He died young and Copley's mother then married Peter Pelham who, among other trades, was a painter and mezzotint engraver. When he died in 1751, Copley took up his tools and started out on his own, forming his early ideas by studying portrait prints, anatomy books and theoretical treatises. He also had access to the dreary portraits painted by Joseph Blackburn, an English artist who spent a few years in the colony in the mid-1750s, but to a great extent he was self-taught. Copley was part of and witness to a society which was in the process of forging its own identity.
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Despite the disruption caused by the French and Indian wars, a group of merchants was making its fortune from trade in fish, sugar, slaves, and goods imported from Europe. Although wealth creation was still based on the puritan ethos of industry, it increasingly became an index of social I standing, reflected in fine clothes, handsome houses, beautiful furniture and the other trappings of polite society.