The Nation's First Monument and the Origins of the American Memorial Tradition
The commemorative tradition in early American art is given sustained consideration for the first time in Sally Webster's study of public monuments and the construction of an American patronymic tradition. Until now, no attempt has been made to create a coherent early history of the carved symbolic language of American liberty and independence. Establishing as the basis of her discussion the fledgling nation's first monument, Jean-Jacques Caffiéri's Monument to General Richard Montgomery (commissioned in January of 1776), Webster builds on the themes of commemoration and national patrimony, ultimately positing that like its instruments of government, America drew from the Enlightenment and its reverence for the classical past. Webster's study is grounded in the political and social worlds of New York City, moving chronologically from the 1760s to the 1790s, with a concluding chapter considering the monument, which lies just east of Ground Zero, against the backdrop of 9/11. It is an original contribution to historical scholarship in fields ranging from early American art, sculpture, New York history, and the Revolutionary era. A chapter is devoted to the exceptional role of Benjamin Franklin in the commissioning and design of the monument. Webster's study provides a new focus on New York City as the 18th-century city in which the European tradition of public commemoration was reconstituted as monuments to liberty's heroes.
Table of Contents
Contents: Introduction; New York’s De Lancey family and the origins of the American memorial tradition; Celebrating the repeal of the Stamp Act: New York tributes to William Pitt and George III; A memorial to General Richard Montgomery: commemorating the death of an American hero; Benjamin Franklin and the commission of America’s first monument; New York, Pierre-Charles L’Enfant, and a monument for America; Bibliography; Index.
Sally Webster is Professor of American Art, Emerita at Lehman College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, USA.
'In recent decades, art historians have increasingly recognized the crucial roles played by visual, material, and public cultures in the evolution of national identity. Sally Webster significantly contributes to this discourse with her story of America’s "first monument", a Revolutionary War memorial authorized by the Continental Congress in 1776, dedicated to General Richard Montgomery, and installed in New York’s St. Paul’s Church in 1787. Deftly weaving biography, history, and iconography with accounts of transatlantic exchange, colonial painting, military battles, and Enlightenment era allegory, Webster demonstrates how commemoration has been a core American concern since the earliest days of the republic.' Erika Doss, University of Notre Dame, USA
‘The commemorative tradition in early American art is given sustained consideration for the first time in Sally Webster’s fascinating study of public monuments and the construction of an American patronymic tradition….It is an original contribution to historical scholarship in fields ranging from early American art, sculpture, New York history, and the Revolutionary era.’ Enfilade
‘This book will be of great interest to scholars of early American visual culture and cultural nationalism. Webster has assembled an impressive array of primary sources in order to demonstrate the Montgomery Monument’s significance during the war years and in the era of the early Republic. Her chapters explore the early American monument tradition, persuasively demonstrating that colonial Americans thirsted for memorials to heroic deeds long before independent nationhood became a reality.’ Panorama