J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Another John Adams Portrait

Back in May, I wrote about the many faces of John Adams one could find in museums and/or online. Here's a link to yet another portrait of John Adams, which I didn't know about until it appeared in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal. Charlestown native Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1862) painted it in 1816, and it's now at the Brooklyn Museum. (Folks interested in the theory that Adams suffered from a thyroid disorder can check his eyeballs.)

This was the same Samuel F. B. Morse who developed Morse code in the 1830s and 1840s; that was back when portrait artists could also be at the forefront of communications technology. Morse wasn't the first person to invent an electric telegraph, but he was the first to produce an efficient way of sending ordinary messages across it, and thus made the invention into part of daily life.

Other people had toyed with the same idea for decades, going back to a 1753 letter in The Scots' Magazine signed by "C.M." and datelined "Renfrew, Feb. 1, 1753." That letter, which contained some other electrical ideas also well ahead of their time, was reprinted in full in Notes and Queries, 25 Mar 1854, and thus available through Google Book. By the end of the nineteenth century, British historians seem to have settled on Dr. Charles Morrison of Greenock as the most likely identity for "C.M." He was said to have emigrated to Virginia, so the telegraph was still, in one way, an American invention.

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