searching, he could not find a portrait either of Thomas Sim Lee or of John Henry, so he decided to substitute two others, one of them to be a painting from life of the most recent man to have held the governor’s office, Samuel Sprigg. To do this, he journeyed to Northampton where he spent several days in June 1824 painting the portrait. Peale’s autobiography gives a detailed account of this experience which I will share with you.
He determined to paint from life Governor Sprigg who, he had heard, was a gentleman of amiable manners and a favorite of the People. On the 20th of June, 1824, he hired a carriage from Washington at 9 a.m. ($4.00 for what was said to be a 15-mile trip) The driver didn’t know the road, but was confident that he could find it by means of inquiries. The first inquiry led them to a road which was nearly impassable; they then took a wrong turn and went three miles out of their way. Recent rains had washed out bridges, but by making several detours, they managed to cross the streams, and, by removing baggage on the hills, urged the tired horses to continue. At one point, the driver walked a considerable distance to a house to secure permission to drive the carriage through a cornfield (with no little damage to the crop). After many more miles and two more wrong turns, they unwittingly passed the gates to Northampton and proceeded far enough to get stuck in a gulley. At this point, Charles Willson Peale (83 years of age) left the driver in his predicament, and walked the 1/2 mile back to the gates; he passed through the gates to make inquiry of the several gentlemen whom he found sitting under a tree in front of a house. Peale did not know Samuel Sprigg by sight, so his joy was considerable when he learned that he was addressing Sprigg himself, and had indeed at long last arrived at Northampton!
Samuel Sprigg was glad to see him, and expressed a great deal of satisfaction that the painter should pay him a visit. Peale told him the reason of his visit, and Sprigg replied that he would do anything required of him. It was late afternoon by then; dinner was served directly and servants were sent to help the driver extricate the carriage from the ditch.
Peale tells of his introduction to the Governor’s wife, Violetta, and their daughter and son. He knew that his son Raphaelle had earlier painted the portraits of the Sprigg family, and they were shown to him. Mr. Sprigg remarked that each of the portraits was “esteemed very like, but that of Mrs. Sprigg the least so; he said that Raphaelle [had] remarked that a beautiful woman was most difficult to make a likeness, and thus he excused himself. The father found that the right eye was rather larger than the other, and they said the likeness appeared good when that part of the face was hidden. [Peale] told Mrs. Sprigg that he would endeavor to improve the picture.”
Peale began his portrait of Samuel Sprigg early on the morning of June 21st, and finished it on the 23rd. He also made alterations on Raphaelle’s likeness of Violetta Sprigg, much to the satisfaction of both husband and wife. Peale commented that the Sprigg family possessed immense wealth, and Mr. Sprigg attended diligently to all the concerns of his farms. When he left Northampton, Peale noted that he had passed a very agreeable time with this amiable family; he regretted the parting with them, but felt he had to complete the business for which he had come to Maryland. On the 24th, Sprigg’s carriage carried him to Bladensburg, from which he took the stage to Baltimore. A few days later, Peale travelled by steam boat to Annapolis where