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Posts Tagged ‘art’

“We Are One” Exhibit Opens in Boston

Earlier this year I recommended the “God Save the People” exhibit at the Massachusetts Historical Society. This month the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, just a few blocks away on Boyltston Street, opened a new exhibit called “We Are One.” It’s also very good. Both displays are up through the summer, and both are free.

There’s some overlap between the two exhibits. For example, both have copies of the Paul Revere engraving of the Boston Massacre. The B.P.L. also shows the overhead drawing of the killing scene credited to Revere, perhaps used in the legal proceedings that followed. The M.H.S. has two of the musket balls fired that night.

Likewise, both exhibits include a copy of Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 collection of poetry. (Old South Meeting House is also displaying that book now.) The M.H.S. copy of Wheatley’s collection sits alongside what is reportedly her writing desk. The B.P.L. copy contains her signature.

“We Are One” is bigger, with a broader scope. “God Save the People” is focused on greater Boston; it starts with the Stamp Act of 1765 and ends with the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. In contrast, the B.P.L. exhibit goes back to trade routes in the mid-eighteenth-century British Empire, the end of the French & Indian War, and the British line of settlement in 1763. It extends through the ratification of the Constitution and the expansion of the U.S. of A. And it covers a lot of ground.

(I’m going to link to a lot of “We Are One” artifacts through the accompanying website. The “God Save the People” exhibit doesn’t have such an elaborate website, but, as this page says, many of its items are visible on the web.)

Because “We Are One” is from a Map Center, it naturally emphasizes cartography. Not just maps, but other ways of visualizing the world. One item I found striking was Georg Balthasar Probst’s view of the London skyline. It’s often said that when Paul Revere and Christian Remick created their view of British troops landing on Boston’s Long Wharf in 1768, they emphasized Boston’s church spires to underscore the town’s religiosity. But Probst’s view of London had even more spires. So was he making the same point, or were church spires the most notable features of any town?

Among my favorite Revolutionary artifacts are the watercolors that Lt. Richard Williams painted on top of Beacon Hill, showing each sector of the view in turn. Back in May 2006 (the month I started this blog), I noted that a set of those had come up for auction. Richard H. Brown has generously loaned them and other items for the “We Are One” exhibit; two originals will be on display in rotation while the whole series is reproduced overhead. Down below you can see me pointing out details of those pictures during a visit earlier this month. (Reproductions of a Williams panorama are also part of the display at the Lexington visitor center of Minute Man National Historical Park.)

Thanks to the B.P.L.’s collections, “We Are One” also goes well beyond cartography. It also includes the gold medal that the Continental Congress commissioned for Gen. George Washington at the end of the siege of Boston. What’s more, beside it is the gorget that Washington wore for his 1772 portrait. That actual gorget. And, back to maps, there’s a 1750 land survey that the teen-aged Washington drew.

Over the next couple of days I’ll discuss a couple of the “We Are One” items in more depth.

Dedication of the African Burying Ground Memorial Park in Portsmouth

I was planning to post about something else today, but discussions at last night’s seminar at the Massachusetts Historical Society reminded me of an important commemoration taking place this week in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

From today through Saturday, 23 May, the city is honoring the completion of the new African Burying Ground Memorial Park.

In the eighteenth century, the town’s black inhabitants were buried at a site on the town’s outskirts. Eventually Portsmouth grew over that location. Early in this century, construction on Chestnut Street unearthed the remains of thirteen burials, out of up to two hundred that might have taken place at the site. That history explains why this park has a subtitle: We Stand in Honor of Those Forgotten. It’s the only known African burying ground from the era in New England.

On Saturday, those remains will be reburied at the site within a series of commemorative events.

Wednesday, 20 May, 9:00 A.M.
Unveiling of Ceramic Tiles
Sculptor Jerome B. Meadows and students from Portsmouth Middle School will reveal the ceramic they designed to be installed in the decorative railing at the site.

9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Petition of 1779 on Display
On 12 Nov 1779 twenty black men signed a petition to the Revolutionary New Hampshire government seeking relief from slavery. That document from the state archives is on display at the Seacoast African American Cultural Center at 10 Middle Street. (The cultural center is also hosting a show of art by middle-school students about the African Burying Ground.)

6:30 P.M.
Public Art & Portsmouth: A Community Forum
A discussion of the value of public art with sculptor Jerome Meadows and local arts figures at 3S Artspace, 319 Vaughn Street.

Friday, 22 May, 7:00 P.M. on
African Burying Ground Ancestral Vigil
As part of the reburial celebration, members of the community will hold an all-night vigil at the New Hope Baptist Church, 263 Peverly Hill Road. Services of remembrance are scheduled at 7:00 P.M., midnight, and 6:00 A.M. Saturday morning. The hours between services are open for anyone wanting to pay homage in their own way: sitting quietly, reciting a poem, saying a prayer, singing a song, playing the piano or other instrument, or otherwise. Those wishing to participate should contact JerriAnne Boggis or Kelvin Edwards with details.

Saturday, 23 May, 8:30 A.M.
Reburial Ceremony
Nine caskets will be placed in the vault constructed as part of the Memorial. The ceremony includes traditional African burial customs and the unveiling of the work of sculptor Jerome B. Meadows.

10:30 A.M.
Public Celebration of the Park
Following the reburial ceremony, a public celebration with food, music, and inspirational voices will take place at the Portsmouth Middle School Auditorium.

1:30 P.M.
Site Walk with Artist and Construction Team
Members of the construction team and sculptor Edwards will return to the African Burying Ground Park to answer questions about the Memorial installation.

5:00 P.M.
Burial Vault Lid Placement
At the close of the day, the burial vault lid will be placed on the vault. Members of the public will be invited to witness from a safe distance.

7:00 P.M.
Blind Boys of Alabama Concert
The gospel singing group formed in 1939 will offer a concert of traditional gospel songs and contemporary spirituals in celebration of the African Burying Ground Memorial at the Music Hall, 28 Chestnut Street.

Portraits of the Young Pepperrells

This John Singleton Copley painting, now in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art, shows the younger Sir William Pepperrell (1746-1816), his four children, and his late wife, the former Elizabeth Royall.

Yes, Elizabeth Pepperrell was dead when Copley created this picture in 1778. Her vacant stare in the center of the painting, and her limited interaction with the other family members, might signal how she had been dead for three years. Copley had also painted her as a teen-aged girl about twenty years before; that canvas is now at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

In “The Ghost of a Pepperrell Lady,” Dianne Fallon laid out the story of the Pepperrells’ marriage, which ended in the summer of 1775. Elizabeth died during the siege of Boston, two months after giving birth to her fourth child and only son, William.

Sir William blamed the lack of fresh meat. He wrote to his mother in Maine, “Love I never can again, till my soul is rewedded to that of my dear Betsy’s in the Joy of praising God forever.” He took his children to England in 1776 and became a leader of the Loyalist community there. He never remarried.

In the early 1780s Mather Brown painted little William and one of his older sisters—I’m guessing Harriet, born in 1773 and on the right above. As the family heir, he’s standing and looking out at us viewers; she’s seated and looking at him.

That canvas ended up in Maine, probably owned by a member of the extended Pepperrell-Sparhawk family who didn’t leave in the war or came back afterward. For example, the children’s great-grandmother lived at Kittery Point until 1789, and she might have wanted a picture of the little ones.

In 1894 Cecil Hampden Cutts Howard wrote that that canvas had “in some inexplicable way drifted into the hands of the proprietor of The Portland Museum, from whom it was purchased by our poet, the late Mr. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.” In fact, it was bought for the poet by his brother, the Rev. Samuel Longfellow, believing it was a Copley. Henry paid far more than the painting cost to have it restored and framed, and it still hangs today in the parlor of his house, Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge.

Taking the General Monk

Yesterday I left the Pennsylvania navy vessel Hyder Ally and the Royal Navy sloop General Monk in the middle of a fight in Delaware Bay on 8 Apr 1782.

The young captain of the Hyder Ally, Joshua Barney, told his helmsman to do the opposite of what he ordered and then yelled, “Hard a-port!” The helmsman steered to starboard. Meanwhile, the commander of the General Monk, trying to keep alongside the smaller American vessel, heard Barney and ordered a turn to port.

The General Monk’s jib boom plunged into the Hyder Ally’s rigging. In that position, the Americans could fire their port guns at the British vessel, but most of the British cannons were useless. The Hyder Ally crew rushed to keep the two ships entangled and started to fire. They even turned some of their starboard guns around.

The Hyder Ally cannon blasted canister and grape shot across the deck of the General Monk—thirteen broadsides in all. Barney had recruited riflemen from the Pennsylvania countryside as marines, and they joined in the firing from the rigging. After twenty-six minutes of battle, twenty of the British crew of 136 were dead, thirty-six wounded, including the captain. A British midshipman surrendered the General Monk.

Meanwhile, the Royal Navy frigate Québec was sailing up the main channel of the Delaware River, chasing the battle. That meant Barney and Lt. Justus Starr, whom he sent to command the new capture, had to work fast to separate the two ships and start upriver toward Philadelphia. They bought time by hoisting British flags and exchanging friendly signals with the Québec until it halted.

Once the Hyder Ally and General Monk had left the enemy frigate behind, Barney called over and learned the name of his prize. Lt. Starr also reported back that of the larger ship’s twenty-four guns, six were only “Quaker guns”—logs carved like cannon to intimidate other ships into surrendering. So the fight wasn’t as much of a mismatch as it had seemed.

The 10 April Freemen’s Journal, published in Philadelphia, reported:

Yesterday the Hyder Ally, a vessel fitted out for the protection of this river and its trade, returned to Chester after a severe conflict with a vessel of superior force, which with great gallantry and good conduct, on the part of captain Barney and his crew, has been captured and brought into port.

The General Monk was eventually made a Continental Navy ship, once more called the General Washington. Philip Freneau wrote a poem on the fight, which became known as the Battle of Delaware Bay. Years later, Barney commissioned Louis-Philippe Crépin to paint “Hyder Ally Captures the General Monk,” shown above; that picture is now owned by the U.S. Naval Academy Museum.

Barney went on to a long naval career, which included capture by British privateers in 1793, service in the navy of Revolutionary France, and a command in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. He was wounded at the Battle of Bladensburg and died, reportedly of complications from that wound, in 1818.

During the same war, with America once again awash in anti-British sentiment, a privateer named Hyder Ally was launched from Maine. This ship thus indirectly preserved the name of an Indian government official who had died decades earlier.

A Book Launch Where You Can Pop Up on 16 Apr.

Last May I noted a Kickstarter campaign for a pop-up book about Boston’s Freedom Trail, created by paper engineer Denise D. Price.

The Freedom Trail Pop Up Book of Boston has now been produced and printed, and Price is inviting people to a launch party on Thursday, 16 April, at the Old North Church.

The book contains pop-up versions of ships, church spires, Charles Bulfinch’s expanded Fanueil Hall, the soldiers from the Boston Massacre engraving, and more—sixteen scenes in all.

This event begins at 5:30 P.M. Book sales will benefit the church.

History Roundup 379 including Ayn Rand and Stamps!

Today’s links follow. 1) Magna Carta in 19 Cent: Lincoln (love liberty in cartoon) 2) Ghost Faces in Manuscript: Wales 3) Dead Soldier Identified: Waterloo! 4) Ayn Rand and Stamps! US 5) Lizzie Borden Grave Vandalised: US 6) A Cavalier Ghost: Britain 7) Mystery Dead Woman: Norway 8) Rollerskating and Sex Revolution: Victorian England! and from […]

Colonial Comics Classes and Events in April

During Massachusetts’s upcoming school vacation week, I’ll speak about the Colonial Comics series alongside top editor Jason Rodriguez, my fellow assistant editor A. David Lewis, and other contributors and comics creators in various combinations.

We’ll talk about the art and mystery of making history comics in two types of events: workshops designed for creative kids and evening talks for anybody interested in translating history into graphic form.

Tuesday, 21 April, 2:00 to 4:00 P.M.
Family Day Program for Young Historians, Parents & Grandparents
Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston
Come to M.H.S. during the school vacation week for a hands-on history program. Historian J. L. Bell will tell participants the story of the riots that followed the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 from an eighteenth-century child’s point of view: young people participated in marches to Liberty Tree and witnessed the ransacking of Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion.

After that talk, local comic book artists associated with the Boston Comics Roundtable, Fulcrum Publishing, and the Massachusetts Historical Society will help the young historians make their own historical comic depicting the conflict over the Stamp Act. Finished comics will be part of a temporary display. This workshop is free, but registration is required.

Tuesday, 21 April, 5:30 to 7:00 P.M.
Author Talk: Colonial Comics with Jason Rodriguez
Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston
Colonial Comics editor Jason Rodriguez will speak about the process of putting the collection together, ensuring historical accuracy, and selecting the topics to be covered. He will discuss how this illustrated book brings to light tales about free thinkers, Pequots, Jewish settlers, female business owners, dedicated schoolteachers, whales and livestock, slavery and frontiers, and other aspects of colonial life.

This talk will be followed by a Colonial Comics Happy Hour open to M.H.S. Associate Members (age forty and under). Those members are invited to a nearby restaurant with Rodriguez to continue the discussion about historical events as subject matter for comic books and graphic novels. Registration required at no cost. Please call 617-646-0543 for more information.

Wednesday, 22 April, 7:00 P.M.
Colonial Comics Book Talk and Signing
Harvard Book Store, Cambridge
The store welcomes Eisner Award nominee Jason Rodriguez and local writer J. L. Bell for a discussion of Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750. Co-sponsored by Mass Humanities. Free.

“In the first of three proposed anthologies, beautifully produced comics reveal the rich, often overlooked lives of Native Americans, women, and servants in colonial New England. Each of the two dozen selections is based on primary sources, and most pieces feature individuals whose names can be found fairly readily elsewhere. Unlike those other resources, however, the selections in this anthology take the vantage point of more marginalized groups, bringing attention to the people history has tended to view as mere props to stories featuring white male upper-class settlers.” —Booklist

Thursday, 23 April, 10:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.
History, in Panels: A Comic Book Making Workshop
Concord Museum, Concord, Massachusetts
Make your own comic book! Professional comic-book artists and writers will introduce kids to the world of comic-book creation and mentor them as they create their own history-themed comics. Working with editor and writer Jason Rodriguez, along with artists behind Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750 and the upcoming Colonial Comics: New England, 1750-1775, participants will get a hands-on look at how a historical comic book story is created, from working with primary and secondary sources, piecing a narrative together, and finding references, to illustrating the piece.

Then participants will create a comic of their own using first-hand accounts from colonial Concord, as well as objects and images from the Concord Museum’s collection. The workshop is designed for ages 8-16. The cost is $10 per person for museum members, $15 for others. Register online or by calling (978) 369-9763, ext. 216.

Filling in the Hole in West’s Painting

Yesterday I showed an image of Benjamin West’s painting of the American diplomats who went to Paris to negotiate the end of the War for Independence.

As shown above, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay signed the treaty of peace with Great Britain. West also pictured Henry Laurens and William Temple Franklin, two other Americans involved in the negotiation. But he couldn’t get David Hartley to represent the British side he had signed for, so West abandoned the painting.

In the last few decades, at least two New England artists stepped in to fill that hole.

In 1983 the U.S. Postal Service commissioned a painting for a stamp commemorating then bicentennial of the treaty signing. David Blossom of Weston, Connecticut, created the image above, showing the treaty signers only—and Hartley from the rear. Esther Porter adapted the image for the stamp. Blossom’s original painting now belongs to Winterthur.

In the last decade, David R. Wagner of Scotland, Connecticut, undertook a series of paintings about events along the Rochambeau Revolutionary Route. To that he added an image of the Treaty of Paris, based on West’s original, but with Hartley inserted, reportedly based on other portraits.

Wagner’s painting was shown at the Carroll Museum in Baltimore and at Yorktown in 2008. Judging by the artist’s website, it is now available for purchase.

Disturbingly Nude Victorian Mermaids

Nothing like a really beautiful mermaid, right: hair breezing sea blue blonde, scales shining with Brasso, tail whipping like a pike dropped in a bucket of acid? Well, yes, and Beach has previously celebrated the alluring mermaids of Venice: what some of his students would call ‘babes’. But he has been disturbed today by a […]

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.