John Trumbull Papers
Language of Materials
American artist John Trumbull was born in Lebanon, CT on June 6, 1756. He studied under American painter Benjamin West and produced such famous works as Battle of Bunker Hill, Death of General Montgomery at Quebec and Declaration of Independence; as well as portraits of General Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. He was also active in politics and diplomacy, serving as a commissioner for the Jay Treaty. In his later years Trumbull returned to the art world as president of the American Academy of the Fine Arts. He passed away in 1843 at the age of 88.
John Trumbull was born in Lebanon, CT on June 6, 1756 to Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., and his wife Faith Robinson. As the youngest of six John looked up to his older siblings, particularly his sister Faith, whose drawings fascinated and inspired him, and his brother Jonathan, Jr., later Governor of Connecticut, with whom he regularly corresponded. Despite an accident when he was a child that left him without sight in his left eye, John pursued his talent for art. Trumbull entered Harvard as a Junior at the age of 15 and graduated a year and a half later in 1773. His career was interrupted two years later by the start of the Revolutionary War. He served for two years as aid-du-camp and then as Deputy Adjutant General drawing out plans and maps before resigning in 1777 to devote himself to developing his talents as a painter. In 1780 he had the opportunity to travel to London to study with established American painter Benjamin West. During this time period he painted over two numerous miniature portraits and small representations of the war.
Trumbull spent two years in Connecticut from 1782-84, but returned to London in January of 1784 to again paint under West. The period he spent painting in London, which lasted approximately a decade, was Trumbull's most successful as an artist. During this time he produced such works as Battle of Bunker Hill, Death of General Montgomery at Quebec and Declaration of Independence; as well as portraits of General Washington, John Adams, George Clinton, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and Rufus King.
By the mid-1790s Trumbull put painting aside to focus on politics and diplomacy. In 1794 he served as secretary to John Jay during the treaty negotiations between America and Britain. He was chosen in 1796 to be the fifth commissioner to work on the 7th article of the Jay Treaty, which sought to resolve the complaints made by American merchants who believed their ships had been unfairly confiscated by the British. In 1800 he married Sarah Hope Harvey, an Englishwoman, and returned to America with her in 1804. After spending a few years in New York, he returned to London for another extended stay that lasted from 1808-13.
Trumbull returned to painting in 1816 as president of the American Academy of the Fine Arts. However, by that point his skills had declined due to lack of practice for so many years. Trumbull continued to support the Fine Arts by drafting a document, Plan for Encouragement of the Arts, that sought to promote the Arts to the President and Congress. He passed away in 1843 at the age of 88.
- Series I: John Trumbull Correspondence and Papers
- Series II: Jay Treaty
- Series III: Trumbull Family
This collection is organized into three series that are arranged chronologically and then alphabetically. Any undated materials were placed at the end of each series. Correspondence was arranged according to the member of the Trumbull family who sent or received it; however, in the event that correspondence was exchanged among the family members, the materials were organized by the sender.
Scope and Contents note
This collection is comprised of the correspondence and papers of John Trumbull and various family members, and five handwritten volumes, which include correspondence, receipts, shipping inventories and notes. The papers belong to MS 2561 and the bound volumes belong to MS 639. John Trumbull's correspondence dates from 1776-1842. It covers various topics, such as his artwork and exhibitions, his work as a commissioner for the Jay Treaty, the unrest in Europe resulting from the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, his property in Genesee County, NY, and his Plan for Encouragement of the Arts. Primary correspondents include Anthony De Paggi, with whom Trumbull discussed subscriptions, etchings and engravings of his work; his brother Jonathan, Jr., with whom he discussed the state of affairs in Europe; and his wife Sarah, with whom he discussed his travels across the East Coast of the US for exhibitions of his artwork. A few of the letters are written in French.
The earliest of the volumes, Account Books (vol. 1), contains three smaller volumes entitled "Account of Sales and Receipts, 1790-1794" "Trumbull's Subscription Book, Boston 1790-1792" and "Exhibition of the Resignation of General Washington, 1824." The first two note the subscriptions for engravings made from his paintings and the third records the register of visitors, income and expenses pertaining to the 1824 exhibition of his painting the Resignation of General Washington that traveled throughout northeastern United States.
The earlier of two Letter Books (vol. 2) spans from 1796-1802 and deals primarily with Trumbull's work as commissioner charged with settling the 7th article of the Jay Treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain. Other topics include general discussions of politics, America's declining relationship with France and of Trumbull's business affairs. Correspondents include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Oliver Wolcott, John Jay, Rufus King, and his brother Jonathan Trumbull. The second Letter Book (vol. 5) spans from 1810-17, with the bulk of the letters occurring between 1811-13 when Trumbull was in England. A primary topic in this volume is the War of 1812, particularly the impressment issue, including one letter to the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, another to Sir Robert Liston, and one which was published in the Morning Post. Other letters deal with business and personal affairs, including his detention in Britain as an enemy alien, and the career in the British Army of his natural son, John Trumbull Ray. There are also letters discussing American politics, and a strong attack on DeWitt Clinton. Correspondents include Rufus King, James Wadsworth and Samuel M. Hopkins. A list of all correspondents accompanies the volume.
Inventories (vol. 3) includes inventories and container lists of Trumbull's engravings, paintings and personal and household possessions as packed in cases for shipment across the Atlantic in 1803 to America, in 1808 in America and to London, and in 1813 returning to America. This volume also contains recipes for and notes documenting Trumbull's experiments with making colors, paints and varnish, as well as receipts for medicines and remedies for various ailments and household cleaning substances.
Mountmorrissland (vol. 4) includes accounts, letters and memoranda relating to the management of his property, Mountmorriss, located in Genesee County, NY. Topics include a subscription taken up in 1805 to improve the road leading to Dr. Samuel Willard's house in Stafford Springs, CT; the planting of ornamental and fruit trees on Trumbull's estate; and instructions on the rental and management of the property. Primary correspondents are Samuel M. Hopkins and James Wadsworth, his agents in Genesee County.
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This collection should be cited John Trumbull Papers, MS 2561, or the John Trumbull Volumes, MS 2561, The New-York Historical Society.
Location of Materials
There are five bound volumes in this collection that are kept separately from the papers. If an item is listed as a volume, please request it under BV Trumbull (MS 2561).