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Guide to the John Trumbull Papers
1775 - 1842
 MS 639, MS 2561

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Ashley Todd

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on December 14, 2011
English

Biographical Note

John Trumbull was born in Lebanon, CT on June 6, 1756 to Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., and his wife Faith Robinson. As the youngest of six John looked up to his older siblings, particularly his sister Faith, whose drawings fascinated and inspired him, and his brother Jonathan, Jr., later Governor of Connecticut, with whom he regularly corresponded. Despite an accident when he was a child that left him without sight in his left eye, John pursued his talent for art. Trumbull entered Harvard as a Junior at the age of 15 and graduated a year and a half later in 1773. His career was interrupted two years later by the start of the Revolutionary War. He served for two years as aid-du-camp and then as Deputy Adjutant General drawing out plans and maps before resigning in 1777 to devote himself to developing his talents as a painter. In 1780 he had the opportunity to travel to London to study with established American painter Benjamin West. During this time period he painted over two numerous miniature portraits and small representations of the war.

Trumbull spent two years in Connecticut from 1782-84, but returned to London in January of 1784 to again paint under West. The period he spent painting in London, which lasted approximately a decade, was Trumbull's most successful as an artist. During this time he produced such works as Battle of Bunker Hill,  Death of General Montgomery at Quebec and  Declaration of Independence; as well as portraits of General Washington, John Adams, George Clinton, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and Rufus King.

By the mid-1790s Trumbull put painting aside to focus on politics and diplomacy. In 1794 he served as secretary to John Jay during the treaty negotiations between America and Britain. He was chosen in 1796 to be the fifth commissioner to work on the 7th article of the Jay Treaty, which sought to resolve the complaints made by American merchants who believed their ships had been unfairly confiscated by the British. In 1800 he married Sarah Hope Harvey, an Englishwoman, and returned to America with her in 1804. After spending a few years in New York, he returned to London for another extended stay that lasted from 1808-13.

Trumbull returned to painting in 1816 as president of the American Academy of the Fine Arts. However, by that point his skills had declined due to lack of practice for so many years. Trumbull continued to support the Fine Arts by drafting a document, Plan for Encouragement of the Arts, that sought to promote the Arts to the President and Congress. He passed away in 1843 at the age of 88.