AP History Notes

Posts Tagged ‘art’

Paul Revere at Old South and Old North

Fans of Paul Revere can attend two talks about his Revolutionary activities beyond his famous and less-famous rides of 1774 and 1775.

Friday, 20 March, 12:15 P.M.
Old South Meeting House
The Picture of Innocence: Symbols and Propaganda from the Boston Massacre
The Boston Massacre became infamous throughout the American colonies in a matter of weeks. Patriot leaders immediately circulated the news with heavy doses of propaganda. So what really happened on March 5, 1770? Historian and Old South Meeting House Educator Tegan Kehoe will walk you through the facts and fictions of Paul Revere’s famous print and several other contemporary depictions of the “bloody massacre on King Street.”
Admission $6; free for Old South Meeting House members.

Wednesday, 25 March, 6:30 P.M.
Old North Church
Paul Revere: Beyond the Midnight Ride
Author and attorney Michael Greenburg will talk about Revere’s lesser-known travails and ultimate court-martial following the doomed Penobscot Expedition, an often-ignored chapter in the life of this beloved American icon. Following the lecture will be a reception and book signing of Greenburg’s book, The Court Martial of Paul Revere: A Son of Liberty & America’s Forgotten Military Disaster.
Free and open to the public.

One nice thing about lectures in these eighteenth-century Boston churches is that you can almost always get a seat. A hard, flat seat.

A Modern Look at Crispus Attucks

The new Digital Public Library of America is now aggregating public-domain material from other websites. I tried a search for “Boston Massacre” and saw this image for the first time.

This image, “Crispus Attucks,” was painted by William H. Johnson (1901-1970) about 1945, which would make it one of his last works before he was institutionalized for mental illness.

It literally reflects the famous 1770 engraving of the Massacre by Henry Pelham with the soldiers lined up and firing together (on the left instead of the right) and the spires behind. But this portrayal emphasizes the civilian reaction to the soldiers, with the three lamenting women.

Johnson put Crispus Attucks alone at the center, gave him a Christ-like beard and pose, and named the painting after him. That reflects the importance of his memory in the African-American struggle for rights.

This painting is now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection.

‘Enemy Forces Engaged,’ USS Houston Fought Insurmountable Odds

19-N-13455: USS Houston (CA 30), starboard view. Undated and unknown location. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

19-N-13455: USS Houston (CA 30), starboard view. Undated and unknown location. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

By Capt. R. Mark Stacpoole, U.S. Navy, American Legation, U.S. Naval Attaché, Jakarta, Indonesia

I ask you to spend a minute this weekend in remembrance of the 1,082 brave men of the heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30). It was in the early hours of March 1st, 73 years ago, that she sailed for the final time into the teeth of enemy fire. While heading for the Sunda Strait, and in concert with the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth, she ran into the main Japanese invasion force then landing on the island of Java. This force consisted, in its entirety, of one light carrier, one seaplane carrier, five cruisers, 12 destroyers, a mine-layer and 58 troopships.

Low on fuel and with her after turret out of action, this as a result of earlier damage sustained at the Battle of Makassar Strait, Houston, along with Perth, entered the fray. The last message anyone would ever hear from these ships was a radio transmission sent by Houston; the message read “Enemy forces engaged.”

Perth went down first, fighting to the end, but even the heroism of her crew could not overcome four torpedo strikes and untold hits by enemy cannon. When Perth succumbed, 353 men went down with her including her commanding officer, Capt. Hector Waller.

Battle of Sunda Strait, 28 February – 1 March 1942. Painting by John Hamilton depicting USS Houston (CA 30) in her final action with Japanese forces. Courtesy of the US Navy Memorial Foundation. Painting from the John Hamilton collection. (Courtesy of NHHC Art Gallery)

Battle of Sunda Strait, 28 February – 1 March 1942. Painting by John Hamilton depicting USS Houston (CA 30) in her final action with Japanese forces. Courtesy of the US Navy Memorial Foundation. Painting from the John Hamilton collection. (Courtesy of NHHC Art Gallery)

Houston was now left alone, surrounded by enemy ships and aircraft. In quick succession she was hit by shell and torpedo but continued to fight on. Some time after 01:30, having been hit scores of times, faced with extensive flooding below decks, out of ammunition for her main guns, and with fires raging out of control, Capt. Albert Rooks, the commanding officer, gave the order to abandon ship. Only minutes later he was killed by an exploding Japanese shell.

Houston was bathed in the glare of Japanese searchlights, still under heavy fire and settling by the bow when her surviving crew gave her to the sea. As she began her final plunge one survivor wrote that “it seemed as a sudden breeze picked up the Stars and Stripes, still firmly blocked on the mainmast, and waved them in one last defiant gesture.” Other survivors saw red tracer fire still spitting out of a machine gun platform as one lone Marine, Gunnery Sgt. Walter Standish, true to the traditions of the Corps continued firing until the sea took him.

Some 675 Sailors and Marines died with Houston. Most of these men were killed during her final battle, were taken down with the ship or died when the pitiless tide washed them into the vast Indian Ocean but others were machine gunned as they swam helpless in the water.

The 366 survivors were taken into captivity, but their ordeal was far from over. Many would end up in POW camps in Burma, where they were forced, under inhuman conditions, to construct the infamous Burma Railway. Of this handful of survivors a further 76 died of sickness, abuse, torture, hunger and neglect. At war’s end in 1945 only 290 men remained, many broken in body but not in spirit, to return to the United States. Think of them, for they paid the full price in defense of our freedoms.

As one of the survivors later wrote —“Well Done , Well Done!”

JAVA SEA (Oct. 14, 2014 ) Naval officers from Australia, Indonesia and the United States participate in a wreath-laying ceremony aboard the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) in honor of the crews of the U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30) and the Royal Australian Navy light cruiser HMAS Perth (D29). Both ships were sunk during World War II by Imperial Japanese forces within Indonesian waters during the battle of Sunda Strait in February 1942. Frank Cable, forward deployed to the island of Guam, conducts maintenance and support of submarines and surface vessels deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet areas of responsibility and is on a scheduled underway. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jon Erickson/Released)

Capt. R. Mark Stacpoole (center) along with other Naval officers from Australia, Indonesia and the United States participate in a wreath-laying ceremony aboard the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40) in honor of the crews of the U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30) and the Royal Australian Navy light cruiser HMAS Perth (D29). Both ships were sunk during World War II by Imperial Japanese forces within Indonesian waters during the battle of Sunda Strait in February 1942. Frank Cable, forward deployed to the island of Guam, conducts maintenance and support of submarines and surface vessels deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet areas of responsibility and is on a scheduled underway. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jon Erickson/Released)

 

An American Artist in London

Yesterday I quoted a Boston News-Letter advertisement about a black man making portraits in Boston in 1773. I also noted how Prince Demah (Barnes) painted William Duguid in February 1773, according to a note on the back of that portrait, acquired just a few years ago by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We also have a May 1773 letter from Christian Barnes of Marlborough to her friend Elizabeth (Murray Campbell Smith) Inman to sit for a portrait by her former house-servant Prince the next time she was in Boston. So Prince Demah (Barnes) was definitely working as a painter in Boston in early 1773. How did he come to that business?

According to Christian Barnes, her husband Henry (shown here, courtesy of the Hingham Historical Society) bought Prince before 1769 “not solely with a View of Drawing my Picture but I believe he has some design of improving his Genius in painting.” She described Prince as the son of another family slave named Daphney and “Born in our family.”

As noted by Amelia Peck and Paula M. Bagger in the current issue of The Magazine Antiques, Prince therefore appears to be the child mentioned in this record of a baptism at Trinity Church in Boston on 23 May 1745:

Dafney an adult & Prince negroes.

In that case, Prince was at least in his early twenties when Henry Barnes acquired him from relatives.

In 1769 and 1770 Christian wrote to her friend Elizabeth Smith in London about Prince’s progress as a portraitist. She sent a sample of his work to Smith, and speculated about whether “Mr. Copling” (John Singleton Copley) might train him. So we know the Barneses were seeking opportunities for Prince to learn more.

In those same months Henry Barnes was under attack as one of the few holdout importers of goods from Britain, contrary to Boston’s non-importation agreement. In early 1770 he was called an enemy of his country, threatened with tar and feathers, and found his horse had been attacked that way. That hostility calmed down after Parliament revoked the Townshend duties (except for the tea tax) and removed troops from Boston.

In autumn 1770 Henry Barnes sailed for London, as reported in the 11 October Boston News-Letter. Peck and Bagger report that in February 1771 Barnes wrote to Elizabeth Smith that he’d found an art tutor for Prince in London: “Mr. Pine who has taken him purely for his genius.”

Peck and Bagger conclude that was probably Robert Edge Pine (1730-1788), an established portraitist. Some authors suggest that Pine himself had African ancestry through his father, the engraver John Pine, but that tradition seems to be based simply on how he looks in one engraving, not on his genealogy. Barnes actually wrote that he didn’t want Prince to “converse with any of his own colour here” in Britain. Ironically, while Henry and Christian Barnes eventually became Loyalists, Pine went the opposite way: after the war he moved from his lifelong home in London to Philadelphia.

Henry Barnes returned to North America with Elizabeth Smith and her relatives in the summer of 1771, as stated in the 15 July Boston Evening-Post. Evidently he brought Prince Demah back as well. It wasn’t until the next year that James Somerset’s case made slavery unenforceable in Britain, but Barnes might have emancipated Prince or come to some sort of understanding. The young man appears to have acted as an independent craftsman in the following years.

Thus, Prince Demah had indeed received a little assistance from “one of the best Masters in London” before advertising his skills in Boston, though a few months in 1771 was hardly comprehensive training. Peck and Bagger report that X-ray analysis of the three portraits linked to Prince Demah shows that he used a different technique while painting Duguid than appears inside the picture of Christian Barnes, which is almost certainly a copy of one by Copley. Frankly, I find the body proportions of the Duguid painting to be awkward, but the costume and setting are more ambitious.

All this means that Prince Demah traveled to London to make artistic connections before Phillis Wheatley made her famous trip in 1773, and before Copley first visited the imperial capital in 1774. Indeed, his experiences there might have helped to inspire their journeys.

The Mysteries of Scipio Moorhead

On 7 Jan 1773 and nine more times that year, the Boston News-Letter ran this advertisement:

At Mr. M‘Lean’s, Watch-Maker, near the Town-House, is a Negro Man whose extraordinary Genius has been assisted by one of the best Masters in London; he takes Faces at the lowest Rates. Specimens of his Performances may be seen at said Place.

Some authors have linked that ad to Scipio Moorhead, the only black artist known to be active in Boston around that time.

However, Eric Slauter, author of the article “Looking for Scipio Moorhead” in Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World, thinks that his subject was still an adolescent at that time, not “a Negro Man.”

According to the sources Slauter has lined up, Scipio Moorhead was baptized as a child in King’s Chapel on 11 June 1760. He was still enslaved to the Moorhead family in late 1773 and 1774, and advertised in the 2 Jan 1775 Boston Gazette as “a likely Negro Lad” in an estate sale to be held ironically “not far from Liberty Tree.” (Slauter acknowledges that a late 1774 estate inventory listed “a Negro man, named Scipio,” but the preponderance of evidence suggests he was still in his teens.)

Slauter also notes that the only evidence we have for Scipio Moorhead as an artist is Phillis Wheatley’s poem “To S.M., A Young African Painter, on Seeing His Works.” A note on an early copy gives that painter’s full name, and Wheatley addressed another poem to the Moorhead family. But no one else mentioned Scipio Moorhead’s art in surviving documents, and no known examples have survived.

Many people assume the portrait of Wheatley engraved for the frontispiece of her book, shown above, was based on a painting by Scipio Moorhead, but that’s just a guess based on their acquaintance. All we know for sure is that the Countess of Huntingdon suggested having a picture of Wheatley as the frontispiece, and, since the countess was supporting the printing, the Wheatley family adopted the idea in the spring of 1773.

We now have strong evidence of a black portrait artist working in Boston in early 1773 with three paintings ascribed to him: Prince Demah (Barnes). The one portrait signed with his name—showing Scottish importer William Duguid is dated “February 1773,” just weeks after that newspaper ad first ran. It therefore appears that Prince Demah, not Scipio Moorhead, was that “Negro Man” painting “Faces at the lowest Rates.” And Prince Demah may also have painted Phillis Wheatley.

TOMORROW: Training in London.

A Valentine’s Card from 1752

Historic New England’s collection includes this cutwork valentine with German fraktur calligraphy.

The border features men, women, birds, and flowers cut from paper. In the center is a poem, which reads in translation:

Let love occupy your heart
Let love inflame you continually.
Not a love which burns with incontinence
And pursues a base desire for worldy things.
God’s love should impel you
To leave Evil alone
To love your Neighbor as yourself
And carry your cross forbearingly

Below that are the words “Made in Honor of Sophia Kemper,” the name “John Tillman Dickenshaw,” and what I suspect is an attempt at “in [?] month…in the year of our Lord 1752.”

The most recent issue of Historic New England magazine shows this artifact and reports that the handwriting and cutwork match one dated 22 May 1754, now on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The man’s name might be an Anglicization of Johan Dielman Dickenschied, who was born in Prussia in 1727 and arrived in Philadelphia with his parents and siblings in 1744. Or that similarity might just be coincidence.

Maria Sophia Kemper (1739-1832) was the daughter of German immigrants to New Brunswick, New Jersey. How did her valentine come to New England? In 1761 she married businessman John Morton in New York. Their daughter Eliza Susan Morton visited Massachusetts in the 1790s and caught the ear of Josiah Quincy, son of the Boston lawyer of the same name who had died in 1775. Thus, her mother’s valentine eventually came to be part of the family papers at the Quincy House.

(Just to tie everything together, Josiah Quincy courted Eliza Morton at Elizabeth Craigie’s house in Cambridge—the same house featured in the Washington’s headquarters tours I mentioned yesterday.)

Discovering Prince Demah, an African-American Artist

Back in 2006 and 2008 I wrote about a young black artist mentioned in the letters of Christian Barnes, a Marlborough merchant’s wife (shown here). All I knew about him was the given name “Prince.”

Paula Bagger, working with the Hingham Historical Society, has found out a lot more. The society owns portraits of Christian Barnes and her husband Henry, and we know that she sat for Prince to paint her. Then it turned out that the Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a portrait of William Duguid in the same style that’s signed on the back “Prince Demah Barnes.”

Bagger just wrote an article about the artist for the historical society’s blog. And in the January 2015 issue of The Magazine Antiques, she and Amelia Peck of the Metropolitan Museum of Art discuss all three known oil portraits by Prince.

On the blog Bagger filled in more about the artist’s life:

Prince enjoyed a short professional painting career before the Revolution changed the lives of Christian, Henry, and Prince. Christian and Henry fled [as Loyalists,] and Prince enlisted in the Massachusetts militia as a free man–Prince Demah (no more “Barnes”)–and served as a matross. He died, likely of smallpox or other disease, in March 1778. As “Prince Demah, limner,” he wrote his will, leaving all he had to [his mother] Daphney.

Christian Barnes’s letters show that Prince Demah practiced with both oils and pastels. She tried to line up friends to sit for him, and there are several years between when she first mentioned his talent and the disruption of the war. So there might well be more portraits by this newly identified African-American artist and Continental soldier, perhaps in private hands or historical society collections. Bagger and her colleagues are on the hunt!

Reading the Smiles of 18th-Century Art

The 12 January New Yorker includes Jonathan Kalb’s article “Give Me a Smile,” which describes in personal terms the importance of being able to smile.

Kalb writes, “The spontaneously joyful smile is the facial expression most easily recognized from a distance—as far as a hundred metres, researchers say.” Since the late 1800s, scientists have claimed and amassed evidence that the smile is a universal human expression.

I was struck, therefore, by this Boston Globe interview with Colin Jones about his new book, The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris. According to this book, through the early 1700s “smiling widely in portraits meant that you were probably destitute, indecent, or mentally ill.” Here’s more detail:

JONES: The type of facial regime which is prevalent in France in the early 18th century is more negative about the smile. It tends to see the smile as a gesture of superiority over some misfortune, rather like laughter at that time is seen in very negative terms—you’re somehow rejoicing in the suffering of others. So when people smile, they smile, first of all in a restrained way which doesn’t show teeth…but also very often in ways which are seen as sardonic or contemptuous or disdainful.

IDEAS: What changed?

JONES: There are two principal factors….One is the emergence of something which is clearly, for the first time, close to modern scientific dentistry, which highlights good, healthy, and hopefully white teeth, and methods of care which are not simply, as they had been in the past, extraction of bad teeth but also a regime of prevention of mouth ailments and sickness….

Secondly, I try to tie it up with…the emergence of a cult of sensibility. I associate this particularly with the emergence of the novels of sentimentality and sensibility by Samuel Richardson and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who emphasize the overt and public expression of feelings, rather than their repression or distortion. People who look at the cult of sensibility often stress that people are always weeping in the 18th century—weeping with pleasure, weeping with ecstasy, weeping with anything, if you like. But actually part of that is this new smile, which somehow sends a transcendent message of selfhood and generosity and fellow-feeling.

Of course, the open-lipped smile remained rare in formal portraits. And later, Jones says, portrait photography followed that style for decades, even after better chemistry and quicker exposures could capture natural smiles.

Peter Pelham from Boston to Williamsburg

Here’s another podcast of interest, from Colonial Williamsburg. Harmony Hunter interviews Michael Monaco about the historical figure he portrays: Peter Pelham (1721-1805), church organist and jailer.

Pelham was probably the inhabitant of Williamsburg, Virginia, in the 1770s with the closest ties to Boston. During the pre-Revolutionary turmoil, Pelham’s brother Charles was teaching school in Newton, and his stepbrother John Singleton Copley was training their half-brother Henry in the basics of being an artist.

Pelham had been born in London, son of an artist of the same name. The elder Peter Pelham had learned the advanced engraving technique of mezzotint; among his portraits was one of Massachusetts governor Samuel Shute, who spent most of the 1720s not in Massachusetts.

It’s unclear why Peter, Sr., brought his growing family to Boston in 1726 or 1727. A letter from his father in 1739 suggests there had been some family estrangement. The mezzotint artist may have had bad timing. In June 1727 George I died, and a change in court meant shuffling of appointees and favored artists. But instead Pelham was angling for customers in Boston with a portrait of that town’s biggest celebrity, the Rev. Cotton Mather.

Peter, Jr., was the eldest son of the family, and his talents leaned toward music. He became an apprentice to Charles Theodore Pachelbel, traveling to Newport, New York, and Charleston, South Carolina. In 1739 his grandfather wrote to his father:

I am heartily Pleasd to hear, by Lady D:Lorain that Came from Charlestowne in Carolina about a year ago, that my Grandson Peter was a very Genteel Clever young man being very well acquainted with him by teaching Miss Fenwick her sister to play on the Harpsicord which he Performs very well.

In 1743 Pelham returned to Boston and became organist at Trinity Church. But around 1750 he left for a smaller town and more limited prospects, just as his father had. Again it’s unclear why. But in Williamsburg, the younger Peter Pelham built the organ for the Bruton Parish Church and then played it for many decades.

Here’s another Williamsburg podcast from five years ago featuring Monaco as Pelham on the organ.

Seymour on the Woolwich Weapons Tests in D.C., 16 Jan.

On Friday, 16 January, Anderson House, the Society of the Cincinnati’s museum and library in Washington, D.C., will host a program of its American Revolution Institute on the Woolwich ballistic test charts.

The Royal Arsenal at Woolwich was the British military’s artillery training ground and laboratory east of London. In 1779 its experts compared the accuracy of a musket, a carbine, and a rifle in the most scientific manner possible in the period. Joseph Seymour, historian for the U.S. Army Center of Military History, will discuss the results and what they say about period weapons.

This talk is linked to the museum’s current exhibit “Homeland Defense: Protecting Britain during the American War,” describing Britain’s response to France entering the war:

For the first time in a generation, Britain faced the threat of invasion. With most of the regular army in North America, the ministry recruited militia “for the internal defence of this Country.” The army established special camps in southeastern England to train the militia along with regular soldiers, to protect the coastline, and to provide for the defense of London. A distant and increasingly unpopular war suddenly reached the British homeland.

Contemporary novels and plays about military themes, new songs and poems celebrating British strength, and popular prints depicting the camps reflected public anxiety about the threat of invasion. They also reflected contemporary British opinion about the army at a moment when failure in America exposed it to satire and ridicule. The camps had a wide-ranging influence on popular culture. Fashionable ladies, for whom visiting the camps was a part of the social whirl, sported riding habits modeled on regimental uniforms. Cartoonists, meanwhile, took delight in poking fun at preparations for a foreign invasion that never came.

Joseph Seymour’s talk is one of Anderson House‘s “Lunch Bite” midday presentations, starting at 12:30 P.M. and lasting about half an hour. The event is free and open to the public (but you have to be nice to the receptionist at the door).

Behind Gingerbread for Liberty!

Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution is a picture book due to be released next month. Author Mara Rockliff tells the story of the Philadelphia baker Christopher Ludwick, whom the Continental Congress appointed “Superintendent of Bakers, and Director of Baking” in May 1777.

As Publishers Weekly reports, the artist Vincent X. Kirsch, a former food stylist, created watercolor illustrations inspired by gingerbread cookies. Ludwick was known in Philadelphia for his gingerbread; indeed, it looks like he had made a tidy fortune between arriving in that growing city in the early 1750s and the Revolutionary War.

Rockliff told that magazine about her challenges in finding sources on Ludwick: “It turned out that pretty much everything anyone knows about Ludwick comes from a short biography first published in 1801, the year he died, by his friend Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.”

Rush sent an early copy of that pamphlet to Abigail Adams, writing on 23 July 1801:

The Account of Christr: Ludwick was written to fulfil an Old promise made many years ago, in case I should survive him. You will feel the patriotic Sentiments uttered by him. To the present calculating generation, they appear fanatical, and unintelligible.—

(Subtext: Young people today.)

Adams replied:

The Life of Christopher Ludwick will be read with pleasure by all Lovers of virtue, honor and patriotism; it is a model for the Youth, but my dear Sir these days of prosperity, Luxury and dissipation are not those in which such characters flourish; we have an intire new Theory in Religion, Morals & politicks, corresponding with our State of Society.

(Subtext: It’s all Jefferson’s fault.)

Rush’s pamphlet was reprinted throughout the 1800s by the charitable organization Ludwick had funded. It naturally portrayed him in a good light.

TOMORROW: How much did Ludwick really do during the war?

Firm on this Basis Liberty Shall Stand

“About this image you want to include in your history textbook—we see potential problems with it.”

“Really? The rights are clear. It comes from the masthead of John Holt’s New York Journal in late 1774. And the Continental Congress adopted it about the same time.”

“Okay, but we have questions about how high-school students will…interpret it.”

“There’s a lot of symbolism in there—I think that’s a plus. There’s the rejoined ‘Join, or Die’ serpent as an icon of unity, and the Magna Carta, and the Liberty Pole—”

“Yes, the Liberty Pole.”

“With the Liberty Cap on top.”

“That’s the part we think might present problems for teachers.”

“Oh, and the hands—those represent the twelve colonies at the First Continental Congress. They’re making the pole stand up straight.”

“You’re not helping your case here.”

“In 1775 the engraver John Norman updated this symbol for America’s first architecture book. He dedicated it to Hancock and ‘all the MEMBERS’ of Congress.”

“Really, you should just stop talking.”

Just Desserts in a New Children’s Book?

A picture book to be published next month takes readers through three centuries of history following a simple recipe for blackberry fool, but it has depths that some people have found troubling.

The book is A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. It shows four parent-child pairs preparing the receipt in successive years: 1710, 1810, 1910, and 2010. At each stage, the technology for whipping the cream and otherwise becomes more sophisticated.

And at each stage, the family and its situation change, starting with a mother and child in rural England and ending with a father and child in a modern American city. That dimension of social history evidently troubled the reviewer at Publishers Weekly:

Unfortunately, an attempt at historical authenticity backfires as the 19th-century plantation family’s blackberry fool is made for them by their slaves. The African-American cook and her daughter are not permitted to eat the dessert they’ve made; instead, they serve it to the white family, and the two are left to lick the bowl in a dark closet. The historical facts are not in dispute, but the disturbing injustices represented in this section of an otherwise upbeat account either require adult readers to present necessary background and context or—worse—to pass by them unquestioned.

Parents or teachers supplying “necessary background and context”? Based on “historical facts”? How unfortunate indeed!

Evidently, this reviewer felt that American children aged four to eight wouldn’t have been introduced to slavery before, even at this basic level. And that families’ enjoyment of a simple luxury like blackberry fool or a full-color picture book should not be disturbed, even for a few pages, by the thought of injustice. That was enough for this reviewer to call the plantation episode, unaccountably, “an attempt at historical authenticity.”

Other early reviewers, such as Kiera Parrott at School Library Journal, saw more value in that history. And it’s clear that picture of change in everyday life was crucial to the conception of this book for both author and artist. You can follow artist Blackall’s visual research through her series of blog posts.

I Only Read This Book for the Relatable Past

You might think that Thomas A. Foster’s Sex and the Founding Fathers is about the sexual behavior of the men who led the American Revolution and the creation of the federal government. But take a look at the subtitle: The American Quest for a Relatable Past.

That signals how this study isn’t about those men’s sexual thoughts or behaviors, about which we have very little information, anyway. Rather, it’s about how American authors have described the sexual side of those men’s lives, in many cases selecting and massaging the known facts to fit what they wanted the readers of their times to believe, or what readers wanted to read.

For instance, what has it meant to Americans that George Washington, the “Father of His Country,” evidently couldn’t father children? Was it a somewhat embarrassing reflection on his masculinity, or a natural frustration that humanizes him, or even a handy refutation of the occasional suggestions that he had children out of wedlock? (Of course, he could have had extramarital affairs without leaving the evidence of a fertile man.)

Foster notes Washington biographers stating strenuously that his infertility problem could not have been due to a sexual transmitted disease—that was simply beyond reason. But they were mum about the possibility of erectile dysfunction, a much more common problem for men but one with symbolic implications of impotence in other areas. (Foster doesn’t discuss a theory I recall seeing bandied about in recent decades, that Washington might have had Klinefelter syndrome, due to XXY chromosomes. Talk about raising gender issues!)

Foster also discusses how historians have treated John Adams, who was known for his long, close, and faithful marriage, and Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and Gouverneur Morris, who weren’t. Originally the book also discussed Aaron Burr, but Foster converted that material into this article at Common-Place; in contrast to the others, American authors could gleefully discuss Burr as a libertine because he became a villain in the national saga.

Sex and the Founding Fathers also shows how the Founders serve as a barometer of the culture’s attitude toward sexual behavior. For instance, late in the Victorian period the Massachusetts Senator George F. Hoar decided that Franklin, of all people, didn’t belong in a National Hall of Fame:

Dr. Franklin’s conduct of life was that of a man on a low plane…one side of his character gross and immoral. . . . [His letter] on the question of keeping a mistress, which, making allowance for the manners of the time, and all allowance for the fact that he might have been partly in jest, is an abominable and wicked letter; and all his relation to women, and to the family life were of that character.

Come on, Senator, tell us how you really feel!

For me the star of this book was Gouverneur Morris, the least known of its subjects. He was frankly interested in sex throughout his long bachelorhood. Foster argues that Morris doesn’t deserve to be called a rake, however, because he (at least sometimes) passed up sex if he and his lover weren’t really in love, because he cared about whether those women had a good time, and because some of his affairs lasted for years. He just had a lot of them, and his (married) male friends liked to gossip about him.

Foster notes that only four full-length biographies of Morris were published in the 1800s and 1900s. Since 2003, however, there have been “three academic works and two popular biographies.” Those discuss the sexual side of Morris’s life more frankly—far more frankly—than books of previous eras did. Perhaps Gouverneur Morris is the Founder for our time.

In case you wonder, Sex and the Founding Fathers does come with illustrations. Illustrations like “A Philosophic Cock,” a political cartoon attacking Jefferson for his relationship with Sally Hemings.

Caricature of a Tea Partier

Adam Colson (his family name was also spelled Collson, Coleson, and Coulson) was born in 1738. At that time his grandfather David was a Boston selectman. Adam followed his grandfather into leather-dressing, and he also became politically active.

Colson joined the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons in 1763. In 1766 the town meeting elected him as a “Clerk of the Market,” a beginner-level office. By 1773, he was also a member of the North End Caucus (and, reportedly, the “Long Room Club”).

Colson was in the second set of volunteers patrolling the wharves to make sure no East India Company tea was landed. Benjamin Bussey Thatcher’s 1835 book Traits of the Tea-Party listed him among the men who destroyed that tea on 16 Dec 1773—the earliest such list to see print. Thatcher also wrote of that night’s meeting at Old South:

Some person or persons, in the galleries, (Mr. [William] Pierce thinks Adam Colson,) at this time cried out, with a loud voice, “Boston Harbor a tea-pot this night!”—“Hurra for Griffin’s Wharf!”—and so on.

For Colson to have gotten down from the gallery during a crowded meeting and onto a tea ship would have been a feat.

In 1774 Bostonians voted Colson to be the town’s Informer of Deer, a post he held for years, and the next year he was chosen to be a Warden. In 1779, with the town hurt by shortages and price jumps, he was made an Inspector of the Market. He appears to have served only briefly in the military, patrolling the town under Col. Jabez Hatch.

During these years Colson maintained his business selling leather goods in the South End under the “Sign of the Buck and Glove” near Liberty Tree. But he also bought real estate, opening an inn and what by 1788 he called the “Federal Stable.” In 1782 he hosted the future Marquis De Chastellux, who was making a trip through the new U.S. of A.

In Boston’s 1792 state election returns, Colson garnered 7 votes for lieutenant governor, coming in third. Samuel Adams with 686 was the clear winner, and merchant Thomas Russell with 17 was second. Yet Colson was still just a tradesman and landlord, not a gentleman (he didn’t get “Esq.” after his name in the official tally). That made his relative prominence notable. So what were his post-Revolutionary politics?

In 1795 the Rev. John Silvester John Gardiner (1765-1830), future rector of Trinity Church, published a book called Remarks on the Jacobiniad through the new Federal Orrery newspaper and then the printers Weld and Greenough. It was a biting, satirical, and not entirely coherent attack on the nascent Jeffersonian party in Boston. In particular, Gardiner lampooned Thomas Edwards, Benjamin Austin, Samuel Hewes, “Justice [John] Vinal,” and Colson. Judging by a legal report in the Columbian Centinel in 1791, Gardiner must have been carrying on that feud for years.

Remarks on the Jacobiniad portrayed Colson as an illiterate veteran of the Revolutionary struggle. At what must have been some expense, the book even included caricatures of those five leading “Jacobins,” allowing us to see a version of Adam Colson, above.

Colson died in 1798, not surviving to see his party take the Presidency and hold it for six terms. He left an estate worth nearly $17,000, including $10,000 of real estate on Washington Street in the South End.

Natural Protection against Counterfeiting

Sure, I’m intrigued by a mysterious box found under a government building filled with rare coins left by Freemasons, Revolutionaries, and Know-Nothings.

But the news story from last week about eighteenth-century money that really caught my interest was this discovery from Pennsylvania.

During the Seven Years’ War, Delaware issued a bunch of paper notes to circulate as currency. Benjamin Franklin and his business partner, David Hall, won the contract to produce those notes. To do so, they had to create a design that was distinctive and hard to counterfeit.

The Franklin and Hall shop gathered sage leaves, captured their vein patterns in plaster, and then used that plaster to create metal blocks that could print the leaf patterns in the center of each note. The twenty-shilling piece appears above. The result was a naturally intricate design that was hard to duplicate with available technology. Just to drive home the point, the printers added the words “To Counterfeit, is DEATH.”

Laws usually required the people who printed money to deliver the engraved plates to the government to ensure that neither they nor anyone else printed more without authorization. That’s how we have the copper plate that Paul Revere used to engrave his Boston Massacre image (actually Henry Pelham’s Boston Massacre image, cribbed): Revere used the other side of the plate to engrave currency for Massachusetts during the Revolutionary War and then handed in the piece of metal. It’s still property of the Massachusetts Archives.

As for Franklin and Hall, they would have had to turn over the metal plates of each unique leaf pattern (and perhaps the plaster molds as well). But eventually people lost track of them. They didn’t look like engravings of currency; they looked like pieces of metal with raised leaf patterns.

Recently the University of Connecticut historian Jessica Linker, who was actually at the Delaware County Institute of Science to study early female botanists, recognized that one such metal block with a leaf pattern wasn’t just a floral specimen. It matched Delaware’s 30-shilling piece. No similar printing block had been recognized before.

That artifact is now on loan to the Library Company of Philadelphia, which Franklin founded in 1731, as it prepares an exhibit about printing currency.

The same New York Times column that told that story also reports that in 2016 the Historical Society of Old Newbury will open an exhibit at Jacob Perkins’s engraving plant in Newburyport. Perkins developed a way to engraving on steel that was considered even harder to counterfeit. To tie everything together today, one of his earliest jobs was making the die for Massachusetts’s 1787 copper cent, one of the coins inside the State House time capsule.

A Punch Bowl in Pennsylvania

Last month the Museum of the American Revolution being built in Philadelphia shared news about archeology on its site, including the shards of a ceramic punchbowl shown here.

The museum’s blog reported:

In all, we excavated a well and twelve brick-lined privies, most of them brimming with artifacts. One of the largest assemblages of artifacts came from an 18th-century privy in the southeast corner of the site, located behind a house that would have faced Carter’s Alley. Among them was one of our most treasured findings: the pieces of an English delftware punch bowl.

When these sherds were pieced together in the lab, we were delighted to see a resplendent ship flying British flags with the words “Success to the Triphena” below. (“Triphena” is the name of the ship depicted.) We were the first people to lay eyes on this object since it was broken and discarded around the time of the American Revolution.

American colonists drank enormous quantities of alcoholic beverages, including beer, cider, wine, brandy, rum, gin, and whiskey. One particularly popular beverage during the era of the American Revolution was punch, which combined various ingredients like sugar, citrus juice, spices and liquor, and was commonly served in ceramic “punch bowls” like the “Success to the Triphena” bowl found on our site. . . .

During the 18th century, many of the punch bowls that were exported to the American colonies were produced by potters in Liverpool, England. The collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England includes an example that is a very close match to the Triphena bowl. Such bowls were likely produced to commemorate the launch of a new ship or to mark a voyage.

Thanks to the digitization of 18th-century American and British newspapers, we have been able to piece together some fascinating details about the original Triphena. (“Triphena” is Greek for delicate or dainty). The December 1, 1763 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette carried an advertisement for merchants Robert Lewis and Son, located on Front Street in Philadelphia, where they offered an assortment of goods just imported on the “Triphena, Captain Smith, from Liverpool.” It is certainly no coincidence that Captain Smith’s travels on the Triphena over the next few years regularly carried him to Liverpool, the place where the punch bowl was made, as well as Philadelphia, Charleston, and the West Indies.

The museum notes that in 1765 the Triphena carried the Philadelphia merchants’ protest against the Stamp Act. In that same season it carried a copy of one letter and possibly two to Benjamin Franklin. The 31 Oct 1765 Pennsylvania Gazette reported that “Capt. J. Smith” had cleared the Tryphena (the more common spelling) for Liverpool.

That was a significant date since the Stamp Act was supposed to take effect the next day. In The Stamp Act Crisis Edmund Morgan wrote: “In Philadelphia, apparently alone among colonial ports, many ships’ captains secured their clearance papers before November 1, even though they were still only partially loaded, so that when they finally sailed later in November [without Customs documents on stamped paper] they could persuade the commanders of naval vessels that they were operating perfectly legally.”

Street View and the 1700s

Back in February the Guardian newspaper featured artist Halley Docherty’s images of historic paintings of London laid over (and, thanks to Photoshop, somewhat under) Google Street View photographs of the modern city.

Above, for example, is Canaletto’s 1750s view of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, one of my favorite parts of London. The skyline hasn’t changed that much, but there appears to be much less traffic on the river.

In March the newspaper published Docherty’s similar work on other cities around the world, including the view of Paris below. Shortly after Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet painted the Pont Notre-Dame in 1756, that built-up bridge was taken down for safety.

Since then Docherty has done photo features on album covers, the World Wars, and the Berlin Wall.

I just tried doing the same thing with Henry Pelham’s print of the Boston Massacre and modern State Street. (Pelham had a better handle on perspective than Paul Revere, who copied his engraving.)

My main conclusion is that Pelham must have sat in a second-story window to get his view of the Old State House with its lion and unicorn and tower behind. He was clearly higher than those Street View cameras that Google employees walk around with.

Lion and Unicorn Returning to Boston, 23 Nov.

On Sunday, 23 November, the figures of the lion and unicorn will be reinstalled at the Old State House in Boston.

The lion has been regilded, and the unicorn repalladianized, making them shinier than they’ve been in years and probably far shinier than the original statues looked in colonial times. The balcony below them has had major repairs, as had the building’s west façade.

Aa was widely reported this fall, the lion’s head contained a time capsule from 1901. The conservator placed a new time capsule into the gilded scroll that the lion statue stands on, to be more easily accessible to people in another century.

Like the 1901 time capsule, the new box contains material reflecting this moment: today’s mayor and other officials, today’s fads, &c. But it also includes “Two 18th-century hand-wrought nails removed from the Old State House tower in 2008,” and a “Fragment of a 1713 brick removed from Old State House during the 2014 west façade restoration project.”

At 10:00 A.M. the statues are due to be unveiled at street level on the “Boston Massacre Plaza” beside the building. That will probably be the best time for many years to get a close-up look at them. Then they’ll be hoisted up to the roof with a crane.

View from Somewhere in the Bronx

Yesterday John U. Rees called my attention to this article by Matthew Skic, currently a student in the Winterthur museum’s Program in Early American Material Culture.

Winterthur’s collection includes the watercolor sketch shown above, made by Capt. Thomas Davies of the Royal Artillery in 1776. Skic explains:

The drawing depicts the British and Hessian assault of Fort Washington, an American fortification located on the heights at the northern end of Manhattan Island. The battle took place on November 16, 1776. Davies,…an eyewitness to the battle, executed this drawing soon after the assault.

Skic undertook an investigation of where Davies was standing when he made that sketch.

Prior to the American Revolution, Davies trained at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, England. At Woolwich he learned geometry, the technical aspects of artillery, and how to draw. Before photography, military drawings served as functional records of battles and landscapes. Drawings provided perspectives of elevation, terrain, and sightlines that maps could not. With the landscape in front of him, Davies recorded the assault, detailing the rocky heights and lower farm land around Fort Washington.

As I looked long and hard at this drawing, a few questions came to mind: How did Davies choose his viewing location? Does his drawing faithfully record the landscape? Why was this site important enough to record? My fascination with Davies’s creation of this drawing inspired me to travel to New York and view, first-hand, the landscape he saw 238 years ago. I hoped that my personal engagement with his drawing would help me understand its creation.

I first needed to figure out Davies’s location. The Continental Army built Forts Lee and Washington about where the George Washington Bridge is located today. With the Hudson River and New Jersey palisades visible in the background of the drawing, Davies shows the assault as viewed from the northeast. In the foreground of the drawing is the Harlem River, meaning Davies stood in what is today the Bronx. In order to see such a broad view of the landscape on the west side of the river, he must have stood on elevated ground.

The two main candidates, Skic thought, were University Heights and Kingsbridge Heights. After studying modern topographic maps and Google Maps, he headed to New York with a camera to trace Davies’s steps.

The big challenge, it turned out, was that these parts of New York have many more thick trees than they did back in 1776, after over a century of farming. Check out Skic’s report for the view he was eventually able to photograph. It’s possible that winter will open up the foliage and provide a clearer view as well.

A Painting of John Trumbull

It’s been noted that the phrase “a painting of Winston Churchill” can refer to a painting of the British Prime Minister, a painting by the British Prime Minister, or even a painting owned by that British Prime Minister.

This is a portrait of John Trumbull (1750-1831), the poet, lawyer, and jurist, by his cousin John Trumbull (1756-1843), the painter, and owned by each in turn. It’s now a painting of the Detroit Institute of Arts, which just helped its city work through bankruptcy.

“Neoclassicism” Seminar in Deerfield, 14-16 Nov.

This weekend Historic Deerfield will host a three-day seminar titled “Borrowing from Antiquity, Designing a New Republic: Neoclassicism in America.”

The three-day forum will explore the new design style developed in France and England in the mid-18th century and made popular in the newly-formed United States as the Federal style. Harkening back to the shapes and ornaments of classical Greece and Rome, antiquity became a source of inspiration for architecture, furniture, and household decoration, and can be seen in decorative arts ranging from porcelain vases to mahogany sideboards.

The frequent use of swags, urns, and elliptical motifs, along with the application of bright and varied color palettes and symmetry, are expressions of Neoclassical style. These design traits appeared in coastal urban centers by the early 1790s, and soon became fashionable in more rural areas, supported by those who wished to demonstrate their awareness of the latest fashion. Like their European counterparts, American builders, architects, and cabinetmakers were influenced by pattern books that emphasized the clean, geometric lines and more delicate Neoclassical detailing.

Speakers and sessions include:

  • Gordon S. Wood, the author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution, on why Americans became so excited about Neoclassicism.
  • Susan Schoelwer, Robert H. Smith Senior Curator of Mount Vernon, on recent research into George Washington’s “New Room.”
  • David C. Bosse, Librarian and Curator of Maps at Historic Deerfield, on maps of the Federal period, their decorative elements, and use as wall hangings.
  • Robert Mussey, retired conservator, on Neoclassical furniture produced in Boston.
  • Cabinetmaker Alan Breed will demonstrate his skills carving a replica of a Federal-style bed.
  • William Hosley, Principal of Terra Firma Northeast, on Asher Benjamin (1773-1845), author of  The Country Builder’s Assistant (1797).
  • Philip Zea, President of Historic Deerfield, on the consumer revolution in rural New England.
  • Stephen Fletcher, Director of American Furniture & Decorative Arts at Skinner, Inc., on restoring an 1830 Greek Revival granite captain’s house.
  • William A. Flynt, Architectural Conservator, Historic Deerfield, “Neoclassical Architecture Along Deerfield’s Old Main Street.”
  • Allan Breed, Master Cabinetmaker, The Breed School, on “Gouge-Cut Inlays.”
  • David E. Lazaro, Associate Curator of Textiles and Collections Manager, Historic Deerfield, “‘The Difference and Quick Transition of Fashion’: Exploring Neoclassical Style in Historic Deerfield’s Fashion and Textile Collection.”
  • Amanda Lange, Curatorial Department Director and Curator of Historic Interiors, Historic Deerfield, “Inspired by Pompeii: Neoclassical Ceramics for the American Home.”

For a full schedule and registration fees, including some extra workshops listed above, see the Historic Deerfield website.

The Neoclassical image above comes from the Skinner Inc., a sponsor of this seminar.

“Washington Elm” Exhibit in Cambridge

On Thursday, 13 November, the Cambridge Historical Society hosts an opening reception for its special exhibit on “The Washington Elm,” featuring the photography of Bruce Myren (one example shown here).

That elm, as I’ve discussed, was associated in the late 1800s with a moment on 3 July 1775 when Gen. George Washington was said to have taken command of the Continental Army, often pictured as drawn up in ranks for his review.

In reality, Washignton probably took command indoors on 2 July 1775 when he met Gen. Artemas Ward, and he and Gen. Charles Lee inspected the troops in their various positions around Boston over the next several days.

But the tree became a national symbol. This exhibit explores the artifacts it gave rise to:

historic representations of the Elm, pieces of the tree, collectibles made from the Elm’s wood, and Myren’s large-format pictures of scions, cuttings grown to create clones of the original tree. . . . Images of the Elm appeared on teacups, on stationery, and in paintings, while scions were planted by the hundreds across the country.

When the tree fell in 1923, it was cut into pieces, with cross sections going to the capitals of the forty-eight states, the White House, and the Capitol, and blocks going to prominent citizens across the country.

Myren quotes the English philosopher Bernard Williams when describing the show: “A myth is a fanciful picture of the past designed to justify certain activities in the present.”

The reception is from 6:00 to 8:00 P.M. on 13 November at the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House on Brattle Street. The exhibit will also be open for viewing on Saturday, 22 November, from 11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. The society will announce additional hours on its website.

“Visualizing Slavery” Conference in New Haven , 7-8 Nov.

On Friday and Saturday, 7-8 November, the Gilder Lehrman Center’s 16th Annual International Conference will take place at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut.

It will be on the theme “Visualizing Slavery and British Culture” and coincides with the museum’s exhibition “Figures of Empire: Slavery and Portraiture in Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Britain.”

The event description says:

Using a cross disciplinary approach, the conference will help place the works in the exhibition in a historical context—Britain and its empire from roughly the 1720s to the early 1800s—and explore the impact of slavery on British art and culture.

The conference intends to build on the growing field of work exploring the relationships between slavery, art, taste, and power, as well as to raise questions about how art, artists, and cultural institutions reckon with slavery’s legacies.

The scheduled presentations include “London’s Black Community, the Somerset Case, and the Politics of Slavery”; “Remembering to Forget: Ignorance and the Curating of Slavery”; “A Colloquial Archive of Color-Conscious Insult and Slang in Eighteenth-Century Britain”; and more.

Registration is free but required for all attendees.