Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

James Peale (1749-1831)
MSA SC 3520-16754


James Peale was born to Charles and Margaret Peale in Chestertown in 1749. His father, Charles Peale, had been transported to the Eastern Shore as a prisoner after he was found guilty of theft and embezzlement in London; in Chestertown he worked as a schoolmaster. After Charles Peale's death in 1750, Margaret Peale moved to Annapolis with her children and began work as a seamstress to support James and his siblings: his older brother, famous painter Charles Willson Peale, and his older sister, Margaret Jane. In Annapolis, James Peale was apprenticed to a saddler along with his older brother. James was later apprenticed to and began work as a carpenter. When Charles Willson Peale returned to Annapolis after studying art in London, James worked for his brother as his assistant and frame maker starting in 1769; during this time he learned to paint.

In September 1775 James Peale entered into the service in the defense of the United States against Great Britain. On January 3, 1776, he was officially commissioned an Ensign in Captain John Day Scott's Seventh Company of the First Maryland Regiment. [1]

Ensign Peale was at the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776. His company, along with that of his brother-in-law, Captain Nathaniel Ramsay, sustained the first fire, although neither company suffered heavy casualties. James Peale and the Seventh Company retreated across the Gowanus Creek, a hazardous route of retreat where many men were drowned and shot. At the battle he lost his shoes, baggage, and papers. [2]

That December, during the New Jersey campaign, James saw his brother, Charles Willson Peale, who was serving in a Pennsylvania regiment. His brother described the meeting in his autobiography, and was struck by James' haggard appearance:

He now met his brother James, who had a commission in the Maryland line, and had been in the rear guard, through all the retreat o the American Army, from the north River, and had lost all his cloaths. He was in an Old dirty Blanket Jacket, his beard long, and his face so full of Sores, that he could not clean it, which disfigured him in such a manner that he was not known by his brother at first sight. [3]  

Shortly after this meeting, on December 10, 1776, James Peale was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. In March of 1778 he became a captain. [4] Captain Peale resigned his commission on June 3, 1779. [5]

After his service he moved to Philadelphia, where he resided for the rest of his life, working as a painter. James Peale gained recognition as a painter of miniatures and still-lifes. Three of his daughters, Anna Claypoole, Margaretta Angelica, and Sarah Miriam Peale, also gained distinction as painters, placing them among the earliest American women to become professional artists. Later in life, when his eyesight began to deteriorate, James Peale applied for a pension, which was granted on December 4, 1818. In 1821 Peale was "over seventy-two years" old and lived with his wife, five daughters, one son, and two grandchildren. [6] He died in 1831. 

Emily Huebner, 2013.


[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 15.

[2] Charles Willson Peale, The Autobiography of Charles Willson Peale, vol. 5 of The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and his family, ed. Lillian B. Miller and Sidney Hart (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000), 123.

[3] Ibid, 50.

[4] Reiman Steuart, A History of the Maryland Line in the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783, (Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland, Towson: Metropolitan Press, 1969), 118.

[5] Archives of Maryland Online , vol. 18, p. 149.

[6] Pension of James Peale, National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bouty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804 S 41,056. 1-19, from

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