Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Light Horse Harry Lee's War Medal

Object: Coin, Commemorative Medal
Accession#: 2008.0017

This brass1 coin medal is after the original gold one, issued by Congress after the Battle of Paulus (Powles) Hook to Major Henry Lee, father of Robert E. Lee.  The front depicts a bust of Major Lee with Latin reading, “The American Congress to Henry Lee, Colonel of Cavalry.” The reverse shows ivy leaves encircling Latin which reads, “Nothwithstanding rivers and entrenchments, he with a small band conquered the foe by warlike skill and prowess and firmly bound by his humanity those who had been conquered by his arms. In memory of the conflict of Paulus Hook, nineteenth of August 1779.”

Henry Lee III, who became known as Light Horse Harry Lee, was born on January 29, 1756 on a 2,000 acre plantation called Leesylvania, near Dumfries, Virginia. His parents were Lucy Grymes Lee and Henry Lee II. Henry Lee III represented Virginia in the Continental Congress from 1786-88 and argued in favor of ratifying the Constitution in 1788. According to one historian “It was on the field of battle during the Revolutionary War, however, that Henry Lee III provided the most significant public service and earned his greatest laurels.” One of his best remembered victories, commemorated in this coin medal, was the Battle at Paulus Hook.

General Washington commanded Maj. Gen. Hugh Mercer to evacuate Paulus Hook after their loss at the Battle of Long Island on August 1, 1776 and the fall of New York City September 15, 1776. The British took over the fort and it became their only permanent stronghold in New Jersey. From 1776-1779, New Jersey was the scene of constant skirmishes and major battles. American morale was high following the successful assault of Stony Point by General Anthony Wayne, a British garrison with over 600 men defending the “rocky promontory rising 150 feet above the [Hudson] river,” in July 1776.  Major Lee wrote General Washington with the proposal to attack Powles Hook which was protected by the Hudson River on three sides and by a large marsh on the west that flooded at high tide. He gained Washington’s “cautious consent” after acquiring enough information about the garrison to plan the attack.

As Major Lee and his men approached the garrison, they found it weaker than expected, the main gate open in expectation of the return of a large Tory patrol. General Washington praised Major Lee’s victory that took place that day:

The General has the pleasure to inform the army that on the night of the 18th instant, Major Lee at the head of a party composed of his own Corps, and detachments from the Virginia and Maryland lines, surprised the Garrison of Powles Hook and brought off a considerable number of Prisoners with very little loss on our side. The Entreprise was executed with a distinguished degree of Address, Activity and Bravery and does great honor to Major Lee and to all the officers and men under his command, who are requested to accept the General’s warmest thanks.

However, not all were as generous with their praise but eventually Generals Woodford and Muhlenberg urged the court martial of Major Lee saying he should have turned the command over to Major Clark. They argued that Major Lee, a cavalry officer, should not have been placed in command of an infantry.

Despite his critics, Major Lee was awarded one of only nine medals in the whole war by Congress. The gold medal was directed to be struck and presented to him for “the remarkable prudence, address, and bravery, displayed on the occasion”. The medal was designed by Joseph Wright of Bordentown, New Jersey who was the first draftsman and die-sinker for the Philadelphia Mint, where it was struck. Major Lee was the only officer of his rank to receive such a distinction in the American Revolution.

The Randolphs of Wilton were well-involved with the American Revolution and would have heard of the attack on Paulus Hook as well as other victories during this struggle. Peyton Randolph, son of William III, was commissioned as a Major in the militia in 1777 and, according to the family, was also an aide-de-camp to General Lafayette.

1 an alloy of copper and zinc; known for its hardness and durability

Cecere, Michael. Wedded to my sword: The Revolutionary War Service of Light Horse Harry Lee
            Heritage Books Inc. Maryland, 2012.
Richardson, William H. and Walter P. Gardner. Washington and "the entreprise against Powles Hook". New             Jersey Title Guarantee and Trust Co. Jersey City, 1929.
“Battle of Paulus Hook”. 26 July 2013. <
“Brass”. Encyclopeadia Britannica. 15 August 2013.

Image Credit

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Conservation of Ryland

Object: Portrait of Ryland Randolph, c. 1756
Accession #: 1990.0012

Portrait of Ryland Randolph before conservation
Purchased in 1990, this portrait is a rare example of John Wollastan's English rococo style portraiture in colonial America. Wollastan traveled from England to America in the mid 18th century, painting portraits of wealthy Americans throughout the colonies in the style he introduced, characterized by graceful poses, pastel colors, and finely detailed costumes. Wollastan's trademark upturned lips and heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes are also evident in this portrait of Ryland Randolph, first cousin to Wilton's builder William Randolph III. Ryland's haughty appearance in the portrait fits with his reputation as a somewhat irresponsible landowner and planter who squandered his inheritance on his own interests. Unfortunately, the portrait's appearance at the time of its acquisition disguises theoriginal image through layers of overpainting and a deteriorated condition.

Pursuing conservation of this portrait was a priority of the Museum Board. After thoughtful study, and with community support, noted conservator Scott Nolley undertook the restoration of the portrait he described as a "long-obscured colonial masterwork."

Portrait during conservation: the upper right
quadrant shows the painting cleaned of dirt,
varnish, and overpainting
Ryland's portrait was completely painted over on two separate occasions: once around a century after its completion and again in the early 20th century. At some point in the past a doubtless well-meaning conservator trimmed the canvas around the image area and attached it to a linen backing. Unfortunately, this had begun to come loose, causing the surface to bubble and warp. Additionally, age contributed to crackling in the paint surface, the accumulation of dirt and the discoloration of varnish. Nolley removed each of these detrimental additions to Wollastan's original painting and stabilized it against future deterioration. The picture to the right showing Ryland's paler face is the original image with the dirt and unoriginal paint and varnish removed from the upper right portion. Below left is a picture showing the full portrait completely cleaned but with numerous areas of paint missing from Ryland's face, coat, and around the outside edge of the canvas. Below right shows the painting after Nolley inpainted these losses in a manner consistent with Wollastan's original version. Ryland Randolphs fully conserved portrait is currently on display in the Dining Room.

Ryland's portrait after cleaning,
showing areas of loss before inpainting 
Fully conserved portrait 


Cowden, Gerald Stephen and College of William and Mary, Department of History. The Randolphs of Turkey Island: A Prosopography of the First Three Generations, 1650-1806. Ann Arbor, MI and London. University Microfilms International, 1977.

"John Wollastan." Early American Paintings in the Worcester Art Museum. 22 July 2013. <>

Nolley, Scott. "Paintings Treatment Report." Unpublished internal document, 2003.

Image Credit:

Nolley, Scott. "Paintings Treatment Report." Unpublished internal document, 2003.