

Loyalists are the American colonists who were loyal to the British during the American Revolution. They settled in present-day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Quebec and Ontario, according to Library and Archives Canada.

The original St. Peter's Anglican Church in Weymouth, N.S., dates back to 1790. It was replaced after a fire in the late 1800s. (Submitted by Brian McConnell)

"What we really are talking about is one American Revolution that produced two nations. It produced Canada and it produced the United States in equal measure and that we are able to explain what that means and explain why that's important because it helps explain the differences between the countries today," said Tad Støermer, the filmmaker behind the project.

He plans to use the Moody painting story as a narrative in the story.

Tad Støermer is the filmmaker behind The Good Americans. (Submitted by Tad Støermer)

"This is like searching for what the Loyalists really were, that there is a bit of a Loyalist story that has been stolen from Canadians and Americans and by regaining it we're able to actually see what it looked like, actually see what that time period looked like and what those people went through and why they made the choices that they did," said Støermer.

Støermer said he wonders why someone stole the painting.

"You can't do a whole lot with it, right," he said. "It's not like you're going to go ahead and fence a late 18th-century portrait of a Loyalist to some guy down at a pawn shop. It doesn't work that way, so it's got to be out there somewhere."

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