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Object Details

Maker
Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755-1828)
Date
ca. 1799-1805
Geography
United States
Culture
North American
Medium
oil on canvas
Dimensions
Overall: 33 1/2 in x 27 in; 85.09 cm x 68.58 cm
Provenance
Governor and Mrs. Winthrop Sargent, Of Natchez, Mississippi; to Mrs. Winthrop Sargent, until 1844; to her youngest son, George Washington Sargent, of Philadelphia and Natchez, until 1864; to his daughter, Jane Percy Sargent, wife of William Butler Duncan, of New York; until 1905; to her son, Alexander Butler Duncan, until 1920; to his sister, Mary Butler Duncan, wife of Paul Dana of New York, until 1922; to her son, Anderson Dana, of New York; to Mrs. Stephen A. (Elizabeth de C.) Wilson, of New York; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
Inscriptions
None
Credit Line
Funds donated by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1973.0055

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Object Essay

Born into the distinguished colonial family, which had received a land grant in Gloucester, Massachusetts, from the British crown in 1678, Winthrop Sargent (1753–1820) attended Harvard and then earned the brevet rank of major in the Continental Army. As Secretary of the Ohio Company, he was one of the founders of Marietta, Ohio (1788), and, as Secretary of the Northwest Territory (appointed 1787), he served as Adjutant to General Arthur St. Clair, Governor of the territory. He was twice wounded in the disastrous defeat by the Indians at Fort Recovery in 1791.1DAB, s.v. “Winthrop Sargent.”      

In 1798, President John Adams appointed Sargent first Governor of the Mississippi Territory, with its capital at Natchez. Federalism was generally unpopular on the frontier and, though Sargent was an impartial administrator and his contributions to the territory included authorship of its legal code, he was not personally or politically popular. A contemporary declared: “However good his intentions, it is impossible that a man so frigid and sour can give satisfaction to a free people.”2William Dunbar, quoted in Kane 1947, 116. In 1801, newly elected Thomas Jefferson removed Sargent as Governor.      

Sargent chose to remain in Natchez, where he became a planter. His first wife died in 1790 in the first year of their marriage; on October 24, 1798, he had married Mary McIntosh Williams, a wealthy Natchez widow, on whose inherited estate they enlarged a house, which they christened (and, for the benefit of his territorial neighbors, misspelled) “Gloster Place” after his Massachusetts hometown. In 1820, three years after Mississippi became a state, Sargent decided to move his family to Philadelphia. During the first leg of the journey, on a steamboat to New Orleans, he died. Mary Sargent returned to Natchez, where she buried Sargent, and then apparently soon moved to Philadelphia.3Allis, 17–21.     

While Sargent’s portrait and the pendant of his wife have usually been dated ca. 1805, it is perhaps more likely that they were painted during the years of Sargent’s governorship and after his marriage (October 24, 1798), ca. 1799 –1801. In that case, they would have been painted in Philadelphia where Stuart was a resident until 1803, when he went to Washington for two years.      

The portrait commemorates the Revolutionary officer and territorial soldier in his Continental Army uniform, with the Order of the Cincinnati on his lapel. The sword, its blade held under his left arm, is more a symbol of authority than of war, perhaps suggesting Sargent’s governorship. The strongly modeled head and the candid pale blue eyes bespeak his unshakable rectitude.      

Although not a deep thinker, Sargent had diverse intellectual interests. A member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he contributed papers both on natural and historic phenomena of the frontier territory that had become his home. The papers included a “List of Forest and Other Trees Northwest of the River Ohio” (Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1793), “An Account of Several Shocks of an Earthquake” (Memoirs, 1815). In collaboration with Benjamin Smith Barton of the University of Pennsylvania, he published “Papers Relative to Certain American Antiquities” in which he reported his observations of an Indian mound near Cincinnati (delivered to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia in 1796, reprinted in their 1799 Transactions). It would seem to suggest that Sargent was equally a child of the Revolution and the Enlightenment, at home on the western frontier and in the eastern cosmopolis.

William Kloss

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.