The baptism of Pocahontas

Hounded by debts, Chapman left the United States in 1848 with his wife and three children, including another son born in 1839 also named John "Jack" Linton (1839-1905). After traveling in Europe for two years, they settled in Rome, where he Following his wife's death in 1874, he became increasingly dependent on his fellow expatriates for support. Ten years later, he returned to the United States. He visited his son Conrad (1842-1910), an artist who was then in Mexico. He then moved in with his other son, Jack, also an artist, in Brooklyn, New York. He died there in 1889 and was buried in a pauper's grave.

Chapman's mural in the Rotunda can be considered his greatest legacy to American art. He wrote that it appeals "to our religious as well as our patriotic sympathies and is equally associated with the rise and progress of the Christian Church as with the political destinies of the United States."25 It is a classic example of how politics, religion, and social issues were combined in a painting for the nation's Capitol-a building in which such matters continue to be discussed today.

The author acknowledges the following for their generous help and assistance: Ann Alexander, Dr. Robert Bedford, Dan Hawks, Robert B. Mayo, Barbara Wolanin and the staff at the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, and the Yorktown-Jamestown Foundation in Virginia.

1 Pocahontas appears in Chapman's mural discussed in this article, in the bas-relief by Antonio Capellano in Fig. 5, and in a frieze by Constantino Brumidi (1805-1880) entitled Captain Smith and Pocahontas, completed in 1878.

2 It has always been assumed that the baptism was performed in Henricus, Virginia, by the Reverend Alexander Whitaker, who had instructed Pocahontas in the Christian faith, and that it took place shortly before her marriage to Rolfe on April 5, 1614. However, documents in the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, including a letter from a descendant of the Reverend Richard Bucke, suggest that Pocahontas was baptized in Jamestown by Bucke shortly after her marriage. John Gadsby Chapman Files, Archives of the Architect of the Capitol, Washington.

3 Chapman met Wise when the two were roommates studying law in Winchester, Virginia.

4 Between 1822 and 1842 King created 143 paintings of Indians at the request of Thomas L. McKenney, the first director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Chapman undoubtedly met many of these tribal leaders in King's studio in Washington when they came to conduct business with the government. In Washington it is also likely that he saw exhibitions of works by Catlin, who between 1830 and 1836 traveled extensively in the West and painted nearly 470 scenes of Indian life.

5 Chapman's work was unveiled on November 30, 1840, followed by Weir's Embarkation of the Pilgrims in 1843 and Vanderlyn's Landing of Columbus in 1847. Inman died in 1846 without completing his work, which was replaced by The Discovery of the Mississippi, painted by his pupil William Henry Powell (c. 1824-1879) in 1855.

6 Register of Debates, House, 23 rd Congress, 2 nd session, December 15, 1834, quoted in Vivien Green Fryd, Art and Empire: The Politics of Ethnicity in the United States Capitol, 1815-1860 (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1992), p. 46.

7 John Gadsby Chapman, The Picture of the Baptism of Pocahontas: Painted by Order of Congress, for the Rotunda of the Capitol (Washington, 1840).

8 Ibid., p. 4.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid., p. 5.

11 The so-called Turkey Island portrait was inherited by Ryland Randolph, a great-great-grandson of Pocahontas, from Rolfe descendants in England. He hung it in his family's house at Turkey Island in the James River near Jamestown, Virginia. Thomas Sully encouraged his nephew Robert Matthew Sully (1803-1865) to make a copy of it in 1830.

12 In 1616 Pocahontas, Rolfe, their son Thomas, and several other Indians made a trip to England organized by the Virginia Company to help obtain financial support for their struggling colony. She was treated as a princess, entertained by the Anglican bishop of London, and introduced to England's James I (r. 1603-1625) and his consort Queen Anne (1574-1619).

13 Chapman apologized for his inaccuracy in depicting the natives' dress: "The naked limbs and costume of the savages-are matters of history which the artist has only followed with the best of his ability, and he only regrets it was not more worthy of the grandeur and beauty of the subject of the picture." Chapman, The Picture of the Baptism of Pocahontas, p. 8.

14 The works were Eagle's Delight or Hayne Hudjihini, which was destroyed by fire in 1865, and Young Omaha, War Eagle, Little Missourti and Pawnees, which is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington. For various copies of Eagle's Delight, see Andrew J. Cosentino, The Paintings of Charles Bird King (1785-1862) (National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 1977), pp. 168-169.

15 Among these figures are Richard Wyffin and Henry Spillman, two men whose lives Pocahontas saved; Mrs. Forrest, whom Chapman identifies as the "first generation to arrive in the colony," and Anne Burras (1590-1630), who came to the colony in 1608 as a maid for Mrs. Forrest, married a carpenter, John Laydon, in what is thought to have been the first recorded English wedding in America, and in 1609 had a child, Virginia, who is believed to have been the first child born in the colony.

16 Raphe Hamor, A True Discourse on the Present Estate of Virginia, and the Successe of the Affaires there till the 18 of [J]une 1614... (1615; reprint, Twin Commonwealth Publishers, Pikeville, Ky. and Baltville, Va., 2006).

17 These drawings are from Chapman's sketchbook, which was discovered, along with his furniture, papers, journals, diaries, daybooks, and paintings, in the basement of a former Brooklyn residence of the artist's son, Jack. Found in the mid-twentieth century by Robert B. Mayo, a former curator and art dealer from Virginia, much of this material remains in the Mayo collection. Chapman's sketchbook and his oil study for his Rotunda painting are in the collection of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

18 John Smith, quoted in Chapman, The Picture of the Baptism of Pocahontas, p. 6.

19 Ibid., pp. 6-7.

20 Photocopy of the Journal of B[enjamin]. B. French, November 16, 1840, John Gadsby Chapman Files.

21 John Gadsby Chapman's Day Book, p. 79, Mayo collection.

22 William Kemble to Captain M.C. Meigs, Superintendent of the Capitol, February 3, 1853, John Gadsby Chapman Files.

23 John Gadsby Chapman Day Book, p. 77.

24 "Additional Memoranda" in ibid.

25 Chapman, The Picture of the Baptism of Pocahontas, p. 5.

FAITH ANDREWS BEDFORD is the author of Frank W. Benson, American Impressionist (1994) and The Sporting Art of Frank W. Benson (2000). See

[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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