The rest of the story

Published 3:25 pm Monday, April 15, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Last week I shared the story of Oliver Cromwell, a formerly enslaved man in the painting by German artist, Emmanuel Leutze, that depicted General George Washington crossing the Delaware River in 1772. Cromwell was not the only enslaved man in the boat with Cromwell and General Washington. The other man’s name was Prince Whipple. For African Americans, this famous painting had many ties to African American history.

And the painting has so much more. Leutze had a love for this country. Born in Germany, he came to the United States as a child. He later returned to Germany at age 20, and while in Germany, he painted this iconic image which is now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. On his return to America, he painted many more historic paintings. Right before his death, he was working on a painting, he had entitled The Emancipation of Slaves.

His Washington Crossing the Delaware oil on canvas larger-than-life painting holds symbols of liberation hidden in almost clue form.

The painting, 21 feet long and 12 feet tall shows 13 people in the boat. One for each colony at that time. By 1851, the time of the painting, Betsy Ross had made the American flag with 13 red and white alternating stripes and 13 five pointed stars in a circle. In the painting at the Metropolitan, the skyline has an unnaturally bright sky that features a faint red, white and blue rainbow.

Leutze’s inclusion of African Americans in the boat was meant to highlight the role of African Americans in the fight for freedom. Leutze was said to have been an abolitionist.

Washington NC has a remote tie to the painting as well. In the boat with General Washington is a future president. Standing next to Washington holding the flag is Colonel James Monroe. Monroe would go on to become the fifth President of the United States 1817-1825.
Monroe was supporter of the American Colonization Society and secured government money for the foundling of the colony in Liberia, Africa. Between 1820-1864, 11,000 African Americans emigrated to Liberia. 4,000 were free African Americans as was Hull Anderson and Richard Judkins with their families from Washington NC. 7,000 were former enslaved people who gained their freedom by agreeing to emigrate to Liberia. In many of the wills of Washington’s slave owners, you can find documents of them wanting to send their enslaved people to Liberia.

The capitol of Liberia is Monrovia, which is named after President Monroe. At present it is one of two world capitals named after a United States president. Washington D.C. is the other.

On another note, I receive letters and texts from school children all over the country. Last week I received a letter from Las Vegas Nev. wanting to know when I developed an interest in African American history. This Washington Daily News clipping from Feb. 17, 1962, shows that as a ten-year-old, I was developing programming for Black History Week at the I. B. Turner Library here in Washington.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.