Rare Eyewitness Sketch of American Revolutionaries Found Hanging in a Collector’s Bedroom

The drawing, which the owner recently donated to a museum, depicts the North Carolina Brigade passing through Philadelphia in 1777

Lead Sketch
Attributed to artist Pierre Eugène du Simitiére, the drawing depicts the Continental Army’s North Carolina Brigade marching through Philadelphia on August 25, 1777. Museum of the American Revolution

A nearly 250-year-old drawing of Continental Army soldiers and camp followers has been donated to Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution. The pen-and-ink piece is one of the few surviving works of its kind made by an eyewitness.

Museum curator Matthew Skic first saw the sketch during a tour of art collector Judith Hernstadt’s New York City apartment last year. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Rosa Cartagena, it had been hanging in her bedroom for 40 years.

“While there, we started discussing horses, and Judith showed us this little sketch,” Skic tells Artnet’s Vittoria Benzine. “I was shocked to see what I saw!”

According to a statement from the museum, the drawing shows nine individuals traveling with an open wagon: Two soldiers are walking on foot, while two others (a commissioned officer and the wagon driver) are on horseback. Inside the wagon are two men and two women, one holding an infant.

Painted by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, this depiction of American encampments on the Hudson River is the only other artistic portrayal of women camp followers during the American Revolutionary War. Library of Congress

The sketch has a partial inscription: “An exact representation of a [wagon] belonging to the North Carolina Brigade of Continental troops, which passed [through] Philadelphia [in] August, done by …” The end of the text has been cut off.

Skic asked Hernstadt if he could investigate. After extensive research, his team found that the sketch matches 18th-century newspaper accounts of the day in question. On August 25, 1777, the North Carolina Brigade marched through Philadelphia to join up with George Washington’s army ahead of the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown, which took place in September and October, respectively.

“This sketch is the first wartime depiction of North Carolina troops ­known to exist, and only the second-known depiction of female camp followers of the Continental Army done by an eyewitness,” writes the museum.

The women in the sketch were part of a controversial group known as camp followers: wives, widows, runaways and others who marched with the Continental Army. By 1777, around 2,000 women had joined the troops to help out with sewing, washing clothes, nursing and cooking. Washington, however, wasn’t happy about their presence. “The multitude of women in particular, especially those who are pregnant or have children, are a clog upon every movement,” he said around the time the sketch was created.

On the reverse side of the sketch, five figure drawings depict two different men. Museum of the American Revolution

When Skic first examined the drawing, he immediately suspected it was a significant piece of Revolutionary history, he tells the Philadelphia Inquirer. “This is indeed real; this is indeed, probably, an eyewitness sketch,” he recalls thinking. “[But] who was the artist?”

Eventually, Skic’s team concluded that the sketch was done by Pierre Eugène du Simitiére, a Swiss artist who settled in Philadelphia around 1774. Du Simitiére is “now known for documenting the rising American Revolution as it happened,” writes the museum. He later created portraits of high-ranking leaders like Washington; he is also credited with suggesting the motto “E Pluribus Unum” for the Great Seal of the United States.

“When Du Simitière died in 1784, his personal belongings and the collection of his museum were auctioned off,” Skic tells Artnet. “Finding a previously undocumented sketch that was unknown to historians is extremely rare and exciting.”

The sketch’s owner was so pleased with Skic’s work that she decided to donate the piece—whose other side features five additional male figure studies—to the museum.

“This sketch is extremely important to our understanding of the daily operations of the Continental Army,” says Skic in the statement. “It helps us visualize the everyday lives of these troops—the joyous, the difficult and the mundane.”

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