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US Marines First Issue of Uniforms Folk Art, Artist Unknown approx. date 1798-1806






United States Marine Uniforms of 1798-1806 and the Sandwich at Puerto Plata, May 1800: Research of a Recently Discovered Painting by Janet Gwendolyn Smith

The Unknown Soldier is remembered by the service and selfless deeds. The unknown artist is remembered only by the images left behind. The review of an old painting took an exciting American military history tour.

The painting is not a Rembrandt, but the artist believed his subject was important and painted a specific event. The historic significance to U.S. Marine Corps history made the old folk art painting an unusual and exciting art investigation. The painting is neither dated nor signed, so what is it depicting? Based on research, art curators, information from estate records, and the expertise of curators at the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Center the findings to date are reported here. Conclusions about the painting are reported to assist other historians with research of U.S. Marine Corps uniforms and this era.

The large old painting is folk art. The challenge is discovering the facts about the picture. Most folk artists put all the important elements in the picture. A folk art picture is not 100 percent accurate in every detail like a photograph. The art historian must review each element independently focusing on identification of the event, era, people and location painted. The central composition of the painting is a sailing vessel in a harbor with an American flag and tropical vegetation in the foreground. The secondary elements are a fort style building, details of the ship, and the figures in the boat. Review of several basic references on ships, flags, and uniforms, along with the assistance of Mr. John Dyer, Mr. Ken Smith-Christmas, Mr. Charles Smith, and Dr. Charles H. Cureton, all connected with the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Center were paramount to the discovery process.

The initial research started by reviewing the individual elements in the painting based on American history. The elements are as follows: two ships very distant at sea, one ship outside the harbor, one ship inside harbor and one boat being rowed in the harbor. There is a fort of some kind. The wind is blowing into the harbor reflected in the red pennant flags on fort and the vessel with American flag. The American flag appears to have fifteen stars and seven stripes. There is tropical vegetation and reddish rocks in the foreground. The vessels in the harbor are manned and the uniforms and hats appear to be the same. The ship in the harbor has one man facing forward and his uniform is white on the front. This man is waving one arm, as if directing and ordering the other men on the ship.

The preliminary academic research indicated U.S. Marines, approximately 1812. [1, 2, 3, 4] This information needed confirmation by the appropriate Marine Corps experts. After the initial inquiry a series of emails between the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Center curators assisted with review of folk art painting. The key element of discovery became the military figures dressed in blue uniforms with red lapels and collars, and flat hats. Dr. Charles Cureton noted, "if the figures were American Marines, the only uniform worn by the Marine Corps with red collars, red lapels, and flat hats was first issue of uniforms of 1798-1806. The uniform adopted in 1798, was initially from Army stocks of the old 1787 pattern. It consisted of a blue coat with red lapels, cuffs, and collar. The headdress was a "common hat", that is, a brimmed hat with a low crown. Marine regulations called for the brim to be turned up on one side and this may account for the apparent "thickness" of the brims seen in the painting. The common hat was issued to Marines as a uniform hat from 1798 to about 1806, and as a fatigue hat through the War of 1812. The uniform is the significant factor in dating the painting. Marines wore coats having red lapels from 1798 to 1806 and by the Army to about 1810. Assuming the figures were not volunteer militia, from which we have a number of examples of War of 1812 uniforms with red lapels, the painting could not have been done after about 1810. If these are Marines, the painting has to date between 1798 and about 1806. If the figures can be proven to be Marines, this would be the second known painting of a Marine enlisted man in the blue and red uniform, but only if it can be proven that the ship could have had a compliment of Marines. If not, they are Army or militia." [5]

This identification of the uniforms provided the time period of 1798-1806 for additional American history review. With the establishment of a time period discovery of a U.S. Marine Corps connection with sailing vessels in a tropical local was critical. During this era the American Navy was small, consisting of frigates larger than the sailing vessels depicted. Mr. Ken Smith-Christmas confirmed an incident where a similar ship like the painting had a Marine association. The ship in the painting matches the description of a coaster or schooner used to enter the harbor at Puerto Plata in May 1800 during the Quasi-War with France. Capt. Silas Talbot commanded the frigate USS Constitution at the time. Smith-Christmas replied "During a quick glance through Heinl's Soldiers of the Sea, I find that Lt. Isaac Hull (of USS Constitution) commandeered an "American coaster" (usually a two-masted schooner), filled it with 80 Marines and blue jackets, attacked Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic) and cut out the British ship Sandwich in May 1800."[6]

After additional review Mr. Smith-Christmas responded, "There are some reasonable assumptions and observations that can be made. Most folk art of the period recorded either significant events, or were commissioned by the owners of homes, farms, factories, etc. to record what they owned, I think it was unlikely that an artist would paint a detailed scene of American Marines rowing a ship's boat to another ship in a foreign harbor just for the sake of doing so. The Quasi-War with France lasted from 1797 to 1801 one of the most significant actions in the Quasi-War was the taking (cutting out) of the British ship Sandwich at Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic) by U.S. Marines in 1800. This ship had been taken by the French and was being held under the guns of a Spanish fort, One other well-known artist (Salmon) also painted a version of this action-The landscape in the painting is not typical of the United States as it appears to be a mountainous tropical island scene, judging by the depiction of the trees and the structures are European-designed military buildings in white (normally done in the tropics). The men in the boat are wearing the 1798 U.S. Marine uniforms. The ship matches the description of the "appropriate" island "coaster", or schooner, that Marines and sailors used to enter the harbor, and it is flying the U.S. flag, I would guess that it would not be unreasonable to SUPPOSE that this painting may depict the action. However, without firm documentation, we can never state unequivocally that this is the case."[7]

There is an important connection with Silas Talbot and George Metcalf. In the Inventory of the Silas Talbot Papers 1767-1867, page 11, the last paragraph notes: "Talbot had one other child, Eliza, whom he identified in his will of 1783 as the daughter of Lydia Arnold. Eliza was married to George Metcalf."[8]

The painting was elevated to a new level with the review of Silas Talbot's papers and personal inventory. The Reference Manager of Mystic Seaport, Wendy Schnur reported "In Silas Talbot's last will and testament, dated 3 March 1804 the only mention of a painting is the one he bequeaths to his son, Cyrus Talbot. "...I do give and bequeath my Portrait picture taken in the uniform of the American Navy during the Revolution and war with Great Britain, to the said Cyrus Talbot..." Eliza or Betsy, as she was called, was given a monetary share of Talbot's estate, as well as real estate. On an undated and unidentified household inventory found among Talbot's papers are "1 picture" and "1 likeness".[9] The "1 picture" is not mentioned in the will. Is the picture in Talbot's personal household inventory the painting being researched?

The provenance of the painting shows additional Metcalf connections. The painting was purchased at the Lininger Estate Sale of July 1927 in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. The original owner of the picture was George Washington Lininger, a world traveler. He purchased art and owned an art gallery that opened in November 1888 in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.A. This painting, however, is not typical of his artistic taste and may have originated with his business partner, Joseph Maull Metcalf.

With Silas Talbot's personal household inventory listing "1 picture" greater importance was placed on Joseph Metcalf. Genealogy research found Joseph Metcalf's father was John James (Wiltbank) Metcalf, 1808-1882. He was a blacksmith identified in the 1850 census of Lewes, Sussex County, Delaware. Joseph's grandfather was Thomas Metcalf 1779-1814. The continuing challenge is the link to the Delaware John Metcalf and to George Metcalf, the son-in-law of Silas Talbot.

The painting is old based on canvas, construction of the wooden stretcher supporting the canvas and other examinations confirming the painting is over 100 years of age. Observation under various light confirmed the painting is not signed or dated. The label of the framing company is from Sammons, Clark & Co, at 197 and 199 South Clinton. Sammons, Clark & Company was established in Chicago in 1864 and employed 150 people.[10] The painting remains in the original frame from the Lininger Estate sale of 1927.

This article is submitted with the intention of providing information for anyone doing military research concerning the Quasi-War with France or the uniforms of the U.S. Marine Corps.

For further information, contact Janet G. Smith. This journal article was published in the "International Military Collector and Historian" -
Volume 56 Number 2 - Summer 2004. Copyrights of the painting photographs are owned by Jenny Dinsmoor and may not be reproduced without written permission.

I would like to express my appreciation to the owner of the painting for allowing this publication.
Thanks and special acknowledgements to: John Armstrong, Librarian-Joslyn Memorial Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; Nebraska State Historical Society; Jacquelyn J. Groves University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Love Library; John Hartman, Conservator Chief, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission; Bruce Bazelon, Curator Chief, Western Division of Historical Sites, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Susan Hodges, Vice President for Administration-Marine Corps Historical Foundation; John T. Dyer, Curator of Art, Marine Corps Museums: Dr. Charles H. Cureton, USMCR; Lt. Col. Robert. J. Sullivan, USMC (Ret), Head of the Marine Corps Museums Branch; Charles. R. Smith, Senior Historian-Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps History & Museums Division; Kenneth L. Smith-Christmas, Curator, National Museum of the U.S. Marine Corps; Wendy Schnur, Reference Manager Mystic Seaport; Douglas County Historical Society; Family History Center on Martha Street; Bob Harrison, art historian; Chicago Historical Society; and Michael DiPaolo of The Lewes Historical Society.


[1] Howard I. Chappelle, "The History of American Sailing Ships" (Bonanza Books, New York; 1982) 1-119
[2] Frank O. Braynard, "Famous American Ships" (S. H. Reginald Saunders, Canada, 1956) 10-103.
[3] Chester G. Hearn, "An Illustrated History of the United States Navy" (Salamander Books Ltd. London, 2002), 12-40.
[4] Charles H. Cureton, "GI The Illustrated History of the American Soldier, His Uniform and His Equipment" (Greenhill Books-London, Stackpole Books Pennsylvania, 1997), 6-14.
[5] E-mail, Dr. Charles H. Cureton to John T. Dyer, Kenneth Smith Christmas, and Janet G. Smith, 2 May 2003
[6] E-mail, Kenneth Smith-Christmas to Charles H. Cureton, John T. Dyer, and Janet G. Smith, 13 May 2003.
[7] E-mail, Kenneth Smith-Christmas to Charles H. Cureton, John T. Dyer, and Janet G. Smith, 22 May 2003.
[8] Charles R. Schultz, Keeper of the Manuscripts. Comp. "Inventory of the Silas Talbot Papers 1767-1867". Issued by the Marine Historical Association, Inc. 11 University of Nebraska, Love Library, Lincoln, Nebraska.
[9] E-mail, Wendy Schnur to Janet G. Smith, 25 July 2003.
[10] For information on the frame manufacturer, see S. S. Schoff, "Industrial Interests of Chicago", Chicago Historical Society. Chicago, Illinois, 1878, 56.


Copyright 2004 Janet Gwendolyn Smith
Copyright 2004-2017 Janet Gwendolyn Smith Art
All artwork is copyright of the respective owner or artist.


Painting is for sale by owner.

 
 
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