Monthly Archives: May 2014

Zoffany or not Zoffany: That is NOT the question

Zoffany or not Zoffany: That is NOT the question

by Jerry Leibowitz

It’s like I’m stuck inside a painting that’s hanging in the Louvre, my throat starts to tickle and my nose itches but I know I can’t move…   Bob Dylan

In my pretend job as art investigator, I often call upon myself to solve great mysteries of the art world. (See Who is James Renwick and what are his Plans? and Bust of Bill Richmond?).  I’d like to think my specialty is American art from 1770 to 1800, especially those works done by expatriate artists residing in England. In the London studio of American born Benjamin West, a favorite of the King, American born Gilbert Stuart, John Singleton Copley and John Trumbull all honed their craft. All four left America prior to the Revolution for gritty London, ostensibly because there was so little worthy art to study in Colonial America. I have long suspected there were other reasons to leave and that each artist has a special story largely lost in the telling of their history.

This brings us to the mystery of who painted the following portrait:


Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray (by an unknown artist, formerly attributed to Zoffany) from the collection of the Earl of Mansfield, Scone Palace, Perth 

  The portrait has taken on a new significance since the relationship between the two women is explored in the recently released motion picture Belle. I have seen the movie but have not seen the portrait except online. Still I am undaunted to name its artist. I am quite convinced it is the work of John Singleton Copley, circa 1782.

Here’s why. Copley had motive, opportunity, and capability and it is consistent with his work and his temperament.

Although the ages of the sitters cannot be precisely determined, Both Dido and Lady Elizabeth were born in the early 1760’s, placing them about 20 years old at the time I believe the portrait was painted. Seems plausible. Copley painted Lord Mansfield in full attire about 1782:


It certainly would have given Copley the opportunity to paint the two nieces under his care at the same time. The painting of the nieces must have been a private piece since it apparently never left the possession of the Mansfield family. For whatever reason, the artist and subject chose to keep its creation a private matter. Other paintings of Lord Mansfield exist, but none of those painters have quite the story of John Singleton Copley, a story which might have lead the artist to depict the two women as shown.

Looking at the Dido/Lady Elizabeth painting, one notices that the white woman is painted with a dark background and the black woman is painted on a light background. In essence it is like two paintings, each of which wonderfully brings out aspects of the sitters. An examination of Copley’s work shows that when he painted white subjects (obviously most of the time), he often painted them with dark backgrounds. On the rare occasion that he painted a black subject, he would use a light background. As seen in the known Copley masterworks shown here, at least twice he found a way to do just that in the same painting.

In the Dido/Lady Elizabeth painting, Lady Elizabeth appears altogether comfortable in her traditional pose in her fine dress. She is portrayed as intelligently reading and reaching out to Dido with an innocent depiction, much the same way as numerous portraits of the era. Were the other subject a white sister or cousin, her depiction would be unremarkable.

But Dido…she has things to do. She’s carrying her prop in a manner that says to me…”let me put this down and do something important”. She is not quite comfortable just sitting there for all eternity. She does not seem to show scorn or distaste for Lady Elizabeth, just a desire to get out of the frame as quickly as possible. She is painted as vivacious and interesting in contrast to the more wooden Lady Elizabeth. There is no sense that one is more important or worthy of a portrait than the other, just that they are two quite different people with different approaches to life.

The attribution to Zoffany seems logical since he was known to paint interesting conversation pieces including people of different races. Here is his Portrait of Claude Alexander painted in India about 1783:

Depending on your view, one look at this painting either proves or disproves the Zoffany attribution of Dido/Lady Elizabeth. I note that the dog looks more engaging than the dark-skinned man. The depiction of Lady Elizabeth seems to be in his style, but there is nothing in his oeuvre that brings to mind this depiction of Dido. I trust the experts who have doubted this attribution.

I suggest that it would take an artist with what we might today call a social conscience or awareness to capture this scene depicted in Dido/Lady Elizabeth. Perhaps Lord Mansfield or the sitters chose the style, and they were paying the bill, but it seems more likely that the scene was set by the artist, the creator who solved the white/black issue in such a unique way. There were numerous portrait painters who had the technique to paint the scene, but really only John Singleton Copley displayed the suitable social conscience. (See Zoffany continued)

Zoffany continued

This is a continuation of

Three Copley paintings come to mind. First, is the painting commonly known as Watson and the Shark, (1778) which hangs in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Here with poor Watson in dire straits, a black man is among those taking aggressive action. Prior to this painting, in the rare case where a black person appeared in a piece of art, it was either as a caricature or a servant. Copley was having none of that. This black man was an equal in the task and a central figure in the work. In addition, like the Dido/Elizabeth work this painting shows both people in action and the more wooden observers. The scarf of the black man blows in the wind emphasizing movement, much the same way as Dido’s lace. Both paintings seem to deemphasize any racial aspect, as if the artist knew that race would be their defining point whether he emphasized it or not. Even today, both paintings are examined as statements of racial politics; I imagine it was more so in the time they were created. Perhaps the clever de-emphasis of race by Copley reflected his Massachusetts egalitarian upbringing in a country that was divided on the issue of race.

In Copley’s The Death of Major Pierson, 6 January 1781 (1783) a black man avenges the death of a great soldier on the battlefield of a skirmish between the British and French on the Isle of Jersey during the American Revolution:

Although not a British regular the black man surely fights like one. Copley has his face stand out against the white background of battle haze. Once again, his race is both significant to the painting and insignificant in his display of bravery and fortitude. Has anyone noticed the blue plume prominently displayed on his headpiece? Yes that is Dido’s plume as well. Perhaps that is a symbol of some kind of equality. Copley’s depiction of one black man bravely fighting on the side of the British speaks volumes about his view of the contradictions of the American Revolution and its notion as a struggle for liberty and equality.

While historical painting was considered the highest form of art at the time, portraiture and conversation pieces were how most artists made their livings. In The Copley Family (1776-1777) Copley depicts the reuniting of his family in England with fantastic joie de vivre. The oldest daughter poses quietly like Lady Elizabeth, while the rest of the family is in a whirlwind conducted by the artist himself, standing in the background:

Copley’s young son, here in his mother’s arms, would go on to become Lord Chancellor of Great Britain. As a chief judge, he was imbued with an egalitarian sense that he must have picked up from both his father and the loving mother and sisters that surrounded him. And there it is again…the blue plume later worn by Dido in her portrait. Here it is lying on the ground with a discarded doll, perhaps here a reminder of the country left behind and the issues that plagued it.

England in the 18th century was not a perfect place, but it was light years ahead of America when it came to race. There was already an established antislavery movement grappling with the horrible fact that much of the world’s economies relied on slavery and the slave trade. We are told that Benjamin West and the expatriate artists that studied under him in London left America because of the lack of artistic opportunities. Yet I find it impossible to fathom that these men with an artistic sentiment did not also find it difficult to live in a land where so many were oppressed solely because of their color. There are traces of their concerns in each of their works. Whether John Singleton Copley or Johann Zoffany or someone else painted Dido/Lady Elizabeth is not really the important question. Yet, to me, it does matter if it was intended to be a light conversation piece painted by a European like Zoffany, or a deeper statement about America, painted by an artist who felt the need to leave his country. I wonder if we will ever know.

Graham Parker’s 150 best lines

Here are GP’s best 150 lines…In order!

by Jerry Leibowitz

1. I wouldn’t lie to you unless I had to of course!
2. Lightning strikes at everyone, but only hits the very lucky
3. I know what I’m doing; I just can’t stop doing it
4. Yes I’m aware of exactly what I’m doing Making everything a mystery
5. I know the language of your heart better than the alphabet
6. (When) after all the urges some kind of truth emerges
7. There’s nothing to hold onto when gravity betrays you
8. There’s a wheel in my hand but I can’t steer
9. I don’t appeal to the masses and they don’t appeal to me
10. Hey baby, I’m out of favour. Can’t always be the right flavor
11. you know baby I kick your heart where the others only miss
12. I got scars all over my passport
13. Get your tight blue jeans out and try to get ‘em on
14. Don’t pay no attention to what the experts say, too much intelligence gets in the way
15. I don’t wanna tie you up anymore and leave you to dangle, with too many knots to untangle
16. Imagination’s one thing that comes easy to me
17. Your love letters are confetti I ripped them up my hands were sweaty
18. still it’s not a whole life story is it, its just a page I turned and there you were in it
19. I know my place, I just can’t stay there
20. I been doing my homework now for a long long time
21. 24 years just obeying the rules, No wonder I’m half-insane
22. She’ll attempt to resist and pretend I don’t exist when I do
23. And in the darkest night she takes a telescope, looks through the wrong end and loses hope
24. people think I’m full of hate, they’ve got it wrong thats out of date
25. Crimson autograph is what we leave behind, everywhere that man sets foot
26. I get a thrill out of tampering with the atmosphere
28. The dust may never settle
29. Take your heart of glass and put on a bevel
30. To me it looked like a failure, but they called it victory
31. You can’t measure these things by weight, they either drag you down or they lift you
32. Even the skeptics are unsure
33. All the chains around you could not keep you prisoner, they haven’t been forged yet
34. Crawling from the wreckage, into a brand new car
35. Everyone said quit now, that’s when I found hope
36. Everybody’s talking ’bout the state of their health and I’m not feeling so good myself
37. The meek shall inherit the earth from their friends the scum
38. There must be gold where fools are; that’s what we are
39. We sit and polish our wedding rings
40. I try to pull my weight, study my geography, it doesn’t seem to get me anywhere
41. I’m not on any team; not after what I’ve seen
42. I’m not a hero or even someone who does good. I’m not made of iron or steel or stone or gold or bronze or wood
43. it’s only a theory so don’t place any bets yet
44. Inside of everyone someone lurks, they don’t even know
45. I was playing with words (no-one could understand a thing). They’d never get the drift of it
46. They tell you there’s no chance for love to be stable when everything shakes
47. We drifted apart like runoff into the Chesapeake Bay
48. The dreams and hopes of men are powered by addiction. Who am I to say that this is an affliction?
49. My synapses fire like anything
50. There’s a siren blowing in your heart, you just don’t want to hear it
51. Someone spread this virus all around the world till it got to us and now we just sit back and let things slide
52. The past aint even worth living in, it’s just a nail that keeps being driven in
53. They murdered the clown Still the world’s not a funnier place
54. You don’t have to sell your soul, just kind of let it
55. They got it wrong, as usual
56. There’s a lot of versions of the honest truth
57. Some came home their pants in creases Some came home in bits and pieces The president made a lot of speeches and went fishing for the day
58. I will smooth the edges from my roughness and lose the venom in my toughness
59. If this is a game I don’t wanna play
60. In the desert that passes for my heart, sweet rain is falling tonight
61. Sometimes it hurts so bad I don’t know where the pain is
62. You got to keep on making turns there is no turning back
63. At least no one’s thirsty anymore
64. So come out of the bitter wind melt that ice deep within On the first day of spring
65. Checked my pulse Yep, still alive
66. We’re closer when we are apart
67. Has rock & roll just died or does it just smell bad?
68. There’s been a seismic shift, I felt the whole earth quiver
69. Now I keep my mouth shut and do just what I’m told
70. My best friend’s a hillbilly With a moonshine still Actually I’m lyin’ He’s an accountant named Bill
71. You go in with pneumonia, come out with just a heavy cold
74. These are your wounds now go and lick them
75. “I was on Bunkum”
76. You thought you had a good grip on reality, it just disappeared
77. Come on baby hold me, one last time before There is nothing to hold anymore
78. you’re our last customer. You’re our last hope
79. Somebody yelled hey my head’s on fire
80. The odour of stupidity isn’t too sweet
81. We’re always running and we don’t know what we’re running from
82. Now you’re vacant that’s your lot
83. I pulled too tight when we tied the knot
84. You try to get high again but it’s like time-lapse photography
85. The world is full of little people like you. They have to read a book to learn what to do
86. Sure there’ll be another war sure as sure the call-up will come calling
87. If you wanna be a jester you better get a funny hat
88. I resolve to solve this problem and be the one you need and one day you’ll see you will call me “Mr Tender”(BQ)
89. We look into each other’s eyes and understand Why true love is in such demand
90. All our information comes from junk mail
91. They can rip out bits of me that should keep them fed
92. These dreams will never sleep
93. Lovers get caught just the same in the thunder and rain
94. She’s a living example of God’s bad taste
95. They all see the money and they start to drool
96. I am going to get my feelings across the gulf that divides me and you
97. Being a reporter is a glamorous trade You don’t even have to tell the truth to get paid
98. All this praise it’s just a passing phase
99. If I had what I haven’t got, a second chance a second shot I’d be something that I’m not, I’d be worthy of your love
100. everything you put on is a put-on
101. Her wedding gown has been burned to ashes Fanned by the flutter of her false (eye) lashes
102. The pop machine has new agendas now Gangsta’s girls and jerks
103. I remember the way you looked when we first met, There are some things in this world you can’t forget
104. And you’ll never discover why it’s like an old lover you can’t touch anymore It doesn’t mean much anymore when you go back in time
105. So take a seat there’s plenty spare, fill a gaping hole, That’s what I do every night somewhere in my soul
106. That monkey who used to be so funky (i)s now working for the bureau de no change
107. I’ve dug my own grave, please don’t let me lie in it Instead let’s bury everything that caused us pain
108. The movie might be new but it’s the same soundtrack
109. There must be so much to discuss
110. I saw the big dipper and then the big bopper and realized how much time had gone by
111. You turn stone into flesh baby and I almost get human
112. I’m not peddling fiction, I’m not packaging youth I’ve got a predilection for the truth
113. The world is easy when you’re just playing around with it
114. Everybody just looks ugly now
115. You should see yourself go to your optician
116. as the flight touches down my watch says 8:02 but that’s midnight to you
117. Instead of throwing myself at my wife, I’m throwing a log
118. The future’s not a certainty , Its only a direction
119. It’s all excuses baby all a stall
120. If this is heaven what must it be like in hell
121. You might run away with the circus for fun But it looks more like somewhere that you’d run from
122. That’s one man who can say “No Thanks, Thanksgiving Day”
123. Why can’t a woman be more like a man, instead of complicated?
124. TAAFOIYH.(A51)there’s an area 51 in your heart
125. Nothing so much has ever been mine before
126. If only I had said the things I’ve never said
127. Took up every fashion until everything went fake
128. You can’t break a heart that doesn’t respond
129. Not everybody wants to be soothed
130. Why is so much left undone and so much left unsaid?
131. She’s not something you handle like cash
132. Those are not goats heads rolling everywhere
133. The missionary’s position is clear
134. When we are old, We won’t have poverty or destitution, We will be able to afford a nursing home or an institution
135. Those puerile incantations in couplets or quatrains
136. Californians say, have a real nice day
137. I‘m so over it I don’t even mind
138. I just let them get on with it arrange the coronation I just didn’t turn up
139. I got my act together OK its just an act
140. They’ll wind up in tomorrows fried rice
141. I spent my year on the roof, staring up at the stars wondering if I was from mars
142. We’re all downsizing what we do with our lives
143. I can see a lot but its not always crystal clear
144. It’s a far- fetched tale but you can’t make this stuff up
145. Who does not feel fractured too like Broken skin
146. Long ago I felt my empathy wane
147. Its not enterprising to grapple with the past
148. The trail has a lot of turns and one of them just made me pay
149. There seems to be some secret that everybody onto
150. The cells I used to be have all since gone to waste and in the coming year I will all be replaced

Follow the Money- The Legacy Perhaps of James Smithson

Follow the Money

The Legacy Perhaps of James Smithson

By Jerry Leibowitz


Knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom…

                                                                                                     Frederick Douglass


Ever since the British burned the White House down, there’s a bleeding wound in the heart of town…

                                                                                                                Bob Dylan, Narrow Way (2012)


The most vast and incredible complex of museums in the world sprang from the bequest of a man who was born and lived in Europe and had never been to America. He never showed any special interest in what was then a very young country. It remains an enduring riddle of the Smithsonian Institution as to why James Smithson would leave a vast estate to found an Institution he would never see in a place he had never been. The colorful common narrative concerning his bequest goes like this.[i] James Smithson was of noble British lineage being an illegitimate son of the First Duke of Northumberland, a wealthy Lord who fathered children both inside and outside of his marriage. Upon the Duke’s death, his first son born inside the marriage received his bounty and title. Those children born outside the marriage, including James Smithson, received no more than a modest stipend. James Smithson’s mother, also possibly of noble blood, lived a convoluted if not a troubled life which did not show evidence of luxury. When he was not gambling, James Smithson spent most of his life in France among the scientific elite while also maintaining close ties to the British scientific community. He never married or was known to have any particularly close friends in America or elsewhere. His scientific accomplishments were of dubious value both scientifically and financially.  Smithson had a brother from his mother, who possibly was also the son of the First Duke of Northumberland.[ii]  Smithson’s will, dated October 23, 1826 and probated November 4, 1829, bequeathed his entire residuary estate to the son of this now deceased brother provided that the nephew have adult surviving children “legitimate or illegitimate”. The will provided that if the nephew died without such an heir, the residuary estate was to go “to the united states[iii] of America to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”  Life ensued. The nephew died in 1837 without heir. And the rest, as they say, is history.[iv] The money that originally funded the Smithsonian Institution has generally been considered to be from a source unknown to us. Here I explore where the Smithson money might have come from and if it can be determined who really is the source and true benefactor of the Smithsonian Institution.

There is quite a cast of characters in the James Smithson story. There are nobles and wannabes. Patriots and sympathizers. Insiders looking out and outsiders looking in. In short, the family here is like many families and their story would not be so unique or important were it not for the museum complex that bears the Smithson name. When Richard Rush of Philadelphia, special envoy of the United States, loaded the James Smithson bequest of L100,000 British Pounds onto a boat in Britain in 1838 bound for the American Treasury, that was real money then, enough to fund quite an Institution.  Is it good enough to say that the legacy came from James Smithson without showing the source of the money? If the James Smithson estate and subsequently the Smithsonian Institution was funded with someone else’s money perhaps that person deserves some recognition too. Perhaps there was a special reason for this bequest which has remained hidden throughout these years. As always, the best way to get to the truth in Washington is to follow the money.

Jacques-Louis Macie later James Lewis Macie later James Smithson sometimes Monsieur de Smithson, or Seigneur Anglais (1765?-1829)

James Smithson had a lot of names to choose from to name his potential institution. It could have been “Macie’s” or “The Hungerford” or perhaps “Percy’s Place”. It was not until he was an adult that James chose to be Smithson. James Smithson’s putative father was born Hugh Smithson in 1714.[v] When Hugh Smithson married the wealthy and well-connected Elizabeth Seymour in 1740, he took her family name of Percy.[vi] So when James was born in or about 1765, his putative father’s name was no longer Hugh Smithson but Hugh Percy.[vii] James Smithson’s mother was not Hugh Percy’s wife. She was Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie, having been born Elizabeth Hungerford Keate before taking her husband’s name when she married John Macie. Hungerford was a family name from her mother’s side tied to royalty and great wealth. Her father was a Keate, a respectable family but not wealthy. John Macie, her husband who was also respectable but not wealthy, had died in 1761.  So when James was born about 1765 he was not a son of Macie who was long since dead, in fact he was not a James. Although British by blood, James Smithson was born in France, probably due to the more liberal attitude there to out of wedlock birth.[viii] James Smithson was given the name of Jacques-Louis Macie.[ix] A total fabrication. “Louis” was probably an homage to the current French King.[x] Jacques was brought to Britain and naturalized there as a youngster. In England, he was given the name James Lewis Macie[xi], which he carried through his young life until he changed it to James Smithson as an adult in 1801. In his later life in France and perhaps Italy, he was known to spruce up his name to Monsieur de Smithson, or use the French term for an English gentleman, evoking an aristocratic air mixing his French and British heritage.[xii]

In his youth, James seemed to have a ready source of funds. He attended the finest schools, most notably Pembroke College at Oxford.[xiii] Presumably, his funds came from his putative father. Although already quite wealthy, with his marriage Hugh Smithson/Percy had become one of the richest men in the world.[xiv] But since Hugh Smithson never acknowledged James as his son, and there is scant proof that he provided for this putative son, it is possible that those ready funds came from James’ mother, either through her connection to the Hungerfords, or the Keates or the Macies.[xv]

James Lewis Macie, later James Smithson, studied the sciences, specifically Chemistry and Mineralogy.[xvi] He was well known in the scientific communities of England and France. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that his scientific accomplishments were such that they could have made him wealthy through his own toil. His greatest scientific legacy was probably the discovery of a mineral ultimately named Smithsonite. Interestingly, James Smithson had nothing to do with that discovery which was made by a French mineralogist after Smithson’s death who named it Smithsonite in tribute, apparently without any financial recompense to James Smithson, deceased.[xvii]

For much of his life, James Smithson was a notorious gambler. While most gamblers die without a farthing in their pocket, it remains a possibility that Smithson made his fortune on the gaming tables of Europe.[xviii] Yet, by most accounts, James Smithson did not lead the life of a wealthy man.[xix] Although he often lived well, it seems that the mention in his will of founding an Institution was the first indication that he believed he had access to great wealth. The most likely conclusion is that Smithson’s wealth was not his own but came to him in the 1820’s when he was an older man. It must have come to him in a way that he could not lose it in European gambling halls. But if it was family money, which family was it? And how did it get to America, specifically Washington, instead of its more logical destination back into the family from whence it came?



Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie (later Dickinson) 1728-1800[xx]

It is one thing to fund an education and quite another to fund an Institution.[xxi] James Smithson’s mother may have had some connection to the wealthy Hungerfords, but there is no evidence that she was an heir to any of its great fortune which may already have been dissipated.[xxii] It is noted in James Smithson’s will that his mother was a “niece” of Charles the Proud, who was tied to the Seymour/Percy wealth that eventually found its way to Hugh Smithson.[xxiii] The mention of that connection in the will appears to be more about blood than money, since there is no evidence that Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie was an heir to any of that money either. As for Keate, her father, his family was respectable but not wealthy.[xxiv] Former husband John Macie? He was long since dead and left her money to live very comfortably, but not extravagantly.[xxv] In 1768, When James was about three years old, Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie married John Marshe Dickinson, probably due to a pregnancy that did not result in childbirth. Although there may once have been some family money, John Marshe Dickinson was in debt and more concerned with acquiring money from his wife than providing for her. Their stormy relationship, which included litigation between them, ended not in divorce but with the death of John Marshe Dickinson in 1771. It is unlikely that Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie Dickinson received anything from his estate that was not previously hers.[xxvi] However, a child was born to her one month after Dickinson’s death. Although she was now again using the name Elizabeth Macie, she named the child Henry Louis Dickenson, apparently a play on the name of her deceased husband Dickinson.[xxvii] When Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie formerly Dickinson died in 1800 she left James Macie, later Smithson, little more than a story. The story was that he was a Smithson[xxviii] and perhaps she told him that his brother, Henry Louis Dickenson, was one as well. It was only then that James Macie successfully petitioned to use the name James Smithson, to perhaps more actively seek recognition as a Smithson[xxix], this despite the fact that his putative father was long since dead.

Hugh Smithson later Percy- First Duke of Northumberland (Third Creation) 1714-1786

The accepted story is that James Smithson was the illegitimate child of Hugh Smithson, later Hugh Percy, later the First Duke of Northumberland.  However, there is no known birth certificate in France for Jacques-Louis Macie and the college records of John Lewis Macie are silent as to the name of his father.[xxx] The best evidence of a liaison between Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie later Dickinson and The First Duke of Northumberland comes from the will of James Smithson, written many years later, which boldly asserts that The First Duke is his father.[xxxi] While James Smithson was there, at his birth, it could hardly be said that this assertion in his will is based on James’ firsthand observation, and not just a story told to James presumably by his mother, perhaps on her death bed.  Since The First Duke was fantastically wealthy, this parentage, if true, could explain a possible source where James Smithson would acquire sufficient assets to fund an Institution. But if true, then it is strange that The First Duke never acknowledged James Smithson as his son, since he did acknowledge two daughters who were born of his acknowledged mistress, Margaret Marion.[xxxii] Nor did The First Duke acknowledge that he was the father of Henry Louis Dickenson, the second child of Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie. He never acknowledged that Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie was a paramour. A connection between James Smithson and his (perhaps) full brother Henry and The First Duke could explain how Henry Louis Dickenson’s son, Henry James Dickenson (sometimes Hungerford, sometimes Baron Henri (Eunice?) de la Batut)[xxxiii], would be the primary residuary beneficiary in the will of James Smithson and heir to a great fortune presumably of Smithson/Percy origin.

The First Duke of Northumberland was a man of learning and a patron of the arts.[xxxiv] Yet it does not seem that the idea to fund an institution in America for learning or the arts could have come from him. Although he was somewhat of a free thinker when it came to the American Colonies[xxxv], he showed no special affinity for the young country. Having died a short time after the British defeat in the American Revolution, his life was far removed from the more widespread sympathy for America that developed in Britain after the War of 1812.[xxxvi] James Smithson’s money may have been Smithson/Percy money, his blood may have been Smithson blood, but the concept of the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, in America, did not likely emanate from Hugh Smithson, later Hugh Percy, The First Duke of Northumberland.

Hugh Percy, born Hugh Smithson, The Second Duke of Northumberland (1742-1817)

Like his father, The Second Duke of Northumberland was born Hugh Smithson. In 1750, several years after the First Duke married Elizabeth Seymour, the elder Hugh Smithson took her family name, Percy, as his own. At that time, both he and his young son from Seymour became Hugh Percy. Hugh Percy, the younger, was heir to the great Percy wealth and the title of Duke of Northumberland.[xxxvii] As a young man, he was known to have lived a wild life.[xxxviii] He became a British Officer who fought against the French in the Seven Years War and despite possible reservations concerning British policies he was sent to the American Colonies in 1774 as a General in the British army.[xxxix] It was there that he participated in the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Long Island. He was peculiarly absent from the Battle of Bunker Hill and arrived at the Battle of Brooklyn just after that battle ended.[xl] He left America in 1777 supposedly due to a disagreement with General Howe.[xli] Having been married in 1764 he divorced his first wife in 1779, with whom he was childless, claiming her adultery.[xlii] He immediately married again and had five children of this marriage survive to adulthood, including his oldest son who was to become the Third Duke of Northumberland, and a younger son who ultimately became the Fourth Duke of Northumberland. Yet, were it not for his half-brother, James Smithson, there would be no need for this family story to be retold here.[xliii]

The Second Duke of Northumberland is one connection between James Smithson and the United States of America. Both before and after his participation in the American Revolution, Hugh Percy, the younger, later the Second Duke of Northumberland, demonstrated occasional respect for the rebels across the ocean.[xliv] There were continuous hostilities between Britain and America after the American Revolution[xlv], but the Second Duke of Northumberland was never one to push for more war. When the War of 1812 broke out, probably over misunderstandings of intentions[xlvi], The Second Duke was an older man. Although presumably loyal to the crown and of such great wealth that his opinion mattered, there is no indication that he supported any continued hostilities against the former British colonies.

Slave Bill, later Bill Richmond, nicknamed The Black Terror (1763?-1829)

General Hugh Percy returned to England from the war within America in 1777 with a slave named Bill who was reported to be about thirteen years old. Any facts about the young life of Slave Bill in America were probably construed as none were known with any certainty. It has been written that he was born a slave to a minister in Staten Island (also known as Richmond NY).[xlvii] It has been written that he was a shipyard laborer originally from Richmond Virginia.[xlviii] It has been written that he was born a slave to a preacher in Georgia.[xlix] There is reliable evidence that he was a very jovial lad in America but, when prodded, could beat up multiple men at one time.[l] This report leads one to question his age as only thirteen when he left America in 1777. While much of the literature indicates that in England the Second Duke kept him as a servant, this is probably untrue. Once in England, the Second Duke of Northumberland saw to it that he was educated and taught the trade of a cabinet maker.[li] Formerly Slave Bill, now Bill Richmond, he lived as a respected black man in England, a life which apparently included an occasional pummeling of those who showed offense at his existence.[lii] Although the sport of boxing was gaining popularity in England, there is no evidence that Bill Richmond was a boxer as a young man and did not become one until he was encouraged to do so by wealthy friends. His first known fight was in 1791 and he is not known to have professionally fought again until 1798.[liii] In fact, boxing was illegal in England. Bill Richmond was quite old for a boxer when he took up boxing and yet had great success as “The Black Terror”.  There is general agreement that he may have become boxing champion of England if he had started boxing earlier.


Bill Richmond’s great contribution to boxing was that he changed the sport from a purely offensive sport to a thinking sport[liv]…hence it has become known as “the sweet science”. He ran a boxing school for many years which catered to students of all classes, from the nobility of Lord Byron to former slaves, one of whom famously fought for the championship of England.[lv] When authorities finally began cracking down on the brutal sport, Bill Richmond bought a well attended pub in the heart of London and lived the good life of a former sporting legend. There is little dispute that he was a beloved great fun smart guy.[lvi]


The presence of Bill Richmond and other successful former slaves helped turn the discussion of slavery from an intellectual pursuit into an immutable truth. Anyone who came in contact with Bill Richmond had to have learned the obvious; that no man was born to be the slave of another. His life well lived must have contributed to the change of thought in England and the ultimate end of the Slave Trade and slavery itself. That the wealthy and powerful Second Duke of Northumberland treated Bill Richmond much like a family member  must have impacted positively on his sons,  the Third Duke of Northumberland(1785-1847) and his brother, the Fourth Duke of Northumberland (1792-1865). I submit that their well-documented abhorrence to the institution of slavery would play a role in the disposition of the money that would fund the Smithsonian Institution.

Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) and Dolley Madison (1768-1849)

There is an interesting connection between the Second Duke of Northumberland and the United States of America in the person of the great portraitist, Gilbert Stuart. Although born in Rhodes Island, Gilbert Stuart moved to England before the American Revolution presumably to avoid the growing troubles.[lvii] Having studied in England under America’s first great expatriate painter, Benjamin West, Gilbert Stuart had some early success. Yet, due more to his lack of discipline or business sense rather than ability, his success quickly turned to dire financial straits.[lviii] The Second Duke of Northumberland, and a few of his friends showed up at Gilbert Stuart’s studio one day in 1785 to help him out of his troubles. When Gilbert Stuart refused their offer of a bailout, these English gentlemen suggested that they sit for portraits, to be paid in advance. These portraits solved Stuart’s immediate financial problems. These men also connected Stuart with the cream of British society whose portraits he painted and for which he was paid handsomely.[lix] The Second Duke of Northumberland had two portraits done by Stuart in 1785 and remained a steadfast patron and possible friend of the artist, housing him for a while at the Duke’s magnificent country house outside London.[lx] In 1787, The Second Duke also commissioned Stuart to paint his children in a family portrait depicting his future heir at age two being fawned over by his three older sisters.[lxi] It has been noted that the face of the young Lord Percy is not well defined and too similar to the faces of the other young children. While this has been attributed to a possible lack of interest on the part of Gilbert Stuart in painting a child’s face[lxii], perhaps Stuart had something more existential in mind. To a portraitist, the face is the key to the soul. Just as you must make your own name for yourself, so too must you grow into your own face. Stuart would not develop the features of the young Lord…that was something that the young Lord would have to do for himself. Presumably this great work hung in a place where it continually reminded young Lord Percy to make something of himself or be a faceless nobleman resigned to the back pages of history. Shortly after he painted this masterwork, Gilbert Stuart left for Ireland and ultimately went back to America, where he became the foremost portraitist of America’s founding families.

There were few Americans of any note who did not sit for Gilbert Stuart after he returned to America in 1793. Among the many others, he painted James Madison and Dolley Madison in separate portraits in 1804.[lxiii] Most famously, Gilbert Stuart painted several series of many paintings of George Washington based on sittings beginning in 1795. The Lansdowne Portrait, or perhaps a Stuart copy of the original, was hanging in the White House during the term of James Madison and the War of 1812. The Godmother of American art and historical preservation, Dolley Madison, knew just what it was and who it was by when she famously saved it from destruction in 1814.[lxiv]  The British attacked and burned all the major buildings in Washington D.C., including the White House, apparently without any tactical reason for the attack. The portrait of George Washington was saved…but like the then current President and his heroic wife, after the War of 1812, it too was essentially homeless until Washington D.C. could be rebuilt.

Meanwhile, in England, The War of 1812 was not universally supported. By 1815, while the British were prideful in their military prowess in having defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, they were also weary of war in general, having been in a continuous state of war on various fronts for as long as most in Britain could remember.[lxv] The War of 1812 seemed to have little clear purpose on either side, apparently resulting from a mutual mass of confusing intentions.[lxvi] Although Washington D.C. was the new capital of the young country, it was not considered a valuable military target. Even in Britain, many thought that the burning of Washington was a vulgar act.[lxvii] With the end of hostilities in America and Europe in 1815, both continents entered a period of relative quiet.[lxviii] This time of peace opened trade routes blocked by war[lxix] and led to a period of relative prosperity. By 1817, Britain and America were at peace, Dolley Madison was revered, Washington D.C. was being rebuilt, and America still did not have a suitable place to safely store its treasures. Many of Gilbert Stuart’s portraits were naturally dispersed throughout the country in the homes of their patrons.  None of this could have been lost on the Second Duke of Northumberland, or on his heir, the Third Duke of Northumberland, Lord Hugh Percy, who succeeded to the title and great wealth upon his father’s death in 1817.

Henry Louis Dickenson (1771-1820)

Like his father, I mean his brother[lxx], Henry Louis Dickenson had a career in the military. As a young man, his exploits on behalf of the British military took him to many parts of the world.[lxxi]  Like James Smithson, he spent most of his later life in Paris where he fathered a son by his long time paramour.[lxxii] The best evidence shows that he lived comfortably but he was not a man of great wealth. When he died he entrusted James Smithson with his modest estate and directed that the money be used to care for his son. It is understood that James Smithson fulfilled this obligation and also, from time to time, provided for the boy’s mother, who went on to marry and have other children. There is speculation that it was the estate of Henry Louis Dickenson that provided the bulk of funds that became the vast estate of James Smithson[lxxiii], but this speculation is without proof and is specifically discounted in the last paragraph of the James Smithson will. In any event, even if it were true, it could only be that Henry would have acquired any such substantial wealth from the very same sources as those mentioned in this inquiry. The only difference might have been that if James Smithson died before Henry Dickenson, the Smithsonian might have been called the Dickensonian, although more likely, it would not exist.

Henry James Dickenson sometimes Henry James Hungerford, sometimes Baron Henri, or Enrico (maybe Eunice) de la Batut (1808-1835)

Under the commonly accepted scenario, the son born to Henry Louis Dickenson, and given the name Henry James Dickenson, was a direct male blood descendant of Hugh Smithson, later Percy, The First Duke of Northumberland. Henry James Dickenson was a boy when his father died and was provided for by James Smithson in accordance with the will and estate of his father, Henry Louis Dickenson. Henry James Dickenson was approaching the age of majority in 1826 when James Smithson wrote his will. Perhaps there was already a sense that he might not procreate.[lxxiv] He was a young adult when James Smithson died, having taken the name of Henry James Hungerford for a short time perhaps in deference to the wishes of his uncle who was providing for him and naming him as his heir. After Smithson’s death, Henry James Hungerford rejected the Hungerford name and the Dickenson name and took the last name of the man to whom his mother had married. After all, Dickenson probably identified himself as French, not British, since he had lived in Paris during his young life. As an adult he travelled under the glorified name of Baron Henri de la Batut, and in Italy was known as Baron Enrico de la Batut, perhaps (but maybe not) later mistranscribed as Baron Eunice de la Batut.[lxxv] Although apparently of a sickly nature, he lived large from the interest he was receiving from his father’s estate and the estate of James Smithson.[lxxvi] All he needed was a child, whether legitimate or illegitimate, for his family to acquire the great wealth found to be in the James Smithson estate. It was not to be. He died in 1835 without issue, and the money went to the alternative residuary beneficiary in the will of James Smithson, the united states of America.



Hugh Percy, The Third Duke of Northumberland (1785-1847)

So what happened to that adorable two year old child painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1787 in his portrait of the children of the Second Duke of Northumberland? With all those adoring sisters and all that money you could have guessed that he would become a spoiled selfish obnoxious British gentleman. You would have guessed wrong. By all accounts the Third Duke of Northumberland was kind and generous. His obituary was to say “…In the administration of his large income, his Grace was generous without ostentation, and the extent of his liberality was commensurate with the ample means at his disposal. In his domestic and social relations he was truly beloved, and nothing appeared to afford him greater happiness than his being the cause of happiness in others.”[lxxvii] Although he was not known to be politically active, as a young Member of Parliament in 1807 Hugh Percy aggressively pushed for a measure that would ban slavery in any British colony, a measure that went to defeat.[lxxviii] The anti-slavery faction in Parliament did succeed in a lesser but important goal of passing the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which largely banned the trading of slaves in the British Empire.[lxxix] In 1825, after he inherited the title of The Third Duke of Northumberland, he was named the British envoy for the coronation of the new French King, Charles X. He paid for the elaborate trip with his own funds despite not being required to do so. By all accounts he strengthened the new peace that existed between England and France.[lxxx] In 1829, he spent a year in the difficult position of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland at a time when the issue of Catholic Emancipation and other rights was hotly debated. Although Tory by nature, he was quiet on most issues and did not appear to be an obstacle to the reforms of the age.[lxxxi] Where his father was known to be prickly and domineering, it seems that, at least after his father died, the Third Duke of Northumberland was considered competent and fair-minded.[lxxxii]

The Coronation of King Charles X took place in France in the spring of 1825. The Third Duke of Northumberland arrived in Paris several months early and enjoyed the company of French High Society. He lavishly spent his money.[lxxxiii] In 1825, James Smithson lived in Paris, as did his nephew Henry James Dickenson. There is no known record of a meeting between The Third Duke and Smithson or Dickenson. Neither is there any evidence of animosity between them.[lxxxiv] It was shortly thereafter that Smithson left Paris for England and wrote the will which contained the first mention of the wealth that would ultimately pass to become the Smithsonian Institution. Given the nature of the Third Duke as a quiet conciliator who freely spent his money to achieve his goals, and Smithson’s first reference to apparent new found wealth, I suggest that the most logical explanation of the known facts is that in 1825 in Paris there was an important meeting between the Third Duke and James Smithson.[lxxxv]

There would have been much to discuss. James Smithson was a scientist with a known passion for mineralogy and was friendly with many leading botanists.[lxxxvi] The Third Duke’s wife also had a known passion for botany[lxxxvii], and her mother was a respected mineralogist, an interest she was known to have shared with her children. Both James Smithson and Henrietta Clive, the Countess of Powis, had massive collections of minerals from around the world.[lxxxviii] There appears to have been a shared interest in archeology and art. If such a meeting occurred there would no doubt be a discussion of science and family and money. Smithson would have been especially concerned to provide for Henry James Dickenson, which would likely have been quite agreeable to the Third Duke. Although Henry James Dickenson was not eligible to inherit the title of Duke of Northumberland, his blood was Smithson blood.  In 1825, the Third Duke was childless, as was his brother, Algernon Percy. Unfortunately for the Third Duke, since both he and his brother did not have legitimate sons, upon his death and the death of his brother, the title and the great Percy wealth would go to his cousins, the legitimate male heirs of the brother of the Second Duke. This side of the family apparently did not share many of the worldly views of the Third Duke and his family.[lxxxix]  There is ample evidence that the families did not get on well.[xc] This could be a reason why the Third Duke was happily spending so much of his money. Why retain assets which will eventually go to an unloved cousin when the money could be put to a better use? Passing a large amount of money to a Smithson blood heir through the eventual Estate of James Smithson would be a clever way for the Third Duke to honor his family without being accused of wasting the estate of his cousin. But there was a problem. If Henry James Dickenson was given the money outright and died without children, all that money would likely end up in Dickenson’s heirs. This could ultimately be Dickenson’s mother, now known as Mary Ann de la Batut as a result of her recent marriage, or her family. It is unlikely that the Third Duke or even James Smithson would countenance that, so some acceptable alternate beneficiary had to be devised.

Here the commonly accepted story is that James Smithson was a man of science who was going to leave his wealth to the British scientific community by naming the Royal Society of England as his alternate beneficiary. It is thought that at some point Smithson was offended by that organization which caused him to change his alternate beneficiary to the United States, even though he had little connection to that new country.[xci] The problem with this theory is that until 1825, there is no evidence that James Smithson had any great wealth. Nor is there real evidence of a dispute between Smithson and the British scientific community. Nor is there any evidence of a prior will. The more logical scenario is that there was a grand agreement between James Smithson and The Third Duke of Northumberland regarding the Smithson estate. The naming of the united states as alternate beneficiary was not an act against the Royal Society. It was not the act of an insane person, as some thought Smithson must be. It was not an act of revenge against the British or French aristocracy. It was an act of reconciliation between the Third Duke of Northumberland and the United States of America. Under this agreement, the estate of James Smithson was to be funded not with the money of James Smithson, which was limited if by then it existed at all[xcii], but with the real Percy/ Smithson money, provided that Smithson name the united states as the alternate beneficiary. Here we recall The Second Duke’s respect for the former colony of America and his possible reassessment of his actions in fighting on the wrong side in the American Revolution. Perhaps The Third Duke was compensating for Britain’s needless confrontations with the former colony and especially the senseless burning of Washington in the War of 1812. Most notably, America still had no safe place to hang those wonderful portraits that Gilbert Stuart painted of all the great Americans. Remember, after the White House burned down, the Lansdowne portrait of George Washington was essentially homeless, and the Stuart paintings of its heroine, Dolley Madison[xciii], and her husband James, as well as numerous others were barely accounted for. The Third Duke’s paintings by Gilbert Stuart were safe in his Norman castle and in his home outside London where they could be enjoyed by the Third Duke and be a source of inspiration to him. Perhaps America needed a Norman castle of its own to house its great treasures. And what James Smithson was to receive from this grand agreement is obvious to us now.  A name that will live forever.[xciv] Yes, with the naming of the great institution of knowledge, Smithson won the name game.


The Money

It is unlikely that James Smithson saw much of the Percy/Smithson money in his lifetime. I suggest that The Third Duke was too clever to hand over major assets to an inveterate gambler. It is likely that as part of the bargain Smithson received enough to live well and by all accounts that is what he did. That good life included travel to Italy, where he died in 1829 with a receipt for the will in his pocket. We know that Henry James Hungerford never saw the real money. Upon learning of the Smithson bequest to him, he went to London to claim his interest in the interest, and went on his truly merry way. Since “the money” was in a trust controlled by bankers, we do not really know what would have happened if an heir to Henry James Hungerford was born and showed up to receive it. Maybe it would have been there, maybe not.

John Singleton Copley(1738-1815); John Singleton Copley, Jr., later Lord Lyndhurst (1772-1863); Henry Brougham later Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778-1868); the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (founded 1825); Nassau William Senior(1790-1864);  Richard Rush(1780-1859)

I bequeath the whole of my property of every nature & kind soever to my bankers, Messrs. Drummonds of Charing Cross, in trust, to be disposed of in the following manner, and I desire of my said Executors to put my property under the management of the Court of Chancery.


                                                                                                Will of James Smithson


Reading the will of James Smithson, it is easy to gloss over the seemingly meaningless language and focus on the presumed intent of the bequest.  But the Chancery Court of England was an exacting place, and its results were never certain.[xcv] In the Smithson will there are actually several conflicting beneficiaries and fiduciaries. As a result of its imperfections, the bankers, the unnamed “Executors”, The Court of Chancery, the High Chancellor, the King of England and any proven residuary beneficiaries could all claim some right to determine the disposition of the assets. The Court of Chancery was the forum to resolve such conflicts and the High Chancellor was the head of the Court of Chancery. At relevant times in this saga, from 1825 to 1837, the High Chancellor of the Court of Chancery was either Baron Henry Brougham, a virulent opponent of slavery[xcvi], or Lord Lyndhurst, a/k/a John Singleton Copley, Jr., son of the expatriate American painter.[xcvii] The Master of Chancery who presided over the case was Nassau William Senior.[xcviii] I submit that either of these High Chancellors or the presiding judge could have stymied the attempt of the United States to acquire the “Smithson” funds. To the contrary, they each had a personal stake to see that the Smithsonian Institution was to be formed as a place for the diffusion of knowledge.


Henry Brougham was a British lawyer and scientist who was a founding member of both the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823[xcix] and the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in 1825.[c] The Anti-Slavery Society was given great credit for the enforcement of the end of the British involvement in the slave trade, as well as the ultimate legislation which banned slavery in all British Colonies in 1832.[ci] The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge was part of an educational reform movement which provided guidance for the education of the common masses who could not afford the expensive British educational system.[cii]  That the abolition of slavery and the push for education through the diffusion of knowledge were linked was no accident as it became understood among many in Britain that the institution of slavery could only be abolished by knowledge and reason.[ciii] Nassau William Senior, a lawyer and leading economist of the era who presided over the case of the Smithson will, would give lectures at Oxford about the unproductive nature of slavery as a means of creating wealth.[civ] Senior was a friend of Alexis de Tocqueville, the liberal French analyst who was later to be famous for his incredible perceptions into the beauty and problems with the American form of government. Senior went on to write perhaps the most scathing anti-slavery treatise ever published.[cv] This plan of attack on slavery through education, while already successful in England, was not well developed in America in the 1820’s and 1830’s probably due to the fact that the American economy was much more dependent on slave labor than most other nations. Perhaps that was exactly the reason why men and women who were anti-slavery needed to provide for the diffusion of knowledge to the American continent.


It was equally true that in the 1820’s and 1830’s America did not have a single museum or other institution where its citizens and budding artists could view or learn about the great art of the world. There was a sense that any American with an inclination towards art had to travel to Europe or be stifled in their art education.[cvi] During the American Revolution, American born artists John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, and John Trumbull all worked at or about the London studio of the great American expatriate artist, Benjamin West, who had found favor with the King of England. While Stuart and Trumbull eventually made their way back to America and great success, Copley, who did not like to travel[cvii], never returned to his Boston home and raised his family as British subjects in London. Copley expressed a significant distress about having had to leave America to further his career as an artist.[cviii] Copley’s view of America could not have been lost on his son, who dabbled poorly in the arts but found his calling as a great litigator in the British courts. He first rose to the position of High Chancellor in 1827 and he and Lord Brougham alternated in that position for the next several years.[cix] It seems clear that all the problems with the wording in Smithson’s will were not going to stop Copley, Jr., now Lord Lyndhurst, Lord Brougham or Nassau William Senior from sending the pile of money over to America to fund the diffusion of knowledge. I suggest that the money was released to the United States because that is where several important men wanted the money to go. Although the litigation over Smithson’s will took several years, many were impressed by just how quickly the British courts reached the surprising positive result.[cx] The gift of these men to America was a great strategy…science, art, knowledge; welcome America to the modern world.


What assurance was there to guarantee that the Americans would do right by the money? Really none.[cxi] But the presence of just the right agent in England litigating to acquire the money on behalf of the United States had to suffice. Richard Rush had numerous credentials that must have impressed those that were deciding on the fate of the money.  An attorney and diplomat living in Washington D.C., Rush demonstrated the desire to increase and diffuse knowledge through his work as an early member of the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences. That society noted the importance that such an institution must exist at the seat of power to be influential among the powerful.[cxii] As with many great men perhaps his best credential was his father, Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who really believed that all men were created equal and fervently fought for the abolition of slavery at the earliest inception of the new country.[cxiii]  It is generally acknowledged that were it not for the presence of Richard Rush at the litigant’s table, it is unlikely that the United States would have been successful in its attempt to acquire the Smithson bequest.



The will of James Smithson is an intriguing document. Despite its great importance, it was clearly not written by a skilled professional. It recites a questionable family history which does not serve a legal purpose. It contains words that have legal connotations which make no sense in the context of the document. Were it not for some guiding hand the document could easily have been declared void and the money, if it really existed, could have gone wherever the court ruled.  I submit that the money went exactly where it was supposed to go, presumably under the watchful eye of the Third Duke of Northumberland. For all of its flaws, I believe that in its naiveté the will of James Smithson conveys its greater truth. It gives insight to what James Smithson and perhaps the Third Duke of Northumberland were thinking in 1825. It is about family ties and blood and titles. It is about legitimacy and illegitimacy. It is about England and France and the united states. To any who doubt this analysis I ask why the will contains the words…”at Washington”. Why not New York, the bustling head of commerce of the young nation which stayed fairly loyal to Britain during the revolution and remained a great trading partner? Or perhaps Philadelphia, if the point was to honor the great intellectual and scientific center of the new world.[cxiv] I submit that the words “at Washington” were not James Smithson’s words; they were words dictated by The Third Duke of Northumberland to satisfy his personal aims. After the War of 1812, much thought was given to remove the Capital of the United States to another place.[cxv] But it was Washington which the British needlessly burned to the ground in 1814. It was Washington where Dolley Madison saved the Gilbert Stuart portrait. Frankly it was Washington, the man, who himself who was the subject of the portrait that was saved, a portrait which now symbolically represented the treasures of the new country. The institution of slavery, while abhorred in most of the world, still existed and was acceptable in Washington.[cxvi] Perhaps a contrary institution of knowledge was needed there. An institution of knowledge that could speak truth to the political power of the young country. After all, it was the British who first brought slaves to the new world and grew wealthy off their toil. If the goal of The Third Duke was reconciliation and the advancement of civilization, then Washington is where the Smithsonian Institution had to be. The Third Duke of Northumberland was of Smithson blood as well, and it is not lost on me that he died in 1847, the year this new castle with his former family name was constructed at Washington. As Richard Rush was resolving the case of the probate of the will of James Smithson, he wrote a letter which indicated that his inquiries had led to the conclusion that the money was generated from “the ample provision made for him [James Smithson] by the Duke of Northumberland…”[cxvii] It was presumed this meant the First Duke which is where his cursory inquiry might have lead. As for me, I can imagine the Third Duke of Northumberland standing at the London Docks, perhaps with Lord Lyndhurst, Lord Brougham, and Nassau William Senior, smiling as he watched the crates containing 105 sacks of gold being loaded onto an aptly named ship, The Mediator, thinking that this was a good start but there was much work to be done; a castle to build, knowledge to be diffused, and ignorance to be destroyed.


[i] For all facts relating to the life of James Smithson see Nina Burleigh, The Stranger and the Statesman, (New York: William Morrow, 2003) and Heather Ewing, The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian, (New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2007). These biographies of James Smithson are incredibly complete and fascinating. Ewing traipsed around Europe and America looking for and finding every imaginable piece of primary source information. Writers like me who write fluff like this are in great debt to workers like these, even as we take the liberty to reject some of their conclusions.

[ii] See William J. Rhees, James Smithson and His Bequest, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1880) 1.

[iii] The lack of capital letters in “united states” is taken from the hand drawn copy widely dispersed on the Smithsonian Institution website. It is also written without capitals on the officially copied document available at the national archives in London; website Whether either of these reflects the document drawn in Smithson’s own hand is subject to debate. See Smithsonian Institution Archives website

[iv] An early attempt to discern this history is located in Rhees, supra at 1-25.

[v] For a useful family tree that was invaluable to this work, see Ewing 350-353.

[vi] Ewing 22.

[vii] When Hugh Smithson took the Percy name, he agreed to pass it only to the children of Seymour. Ewing 22. It is unlikely that James would have been legally permitted to change his name to Percy, although illegitimate daughters of the First Duke were Philadelphia Percy and Dorothy Percy. Burleigh 76.

[viii] Burleigh 47-48

[ix] No known birth certificate exists. Ewing 33.

[x] King Louis XV was king of France from when he was a boy in 1715 to his death in 1774.

[xi] Ewing 33.

[xii] Ewing 278 Burleigh 146.

[xiii] Ewing 48-53.

[xiv] Burleigh 20.

[xv] See Burleigh 89.

[xvi] Burleigh 93-96.

[xvii] Ewing 343.

[xviii] Burleigh 152.

[xix] Burleigh suggests that Smithson was wealthy and receiving substantial regular income although it is unclear where the money might have come from. 153-154. There is a theory that Smithson curbed his gambling, a theory which is unconvincing to me. Burleigh 156.

[xx] Rhees, page 1, noted that information concerning the mother of James Smithson was quite limited. This was rectified by Burleigh and Ewing, from which much of this information was taken.

[xxi] Burleigh implies that the Smithsonian was funded with Hungerford money; Burleigh 64. For reasons herein, I disagree.

[xxii] Ewing 25.

[xxiii] Ewing 27

[xxiv] Ewing 24.

[xxv] Ewing 28 Burleigh 26.

[xxvi] Burleigh 63.

[xxvii] The Dickinson chapter of Elizabeth’s life is recounted in Ewing 35-43.

[xxviii] Burleigh 42.

[xxix] See Ewing 23.

[xxx] Burleigh 53. Ewing 51.

[xxxi] Smithsonian Institution website,

[xxxii] Ewing 45.

[xxxiii] Burleigh 191.

[xxxiv] The best that money could buy. See Burleigh 32-35. See also Rhees 51-54.

[xxxv] Ewing 82. See also Letters of Hugh Earl Percy from Boston and New York 1774-1776, Edited by Charles Knowles Bowlton (Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed 1900 D. B. Updike The Merrymount Press 1902) 16. Website:

[xxxvi] David Hanna, Knights of the Sea, (USA: NAL Caliber, 2012) 158. Jon Latimer, 1812 War With America(London England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press Cambridge Mass; 2007) 156.

[xxxvii] Ewing 22, 118.

[xxxviii] Burleigh 109, 112. See also Stephen Conway, ‘Percy, Hugh, second duke of Northumberland (1742–1817)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006. Website:

[xxxix] Carrie Rebora Barratt and Ellen G. Miles, Gilbert Stuart (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, 2004) 68. See also History of Parliament, British Political, social and Local History; website: See also Letters of Hugh Earl Percy from Boston and New York 1774-1776 Edited by Charles Knowles Bowlton (Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed 1900 D. B. Updike The Merrymount Press 1902) 16.

[xl]Letters, supra. No. XXIX, 68.

[xli]Letters, supra. 79.

[xlii]See Stephen Conway, ‘Percy, Hugh, second duke of Northumberland (1742–1817)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 Website:

[xliii] See Rhees 54-56.

[xliv] Burleigh 111. In Rhees 56 it was noted that upon his return to England,”He was the first to suggest making peace with the colonists…” See also Letters, supra at 22.

[xlv] David Hanna, Knights of the Sea, (USA: NAL Caliber, 2012) 158. Jon Latimer, 1812 War With America (London England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press Cambridge Mass; 2007) 5.

[xlvi] See Hanna 8, 124.

[xlvii] See T.J. Desch Obi, Black Terror: Bill Richmond’s Revolutionary Boxing, Journal of Sport History, Spring 2009 at 99. See also website:

[xlviii] See website:

[xlix] Bob Mee, Bare Fists, The History of Bare-Knuckle Prize-Fighting, (Woodstock and New York: The Overlook Press, 2001) 60. See also Nat Fleischer and Sam Andre, A Pictorial History of Boxing, (New York: The Citadel Press, 1959) 26-27.

[l] T. J. Desch Obi, at 100-101 refers to unruly Hessian soldiers. Mee, supra, refers to “three drunken English soldiers in a bar”. See also John Dizikes, Sportsmen & Gamesmen, and (University of Missouri Press 2002) 203.

[li] T. J. Desch Obi at 108.

[lii] T. J. Desch Obi at 108.

[liii] See James B. Roberts, Alexander G. Skutt, The Boxing Register, International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book, (Ithaca New York: McBooks Press Inc. 2006) website:

[liv] T.J. Desch Obi, Black Terror: Bill Richmond’s Revolutionary Boxing, Journal of Sport History, Spring 2009.

[lv] T.J. Desch Obi, at 110.

[lvi] There are several accounts of the life of Bill Richmond, each with varying facts. For one particularly interesting account see Kevin R. Smith, Black Genesis, A History of the Black Prizefighter 1760-1870. (Lincoln Nebraska: iUniverse Inc 2003) 12-26. website: See also John Dizikes, Sportsman & Gamesmen, supra.

[lvii] Charles Merrill Mount, Gilbert Stuart, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1964) 36.

[lviii] Mount 103-115.

[lix] Mount 116, and Carrie Rebora Barratt and Ellen G. Miles, Gilbert Stuart (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Yale University Press 2004) 28.

[lx] Barratt and Miles 28-30.

[lxi] Barratt and Miles 72, 73. The great art collection of the Second Duke of Northumberland was housed both in his country home called “Syon” and in his ancestral home, Alnwick Castle, which has recently gained notoriety as a prop in the Harry Potter movies. It is a real Norman Castle known to exist for nearly a millennium.  The Smithsonian Castle, which was built in 1847, in part to house the great art collection of America, bears some similarity in design. To my frustration, I have not been able to find any direct connection between the two, either in the Smithsonian Archives or in the available information regarding James Renwick, Jr., architect of the Smithsonian Castle.

[lxii] Barratt and Miles 72.

[lxiii] Barratt and Miles 257.

[lxiv] Andrew Tully, When We Burned the White House, (London: Anthony Gibbs and Phillips 1961) 135. But see Glenn Tucker, Poltroons and Patriots, (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Marrill Company, Inc., 1954) 573.

[lxv] Latimer 389.

[lxvi] See Hanna 115-119, 165. See also Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812, A Forgotten Conflict (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989).

[lxvii] Tully, 212.

[lxviii] Tucker 667.

[lxix] See Hanna, 136, 155. Latimer 391.

[lxx] How much of this is history and how much is a story, as they say, based on real life? I am searching for a reasonable explanation of all things and cannot agree that the available evidence points to a conclusion that James Smithson and Henry Louis Dickenson were full brothers and sons of the First Duke of Northumberland. Why then, would the First Duke fail to acknowledge his sons the way he acknowledged the two daughters of his mistress, Margaret Marion? Why would he not publicly recognize Elizabeth Macie as a paramour if he were cavorting with her, at least on and off, for many years? Why are the family records relating to this period destroyed?(Ewing 32) It is my theory, with but flimsy proof, that Henry Louis Dickenson was the child of a liaison between Elizabeth Macie and The Second Duke of Northumberland which would make him both the half-brother(on his mother’s side) and half-nephew(on his father’s side) of James Smithson. He would still be in the direct male bloodline of Hugh Smithson, whether fathered by the First or Second Duke of Northumberland. In 1770 The First Duke was 56 years old, Elizabeth Macie Dickinson was 42 years old and The Second Duke was 28 years old and already a war veteran. A fourteen year difference either way. As we might now say, they were all adults and stranger things have happened. Perhaps families are entitled to keep their secrets, even families of great wealth who fund great museums. Ewing (page 349) refers to an engraved portrait of “The Duke of Northumberland” found among the items belonging to the son of Henry Louis Dickenson at the time of his death and eventually turned over to the Smithsonian. Interesting, but not dispositive, is the question of which Duke was pictured. I could footnote this footnote and note that the theory that James Smithson was the son of the First Duke of Northumberland is also based on somewhat flimsy proof, although much more logical in the context of events (See Burleigh 42-43). Maybe, just maybe, he too is also the son of the younger Duke, who was in his early twenties in 1865 and newly married to a woman he would eventually divorce (In this regard one should note Burleigh 81, where it is noted that there was quite a resemblance between Smithson and the Second Duke of Northumberland).  Since the same conundrum exists about the origin of the large estate of James Smithson whether he and/or Henry Louis Dickenson was fathered by the First or Second Duke of Northumberland, the mention of this theory is but a distraction best left in this footnote that perhaps nobody will read.

[lxxi] Rhees 1.

[lxxii] Henry Louis Dickenson never married the mother of his son. He travelled quite a bit. It might be interesting to explore the possible ramifications of this putative son not being his natural son, but I have done more than enough of that for one essay.

[lxxiii] Rhees 1.

[lxxiv] Burleigh 192.

[lxxv] Ewing 316(see footnote 2 therein). See also Burleigh 9. See also Rhees 23-24.

[lxxvi] Ewing 316. Burleigh 191-192.

[lxxvii] The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 181, by John Nichols 421. People tend to say nice things about you in your obituary but other evidence indicates that in this case this assessment appears to be accurate.

[lxxviii] See The History of Parliament, British Political, Social & Local History.

[lxxix]See 1807 Commemorated, The Abolition of the Slave Trade. Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past
and the Institute of Historical Research, 2007. Website:

[lxxx] Ewing 296.

[lxxxi] The Gentleman’s Magazine, supra.

[lxxxii] The History of Parliament, supra.

[lxxxiii] Ewing 296.

[lxxxiv] Smithson remained close to Margaret Marriott who was an accepted member of the Percy household until her death in 1827. Ewing 149-150.

[lxxxv] We all have our theories. Burleigh suggests that before he died the First Duke may have “handed to young Macie or his mother various untraceable but redeemable bank bonds and annuities.” Burleigh 77. 

[lxxxvi] Ewing 135, 138.

[lxxxvii] The Clivia (Clivia nobilis) was named in honor of Lady Charlotte Florentia Clive, Duchess of Northumberland.

[lxxxviii] As to Smithson, Ewing 268. As to Lady Henrietta Clive, See The National Museum of Wales, Rhagor, explore our collections; The Fabulous Mineral Collection of Lady Henrietta Antonia Clive, Countess of Powis.  Website:

[lxxxix] As Lord Lorraine, a cousin edited a book entitled Speeches in Parliament (Bosworth and Harrison, London 1860) made by his father-in-law, Henry Drummond, Esq. These were religious zealots who may not have appreciated the more worldly lives of the Third or Second Dukes of Northumberland, or those of their family.

[xc] The History of Parliament, supra website:

[xci] The unlikehood of this theory is explored in Burleigh 17.

[xcii] I cannot rule out that the Third Duke bailed out James Smithson, who probably went through what little he had, much in the same way his father bailed out Gilbert Stuart.

[xciii]Dolley Madison was a slaveholder who notoriously did not provide for manumission of her slaves upon her death. I choose to comment little on this other than to note that some issues seem to appear to be more complicated to those involved in them as opposed to those separated by oceans or centuries… Others clearly knew better.

[xciv] A famous though questionable quote of James Smithson is “The best blood of England flows in my veins; on my father’s side I am a Northumberland, on my mother’s I am related to kings, but this avails me not. My name shall live in the memory of man when the titles of the Northumberland and the Percys are extinct and forgotten.” See Rhees 2 and Ewing 8, footnote 10.


[xcv] See Webster Prentiss True, The Smithsonian Institution, located on the website of the History of Science and Technology at the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection; website:  229-234.

[xcvi] See Encyclopaedia Britannica website:

[xcvii] The Late John Lord Campbell(Ed. by Mary Scarlett Campbell) Lives of Lord Lyndhurst and Lord Brougham, (London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1869) website:

[xcviii] William Jones Rhees, James Smithson and His Bequest, (Smithsonian Institution, Washington 1880) 28. Rhees incorrectly refers to this eminent economist as Nassau William, Sen. His last name was Senior.

[xcix]Encyclopedia of Antislavery and Abolitionedited by Peter P. Hinks, John R. McKivigan, R. Owen Williams (Greenwood Press: Westport Connecticut, 2007) 127-129. website:

[c] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, contribution by Rosemary Ashton. Website:

[ci] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, contribution by Catherine Hall. Website:

[cii] See Ashton, ODNB, supra.

[ciii] See Hall, ODNB, supra.

[civ] See Nassau William Senior, Three Lectures on the Rate of Wages (Albemarle-Street London: John Murray 1830). Website:

[cv] Nassau William Senior, American Slavery (Longman, Brown Green, Longmans & Roberts, London: 1856). Website:

[cvi] See Paul Staiti, Accounting For Copley, a chapter in John Singleton Copley in America by Carrie Rebora and Paul Staiti, Erica E. Hirshler, Theodore E. Stebbins Jr., Carol Troyen (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1995). See also Jules David Prown, John Singleton Copley In America 1738-1774 (Harvard University Press Cambridge Massachusetts 1966) at 17.

[cvii] Richard Klayman, America Abandoned (University Press of America, Lanham, New York London, 1983) 2.

[cviii] Klayman, supra, 3, 61.

[cix] Jules David Prown, John Singleton Copley In England 1774-1815 (Harvard University Press Cambridge Massachusetts 1966) 383.

[cx] True, supra, 233-234.

[cxi] Any study of the legislative history of the Smithsonian Institution demonstrates that it was a wonder that it ever was built, let alone that it would become successful in its mission.

[cxii] Richard Rathbun, The Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences (Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 101, Washington 1917) 7, 20.

[cxiii] David Freeman Hawke, Benjamin Rush, Revolutionary Gadfly (Indianapolis & New York: The Bobs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1971) 104-105.

[cxiv] A similar point was made by Burleigh at 213.

[cxv] Tully 203-209.

[cxvi] Latimer 316

[cxvii] Burleigh 200.