OPINION: Foundation Forward, Charters of Freedom

Foundation Forward, Charters of Freedom — Founding Fathers and other Influencing Citizens. How They Served Our Country

This Month: John Trumbull

This is an American history educational moment of those who made a difference during the Revolutionary War era and how they served our country.

David Streater

Most people do not recognize his name, though they are familiar with his paintings.

John Trumbull was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, on June 6, 1756.

He was the sixth and youngest child of Jonathan and Faith Robinson, a family considered American royalty.

After graduating from Harvard in 1773, John worked as a teacher and a topographer.

John sketched American and British military fortifications that gave George Washington’s Continental Army critically needed details. In appreciation, Trumbull was commissioned as an officer in the Army and assigned to Gen. Washington as an aide-de-camp.

Trumbull later resigned from the Army to study art and paint-making. This decision took him to England to study at the Royal Academy of Arts with Benjamin West.

Over the next decade, John traveled to and from America and Europe. During a trip to London in 1780, Trumbull was jailed as a political prisoner for revenge because British spy Maj. John André was hanged in Tappan, New York. Trumbull was paroled after eight months and continued painting. He was appointed commissioner to John Jay for implementing the Treaty of Amity Commerce and Navigation, commonly known as Jay’s Treaty.

Congress commissioned John to paint murals for the new federal government. After being shown as a traveling exhibit, these now-famous pictures have remained on the walls of the Capitol’s Rotunda.

The Declaration of Independence painting is actually “the presentation of a draft of it to Congress” in June 1776.

Other pictures Trumbull created for the Capitol are of Gen. Burgoyne, Lord Cornwallis and Gen. Washington Resigning his Commission. Trumbull’s portrait of Alexander Hamilton is on the 10-dollar bill. John’s most famous representation is the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the two-dollar bill, among other banknotes.

Because of discrepancies, John’s group paintings received petty criticism. The variations are because his paintings are montage composites describing pivotal events in American history before the camera’s advent. Nevertheless, Trumbull’s works in the Capitol captivate all viewers and crystallize their memory with “the most cherished [artwork] ever painted by an American artist.”

Though blind in one eye from a childhood accident, John Trumbull was a peerless and devoted patriot. Turnbull applied his artistic gift by documenting the birth of modern democracy. His legacy continues in the Capitol, Yale and other notable locations.

Please visit your Charters of Freedom setting at 144 N. 2nd St., Albemarle. A Charters of Freedom setting consists of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They are on permanent display analogous to the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Please visit our website (FoundationForward.com) to learn more about all settings.

Teachers are encouraged to contact Dr. Streater for information and complementary student education materials to enhance experiential field trips to a Charters of Freedom settings. Please contact Dr. Streater (david.streater@mymail.barry.edu) for engraved legacy paver information and complementary educational materials.

Dr. David Streater is the director of education for Foundation Forward, the organization which placed life-size replicas of the United States Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, also known as the Charters of Freedom, in downtown Albemarle. He is a retired college instructor/administrator and a retired probation and parole officer/administrator. In addition, he is a criminologist with an acute history interest, served in the Navy, is a resident of Burke County and is a graduate of Pfeiffer University.