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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Friday, May 09, 2014

The Fate of Don Galvez’s Portrait

Yesterday’s posting described how in May 1783 Oliver Pollock gave the Continental Congress a portrait of Don Bernardo de Gálvez, who as Spanish governor of Louisiana had been a strong ally for the new U.S. of A. After being displayed for a day in the Congress’s chamber, the painting was moved to the house that chairman Elias Boudinot was renting in Philadelphia.

The next month, soldiers of the Pennsylvania Line marched on the capital to demand their unpaid wages. They surrounded the Pennsylvania State House. Some authors say they were upset with the Congress, some with the Pennsylvania Council—but since both bodies met in the same building, that didn’t much matter.

James Madison’s notes on the situation state:
The mutinous soldiers presented themselves, drawn up in the Street before the State House where Congress had first assembled. The Executive Council of the State sitting under the same roof, was called on for the proper interposition. President [i.e., Governor John] Dickinson came in, and explained the difficulty under actual circumstances, of bringing out the militia of the place for the suppression of the mutiny. He thought that without some outrages on persons or property the temper of the militia could not be relied on. Genl. [Arthur] St. Clair then in Philada. was sent for; and desired to use his interposition, in order to prevail on the troops to return to the Barracks. His report gave no encouragement.
Neither the state governor nor the highest-ranking army general thought he had enough reliable troops to force the mutineers away.

Boudinot wrote to his brother on 23 June:
I have only a moment to inform you, that there has been a most dangerous insurrection and mutiny among a few Soldiers in the Barracks here. About 3 or 400 surrounded Congress and the Supreme Executive Council, and kept us Prisoners in a manner near 3 hours, tho’ they offered no insult personally. To my great mortification, not a Citizen came to our assistance. The President and Council have not firmness enough to call out the Militia, and allege as the reason that they would not obey them.
Eventually St. Clair got an assurance from the soldiers that they’d let the politicians go to their homes. In a draft announcement on the event, Boudinot added:
Congress left the House & passed thro’ the ranks of Mutineers without opposition. When the President [i.e., Boudinot himself] had got half way home—6 or 7 of the Men followed him with their Arms & requested his return, but on his way one of the Sergeants met him & desired him not to regard the Men who had gone without order.
Various men, including delegate and colonel Alexander Hamilton, bustled about to resolve the crisis. But the Congress decided that it couldn’t rely on the local authorities for security and had to leave Philadelphia immediately. They adjourned to Boudinot’s alma mater at Princeton, New Jersey.

At first Boudinot moved in with his sister, Annis Stockton. Later he rented a house, moving his “Family and Furniture from Philadelphia” to Princeton. Varnum Lansing Collins’s The Continental Congress at Princeton reports that the move cost Boudinot £50, though that probably included six cartloads of Congress’s papers. The move also took a few months. On 11 August, the Continental Congress’s records addressed “an application from the President respecting the present deranged state of his household.” Some officials did venture back to Philadelphia to collect papers and finish up business there, but it would not be the nation’s capital again for several more years.

Boudinot might have left the Gálvez portrait behind in Philadelphia, or it could have been lost in the turmoil. Perhaps it became federal property in 1789 and was sent to Washington City, but then destroyed in the British invasion of 1814. I can’t find any further mention of it in the Congress’s published records. About a century ago, the National Portrait Gallery reported that nobody knew its location.

In 1976 Spain gave the U.S. an equestrian statue of Galvez, which as shown above now stands outside the State Department.

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