Yesterday I linked to an image of John Blake White’s painting of “General [Francis] Marion Inviting a British Officer to Share His Meal,” in a discussion of how best to acknowledge the place of the general’s enslaved servant Oscar in history.
It turns out that White made several copies of that scene, and one came into the collection of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. It’s not on display but can be viewed through the museum’s website—which includes a close-up feature.
White’s image was reproduced in other ways over the years:
- This is the largest reproduction I’ve found on the web, from a nineteenth-century print.
- Engravers copied the image onto bills issued by the Confederacy and a bank in South Carolina.
- The Library of Congress offers a couple of slow-loading versions from its prints collection, one issued by Currier & Ives.
- Prints were often individually colored, like this somewhat garish example from the University of South Carolina library.
Another figure who varies stands behind Marion’s left shoulder, one hand over a horse’s neck. In White’s painting he, too, in black. The Currier & Ives print makes him a generic black man while another print shows his skin tone not much different from the other men in the background. In the small bank note images, that figure is barely visible at all. It’s not clear why this figure could not be identified as Oscar Marion, except that he’s less prominent.
Another painter who depicted Francis Marion was William Ranney (1813-1857). He was born in Connecticut, spent his adolescence in North Carolina, studied in New York City, volunteered for the Texas War for Independence, and finally settled in New Jersey. His Marion paintings date from about 1850. Unlike White, he never claimed to have met Marion as a boy.
Ranney’s “Marion Crossing the Pedee” is now at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. It, too, has been reproduced in engravings and lithographs, such as these from the Library of Congress collection. There’s also a small study for the painting at the Greenville County Museum of Art.
Like White, Ranney depicted Marion with black servants. There are two black men in this boat. One is easy to pick out: he’s the only man who’s rowing. (Let me say that again. He’s the only man who’s rowing.) The other stands near the front of the boat holding the horses, looking ahead somewhat vacantly while all the other men in that area are turned toward their mounted commanders.
Finally, Ranney produced a painting now titled “Marion and His Men” (thumbnail above), which shows a mounted black man near the front of the column might cement that assignment. This is the most vigorous, least subservient depiction of an African-American in all these paintings. He’s not stooping, relegated to the background, or shown as incompetent. Still, of all the figures in the image, he alone has his sleeves rolled up, indicating that he’s from a laboring class.