THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR MONUMENT
Circa 1898 postcard showing the guns of the “H.M.S. Acteon” installed in Lafayette Park.
The cannons in Lafayette Park date to the American Revolution and were given to the park in October 1897 by the Missouri Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), the Missouri branch of an association of former Union military officers and their descendants. This is the only Revolutionary War monument in St. Louis.
The Monument consists of three guns which were on board a British frigate, the H.M.S. Acteon, or Actaeon, which went aground and was burned during an attempt by the British to capture Charleston, South Carolina in June 1776. They lay undisturbed in Charleston Harbor until 1887 when a ship entering the harbor struck them. They were raised from the wreckage of the Acteon, sold at an auction, and were purchased by members of the Missouri Commandery of MOLLUS and later donated to the park.
A bronze plaque placed in front of the monument giving the history of the guns and their journey to the park disappeared years later. The Lafayette Square Restoration Committee had the text of the plaque inscribed on a block of red granite to replace the missing plaque. The text reads as follows: These guns are from the British Man of War “Acteon” sunk in an attack on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston Harbor, S.C. June 28, 1776. In 1887 a British vessel entering Charleston Harbor ran upon an obstruction which proved to be the forgotten guns of the “Acteon” . They were raised and sold at auction and they were bought by the Missouri Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion and presented to Lafayette Park October 20, 1897.
The guns were displayed on three separate wooden carriages about 15 feet apart with the carronade in the center flanked by the two long guns, barrels pointing to the west. The plaque was placed 15 feet in front of the carronade.
In time, the original wooden carriages were replaced with other wooden carriages which deteriorated to the point of near collapse. The carronade was partially encased in a concrete pillar. The Conservancy decided to display the guns in their original positions but on a platform.
The Conservancy ordered a new wooden carriage for one of the long guns in 2008 and placed the carriage and its gun on a brick covered masonry platform. The platform was extended in 2016 to hold the second long gun and its new carriage. Both carriages were made of long lasting wood from Central America.
The carronade was shipped to Maryland in 2015 years ago for conservation to halt deterioration to its metal caused by being submerged in seawater for 111 years. It will be returned to the park after its conservation treatment has ended.
H.M.S. Acteon and the Battle of Sullivan’s Island
She was a 28 gun vessel, a frigate, armed with “28 guns and swivels”, built at Woolwich Drydock in England. She was ordered by Admiralty November 5, 1771. Her keel was laid in October, 1772. She was launched April 15. 1775 and she was burned and sunk June 28, 1776.
In early 1776, the British made an attempt to divide the colonies by invading the Carolinas in order to rally the Loyalists there and to obtain bases for landing troops. An attempt to take Wilmington, North Carolina was cancelled when Loyalists there were defeated in February, 1776 so the British decided to take Charleston, South Carolina, the fourth largest city in the colonies.
The Acteon was part of a fleet of between forty and fifty ships under the command of Admiral Parker which carried a large infantry force under the command of General Clinton.
When the fleet arrived off Charleston in early June, 1776, the Patriots had fortified Sullivan’s Island with a fort, made of palmetto log walls filled with sand in between, to block entrance into the harbor. The western end of the fort had not been completed by the time the British arrived.
Clinton landed troops on an island adjacent to Sullivan’s Island and waited for the tides to allow Parker’s heavy warships to enter the harbor across from Sullivan’s Island before crossing over to begin his attack.
Parker opened fire with devastating bombardments at very close range but the palmetto logs and sand tended to absorb the shot while the fort’s cannon, although much fewer in number, were able to inflict serious damage to three of the four warships able to get in range of the fort.
Admiral Parker ordered three lighter draft vessels, including the Acteon, to sail close to the fort in order to bombard the unfinished end but they ran aground. Two were able to get off but the Acteon became stuck fast. Her crew set her on fire and abandoned ship. It was said that the explosion caused when the powder magazine blew up produced a plume of smoke in the shape of a palmetto tree.
The victory over an overwhelming British military force at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island was celebrated in Charleston for almost 200 years. It came at the time when Washington had occupied the heights overlooking Boston waiting for the cannon captured at Fort Ticonderoga to arrive and the Continental Congress was in Philadelphia debating the Resolution to Declare Independence from Great Britai
The Mystery Regarding the Carronade
Carronades are a type of naval gun developed by the Carron Iron Works in Falkirk, Scotland. It uses a small amount of powder to fire a heavier projectile further than an ordinary naval gun, and with greater force, but at a much shorter range. Therefore, it is very useful at close range but little use at long range. It recoils in its own carriage unlike conventional guns which recoil with their carriages for reloading. It is a top deck gun and would not be mounted on a ship’s gun deck. The Admiralty ordered some from Carron but rejected them at first because of the low quality of their metal. They were accepted by Admiralty later and were certainly used during the Napoleonic Wars. The Acteon was constructed after Admiralty rejected the first carronades and before Admiralty accepted newer models for use on their ships. The mystery is: how could a carronade be among the guns raised from the Acteon?
Carronades have distinctive appearances and a photograph of the pile of guns raised from the Acteon’s wreck shows a carronade near the top of the pile.
One answer may come from the custom of that time of allowing the master of a vessel to add swivels and other top deck weapons available in shipyards to supplement the standard complement of guns for each class of vessel. If there were carronades at Woolwich Drydock they may have been added as supplemental weaponry. The available records of the Acteon do not settle this question.
THE THOMAS HART BENTON MONUMENT
In 1860, the Missouri State Legislature commissioned a monument to the late Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858). Benton had served Missouri in the United States Senate from 1821, when the state was admitted to the Union, until 1850.
The legislature appropriated the sum of $2,500 for a monument to be erected in Bellefontaine Cemetery where Benton was buried.
Two prominent citizens of St. Louis were appointed to oversee the project, Colonel Joshua B. Brant and Colonel Robert Campbell. Brant was married to Benton’s niece. Since the act appropriating money for the monument did not specify the type of monument to be erected, Brant and Campbell appointed a committee to decide what type of monument to erect. The committee included Brant himself, Moses L. Linton and Wayman T. Crow.
The commissioners made the decision that the monument should be a statue of Benton erected in a public space instead of a monument at his grave site. Also, they decided to award a commission for the statue to Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, a friend of Commissioner Crow and of his daughter Cornelia. Cornelia Crow and Hosmer were classmates at school and Hosmer had visited the Crow family in St. Louis. Several examples of her work were in St. Louis and the commissioners must have been familiar with them.
Harriet Hosmer was about 30 years old and living in Rome when she received the commission. She sculpted the statue in Rome in 1861 and it was cast in Munich in 1864.
The statue was donated to the Lafayette Park Board of Improvement on the condition that the Board would erect it to the commissioners’ satisfaction.
It was dedicated in a spectacular public ceremony on May 27, 1868 attracting a crowd of some 30,000 people. An article about the dedication appeared in Harper’s Weekly along with this etching.
The decision of the commissioners to erect a bronze statue in a public park exceeded the original intent of the legislature both in scope and cost. The eventual cost was $36,000. The commissioners for the statue and the Board of Improvement for Lafayette Park raised the additional $33.500.
Benton’s statue is the first public sculpture erected in Missouri and the first large-scale outdoor bronze erected west of the Mississippi River.
Harriet Hosmer, the sculptor, was one of the first female professional sculptors of the time.
The statue is a colossal standing figure of Senator Benton. It stands ten feet tall and is two feet, ten inches wide and deep.
Benton wears a classical toga over a contemporary jacket and neck scarf. He is wearing sandals. Benton faces west and is holding a partially unrolled scroll of a map with the word “America” on it.
The statue was cast at the Royal Bronze Foundry in Munich, using the sand casting method. It was a light gilt bronze
There are two inscriptions on the base of the sculpture: “Harriet Hosmer Sculpt Rome MDCCCLXI” and “Ferd .v. Miller Fnd Munchen 1864”.
The 10 foot tall pedestal is of Quincy granite. The inscriptions on the pedestal were originally gilded. A quotation from Benton’s speech at his great railroad meeting in St. Louis is on the front: “There is the East, there is India.” On the back is the name “Benton”.
A square platform of limestone blocks surrounds the pedestal.
The monument is on an elevated area approximately in the center of the park, northwest of the lake.
Harriet Hosmer with her bronze casting of Senator
Thomas Hart Benton, c. 1864, Munich
SENATOR THOMAS HART BENTON
In 1850, he was considered to be the most famous Missourian to have lived. He was a lawyer, soldier, statesman and famous duelist.
Before serving in the Unites State’s Senate he practiced law in Tennessee. He served in the War of 1812 as a colonel of volunteers under General Andrew Jackson. He moved to St. Louis in 1815 and started a prosperous law practice and was editor of the Missouri Enquirer newspaper.
Benton served in the Senate for 40 years. He was a member of the Democratic Party and champion of westward expansion, hard currency and the development of westward trade routes. He wanted a cross-continent trade route extending from San Francisco to New York that would pass through St. Louis, the most important western city at the time.
or a monument to the memory of the late senator. The monument was intended to The inscription “There is the East. There is India” is taken from a speech Benton delivered to a railroad convention meeting in St. Louis in which he advocated building a transcontinental railroad.
In 1850, he lost his congressional seat to a Whig because his stand on the Compromise of 1850 had displeased southern interests in the Legislature. He died April 10,1858.
HARRIET GOODHUE HOSMER
Hosmer (1830-1908) was one of the world’s most famous women neoclassical sculptors in the last half of the nineteenth century.
She was born in Watertown, Mass in 1830 and raised by her father, Hiram, a physician. He encouraged her to be strong physically because her mother and three siblings had died of tuberculosis. He also encouraged intellectual independence and supported her in her determination to succeed in a profession that was considered closed to women.
She was enrolled her at Mrs. Sedgewick’s School in Lenox, Mass. where she developed an ability to model in clay and decided to become a sculptor and, unheard of at the time, to be a sculptor of the human form.
Sculpture was a very narrow field for Americans of the first half of the nineteenth century. Commissions for sculpture of the human form were rare.
At the time it was understood that the study of anatomy was essential for a sculptor of the human form also understood that the study of anatomy, which necessarily included the study of naked bodies and dissection, was off limits to women.
She attempted to study anatomy at medical schools in the East but was denied entry. Through the intervention of Wayman Crow, the father of Cornelia, her close friend and classmate at Mrs. Sedgewick’s School, she was allowed to study anatomy at the medical school which Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell had recently established in St. Louis. She received a degree in anatomy.
McDowell had taught anatomy to several aspiring sculptors in Cincinnati, including Hiram Powers
His medical school later became part of Washington University in St. Louis which was co-founded by Wayman Crow and William Greenleaf Eliot.
Also at the time, study abroad, usually in Italy where there were countless examples of classical sculpture, was considered essential for a sculptor of the human form. She moved to Rome in 1852 to study under English neoclassical sculptor John Gibson and joined a large international circle of artists and writers, many of them women, that included actress Charlotte Cushman, poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, writers Henry James and Nathaniel Hawthorn living in Rome. She lived in England and Rome for most of the second half of the nineteenth century. She is believed to be the model for the character Hilda in Hawthorn’s novel “The Marble Faun”.
Crow commissioned a marble bust and her first full sized marble figure, ‘Oenone”, in the early 1850s. ‘Oenone’ is one of several works by Hosmer in the collection of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University.
He was instrumental in her receiving a commission for a full size figure of her choosing for the St. Louis Mercantile Library. That marble figure, ‘Beatrice Cenci”, still is in the Library’s collection.
She had a successful career. Her figure of Puck was a great early success and eventually sold fifty copies including one to the Prince of Wales
Other works are in the Art Institute of Chicago (Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra), Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y. (Clasped Hands of Robert and Elizabeth Browning and Daphne), Detroit Institute of Art (Medusa) and in the Smithsonian Institution, Cleveland Museum of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, etc.
CONDITION OF THE MONUMENT TODAY
Several problems had been been identified before the Conservancy began its restoration project:
(1) The surface was considerably worn and pitted. Ms. Phoebe Weil and the Center for Archeometry at Washington University. cleaned the statue in 1979 and applied a coating. There had been no maintenance on the statue since that time.
(2) There appeared to be corrosion and other problems in the metal of folds at the bottom north side of Benton’s greatcoat. This seemed to be caused by recent blockage of the vent holes left from the casting process. The blockage has allowed moisture to become trapped in this area.
(3) The top section of granite which is the section on which the statue stands, is experiencing some deterioration. Small parts of the granite have crumbled away. The cause has not been determined.
(4) The outer blocks of the limestone platform surrounding the pedestal have begun to move. Attempts to seal gaps between the blocks with flexible caulk have not been successful.
The LPC selected the firm of Russell-Marti to conserve the bronze. After careful cleaning of the bronze and removal of the corrosion and unclogging of the vents it was found that the bronze itself was in very good condition. The appearance, however, was entirely different. The original gold patina which had been applied at the foundry in Munich had worn away and Ms. Weil’s group, the Center for Archeometry at Washington University, had carefully applied the same gilt patina which was original to the statue. That too wore away in time because of the absence of any maintenance and Russell-Marti has given the bronze a proper gold patina once again. It has been given a protective coating and, when the statue was unveiled after the Russell-Mari conservation, Benton appeared as he did at the time of its dedication.
The LPC has established a fund for the regular maintenance of Benton, and the Washington statue as well. A regular maintenance schedule has been established for Benton , and Washington as well. Benton has already received a conservation inspection from Russell-Marti.
Until some professional determination can be made about the cause of the granite pedestal’s deterioration, no treatment of the granite will be undertaken.
As funds become available, the limestone blocks will be reset to close the gaps between the blocks. Stone urns shown in early photographs of the monument but missing for several decades will be replaced
THE WASHINGTON STATUE
The bronze statue of George Washington in Lafayette Park was cast from a mold taken of the Carrara marble statue of Washington by Jean Antoine Houdon which is in the Virginia State House in Richmond.
The General Assembly of Virginia commissioned a marble statue of Washington in 1784 as “a monument of affection and gratitude”. Governor Benjamin Harrison contacted Thomas Jefferson, who was in Paris as Minister to France and asked him to select a sculptor and award the commission.
Jefferson chose Houdon who had, at this time, an international reputation as one of the foremost sculptors of his age. He was given as full length portrait of Washington as a guide, but, recognizing the importance of the commission, decided to travel to America to make detailed measurements of his subject and to take a plaster “life mask” of his face.
In 1785, when Houdon came to America, Washington was a private citizen. He has resigned his commission in December, 1783 after eight years of service as commander-in-chief of the Army. He was 53, living on his estates, and expected to remain in private life for the rest of his life.
The statue was designed to commemorate Washington’s retirement and return to private life by adding symbols which classically educated people of that day would recognize as being associated with Cincinnatus, the 5th Century BC Roman general who was called from plowing his fields and given dictatorial powers in a time of great crisis and then, after saving Rome, returned to his plow.
Washington’s mantle is draped over the fasces, the bundle of rods symbolizing Roman Power, a plow is at his feet and his sword its sheathed at his side.The badge of the Order of the Cincinnati hangs under his waistcoat. His outstretched hand is holding his walking stick.
Houdon proceeded slowly with the commission. He made a plaster bust of Washington while at Mt. Vernon. It is still there. He made several variations of the bust and the statue in Paris which were exhibited from time to time. He signed the statue in 1788 but did not complete it for several years. It was finally shipped to Virginia in 1796. The delay had one fortunate benefit: it allowed time for the Virginia State House, designed by Jefferson, to be built so it could be displayed properly.
The Virginia Assembly, fearing that the marble statue might become damaged or lost if the State House caught fire, decided in 1853 that a copy of the Carrara marble should be made and selected a Richmond portrait painter, William J. Hubard, to make a mold of the statue and cast bronze replicas. He was authorize to do so for a period of seven years.
Hubard used three of those seven years attempting to learn the art of bronze casting and eventually hired experienced workmen from the Royal Foundry in Munich to help him.
He made six copies. One is at the North Carolina State Capitol, one on the approach to the Capitol of South Carolina in Columbia, one at Washington and Lee University, Virginias and another is at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has one today and we have one in Lafayette Park. Ours is inscribed on its base ” W. J. Hubard Foundry, Richmond, Virginia, 1859″.
Hubard was killed during an explosion in a foundry in Richmond during the Civil War and it is believed that the molds were lost in the same explosion.
New molds were made and the Gotham Company was authorized to make copies. One is in the Rotunda of the U. S. Capitol and many others are found throughout this country and even in Europe.
The copy we have came to the park in a very circuitous way. An account in “The Missouri Republican” states that Hubard placed the statue at an exhibition in St. Louis in 1860, hoping that the City Council would buy it at a price of $10,000. They did not and Hubard borrowed $5,000 using the statue as collateral. When he was unable to pay the note the statue was sold at auction to pay the debt and bought in by the lenders.
Another version, by George McCue in “Sculpture City”, 1988, states that Hubard’s widow offered it for sale to the Missouri Legislature, which declined to purchase it, and it somehow became security for a loan and was sold to pay the debt. Then Charles Gibson, a prominent attorney who lived at 2050 Lafayette, directly across from the park, bought it and placed it in his yard. and later accepted an offer from the City to purchase it,
The “Report of the Board of Improvement of Lafayette Park, 1874,” states that the Board of Improvement bought it for the park. Charles Gibson was a member of the Board of Improvement from 1866 until 1871. The dedication was held May 15, 1869. Many prominent men who resided in houses facing the park contributed large sums to enhance the park and it is reasonable to assume that Gibson was instrumental in acquiring it for the park.
Houdon intended for his busts and statues to be seen at near eye level where they could be seen at best advantage. Neither his marble original in Richmond nor our statue in Lafayette Park are at eye level. Instead, both are mounted on tall pedestals. The statues’s pedestal in the park was placed on an artificial mound placing it even further from the public and making it even harder to see Washington’s face clearly as Houdon intended. The hedges surrounding the marble base of the pedestal are useful to provide a green transition to the ground and obscure the plainness of the base and its discoloration.
The Cornelia Greene Chapter of the D. A. R. holds an annual celebration of President’s Day at the statue.