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John Trumbull papers

Call Number: MS 506

Scope and Contents

The John Trumbull Papers consist of correspondence, legal and financial records, and writings, of John Trumbull, which document his artistic career, business ventures, and personal life. The papers also include correspondence, diaries, and financial and legal records of other Trumbull family members and of related Huntington, Lanman, Silliman, and Wadsworth family members. Files of art historian Theodore Sizer, containing his research material and writings on John Trumbull, comprise close to one-half of the material in the papers.

The Yale University Library acquired the John Trumbull Papers through numerous donations from family members and purchases between 1938 and 1963. The most significant donation was that of Maria Trumbull Dana. This material was originally presented to the Yale School of Fine Arts in 1929 and 1930 and was then permanently deposited in the library in 1938. It appears that the library, perhaps through Theodore Sizer's vast research, supplemented its collection of original documents with printed copies, photocopies or transcriptions of Trumbull documents in other repositories or in private hands. The papers include copies of documents from the National Archives, the Connecticut State Library, the Library of Congress, the Huntington Library, and the Clements Library.

The oldest material in the papers relates to Trumbull's father Jonathan Trumbull (1710-1785), but Trumbull's own papers begin in 1775 and continue through 1842. Papers of other family members chronicle this same period. Later material in the papers includes correspondence and documents of other family members, many of which relate to Trumbull's estate or to later exhibition or dissemination of his work. The Trumbull Papers are arranged in four series: I. Correspondence, 1775-1842; II. Business Papers, 1777-1841; III. Personal and Family Papers, 1750-1896; IV. Theodore Sizer's Files, 1773-1961.

Series I and II are composed exclusively of John Trumbull's papers. Series III includes material of John Trumbull as well as of other family members. Series IV contains research material about John Trumbull, including photocopies of original documents, but it does not include any original Trumbull material. Individual items of correspondence, as well as other documents in the papers are described in the Departmental Catalogue in the Manuscripts and Archives Department.

Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, includes both incoming and outgoing letters of John Trumbull. The files include original letters sent by Trumbull, especially those addressed to family members, as well as drafts and copies of letters to be sent. The correspondence, which dates from 1775-1842 and is arranged in chronological order, documents many facets of Trumbull's life but is more descriptive of Trumbull's personal life and financial difficulties than of his artistic development.

For the years 1775-1780, the correspondence is a very fragmentary record of Trumbull's activities. After 1780 the letters grow more frequent, most of Trumbull's letters being addressed to his father and then to his brother Jonathan Trumbull from Europe. The files at this point do not include letters Trumbull received. Trumbull's letters give his impressions of the political scene in London as well as his plans for the reproduction and sale of his paintings. The files also include exchanges with Benjamin West. Trumbull's letters from his travels on the Continent include his views on the revolution in France.

From 1789, after Trumbull's return to America, until 1794 the files include fewer letters to Trumbull's immediate family, though there are love letters to Harriet Wadsworth, a niece to whom Trumbull proposed marriage. After 1794, the letters to family members again detail Trumbull's activities, including his work with the Jay mission, the conclusion of a treaty, the work to liberate impressed American seamen, and his business ventures. Trumbull was attempting to get Antonio de Poggi to complete the engravings of his historical paintings. He was also purchasing paintings for resale and speculating in the liquor trade. Trumbull gambled, that with trade between Europe and the West Indies disrupted, rum would be more difficult to procure thus increasing the demand for brandy. While these business interests are described in letters to family members, numerous business letters and other records relating to these dealings will be found in Series II. In his letters Trumbull also comments on Napoleon and the political situation in Europe. Beginning in the 1799 file there are letters from Lafayette.

Trumbull's immediate family members are the frequent subjects of Trumbull's correspondence from 1799 through 1816, especially the education and career of John Trumbull Ray. Ray's childhood letters to Trumbull are addressed to "Dear Uncle." Trumbull's marriage to Sarah Hope Harvey was a source of tension in the family and this is apparent in correspondence after Trumbull returned to America in 1804. The files at this period also include letters from Robert Fulton and other letters concerning Trumbull's appointment to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Trumbull returned to England in 1808 taking John Trumbull Ray with him. There are many letters concerning Ray's apprenticeship to the farmer, Thomas Vardy. After Ray decided to enlist in the military there are many letters from him describing the various locations to which he was sent and the campaigns in which he participated. Trumbull, who was unable to return to America because of the war, attempted to raise capital through the sale of his painting. Correspondence with family members often concerns his debts and need for money. These exchanges concerning finances continue even after Trumbull's return to America, especially in the correspondence with his nephew Jabez Huntington.

Files beginning about 1816 are different in character and more directly concern Trumbull's painting and standing as an artist, especially Trumbull's efforts to obtain a commission from Congress to paint for the restored United States Capitol Building. There are also letters concerning a commission to paint a portrait of Yale president Timothy Dwight and to secure a portrait of Benjamin West by Sir Thomas Lawrence. The files include applications to Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams for public patronage, exchanges with architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, reports to James Madison and James Monroe on the progress of the work, and correspondence with engraver Asher Brown Durand and Theodore Dwight, Trumbull's agent in obtaining subscribers for engravings of the pictures. Other correspondence concerns exhibition of the pictures. The 1828 file includes references to John Randolph's criticisms of the paintings.

A letterbook (folder 54) containing copies of Trumbull's outgoing letters at this time contains additional information on this period. The letters show Trumbull's efforts to secure subscriptions from prominent figures including Adams, Jefferson, Lafayette, Madison, and Monroe, and to enlist the support of Timothy Pitkin and other congressmen. The letterbook also contains his comments to Charles Bulfinch on the plans for the capitol building.

Even after Trumbull installed the capitol paintings, he was still financially encumbered. Correspondence with Samuel Williams concerns Trumbull's debt and his need to sell his pictures to settle some accounts. The 1832 file documents Trumbull's efforts to secure a war pension. Beginning in 1831 the files include exchanges with Benjamin Silliman concerning negotiations with Yale College. In exchange for a lifetime annuity, Trumbull would give his collection of paintings to the college. The files include discussions of plans for an art gallery at Yale as well as documents concerning the payment of the annuity and letters of thanks from Yale president Jeremiah Day. A trip Trumbull took to the Valley of Wyoming is described in 1840 letters to Mrs. Silliman, but there are few letters in the files for the last four years of Trumbull's life.

Series II, BUSINESS PAPERS, contains material relating to Trumbull's moneymaking enterprises. The series is divided into two sections Painting and Other business. Material in Painting concerns Trumbull's efforts to raise money through subscription for engravings of his works, as well as through sale of his art collection, and through exhibition of his works. The section includes account books, proposals, subscription lists, receipts, notes, and advertisements. Some of the material is categorized according to the specific painting but more material on the same work may be found in the account books. The folder of material for Antonio de Poggi includes correspondence, receipts, and accounts of expenses for engravings.

The majority of the material in the series is filed under Other business. A small amount of this relates to Trumbull's attempt to secure a loan from the Dutch for Connecticut, but most of it concerns Trumbull's speculation in brandy. There is correspondence with suppliers, agents, shippers, financiers, and creditors. There are also invoices, accounts, bills of lading, shipping receipts, and other records concerning supplies and transportation. Sizeable files exist for Angier frères, Hennessys and Turner, Fenwick, Mason & Co., and Joshua Johnson, who were all involved in the trade. Many of these documents are browned along crease lines and appear to have suffered from fire damage.

Series II, PERSONAL AND FAMILY PAPERS, is composed of personal papers of John Trumbull, as well as correspondence, diaries, memorabilia, financial records, and other papers of several different Trumbull family members and members of related families. For an explanation of the relationships of the Trumbulls to the Huntingtons, Lanmans, Sillimans, and Wadsworths, all represented in this series, please consult the genealogical notes and charts in folder 126.

John Trumbull's personal papers are filed at the beginning of the series. They consist of account books and loose financial papers for expenses such as travel, clothing, food, rent, and linen. The series also includes promissory notes for loans, cancelled checks, schedules of property, inventories of belongings, and rental agreements. Folder 97 includes a copy of Trumbull's marriage record and his will. Under memorabilia are filed a passport, invitations, and a poem by Mrs. Sigourney for Trumbull's birthday. The folder of writings includes fragments of travel diaries and autobiographical notes, as well as an unpublished answer to a speech by John Holmes.

The papers of other family members follow those of John Trumbull and are arranged in alphabetical order, the first being Susan Huntington. She is represented by correspondence, poems, and a diary in which she records her grief over the loss of her husband. In the folders marked "Huntington family" there are letters of Faith Trumbull Huntington to her husband Jedediah in Roxbury in 1775. There are also exchanges between Joseph Trumbull and Jabez Huntington regarding loans to John Trumbull. Also included are letters from Sarah Huntington Smith and her husband Eli Smith to Jabez Huntington concerning their missionary work in "Beyroot." Eli Smith's letters describe the worsening health of Huntington's daughter and her death and burial in Smyrna.

The Lanman family file includes correspondence concerning family finances as well as a letter of Abigail Lanman, as an heir of John Trumbull. Trumbull's will and estate are also the subject of correspondence in the Silliman family folders. Additional Silliman correspondence with S. R. Koehler and John Durand from the 1880s refers to the publication of Durand's "John Trumbull" in the American Art Review.

There are several folders of material for various Trumbull family members, much of this relating to finances and property. The largest quantity of material is for Jonathan Trumbull (1740-1809) and includes a copy of his letter to George Washington, several letters to his daughter Faith, and financial journals and a ledger, which date from 1767-1773 and record the sale of groceries and general merchandise from his store in Lebanon, Connecticut. John Trumbull's wife Sarah is represented in these papers by lease agreements dating from before her marriage and material about her tombstone.

The Wadsworth family material is related to two women of the family. This includes a diary by Faith Trumbull Wadsworth in which she recorded her reflections on the death of friends and her religious feelings. The file for Harriet Trumbull includes letters from her parents which discuss her marriage prospects and their feelings about John Trumbull's marriage proposal to their daughter.

Series IV consists of files compiled by Theodore Sizer, which relate to John Trumbull. This series, largest in the papers, is composed of research material, in the form of notes, lists, copies of documents, and printed material, and writings by Sizer on Trumbull and his work. The titles of several volumes of bound research material refer to topics of Sizer's research. Sizer used these in compiling his Works of Colonel John Trumbull and editing The Autobiography of John Trumbull. Though many copies of documents collected by Sizer appear in Series I through III, the volumes include additional material of a similar nature. The series also contains nineteenth century published works concerning Trumbull including sale catalogues for his papers and paintings.


  • 1750-1961


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. The entire collection, with the exception of copy negatives in box 17, is available on microfilm. Patrons must use HM 221 instead of the originals.

Existence and Location of Copies

The entire collection, with the exception of box 17, is available on microfilm (9936 frames on 10 reels, 35mm.) from Scholarly Resources, Inc., Wilmington, Delaware. HM 221

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Maria Trumbull Dana, 1938-1939; and from others and through purchases, 1939-1984.


Arranged in four series: I. Correspondence, 1775-1842. II. Business Papers, 1777-1841. III. Personal and Family Papers, 1750-1896. IV. Theodore Sizer's Files, 1773-1961.


5.25 Linear Feet (17 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, legal and financial records, and writings which document the artistic career, business ventures, and personal life of John Trumbull. The papers also include correspondence, diaries, and financial and legal records of other Trumbull family members and of related Huntington, Lanman, Silliman, and Wadsworth family members. Files of Theodore Sizer containing his research material and writings on John Trumbull are also in the papers.

Biographical / Historical

John Trumbull was born in Lebanon, Connecticut in 1756. He graduated from Harvard College in 1773. From 1775 through 1779 Trumbull served with the revolutionary forces in various capacities, including a brief appointment as an aide-de-camp to George Washington. During the 1780s Trumbull studied and painted in London and on the Continent and began the works on historical subjects which would eventually earn him the reputation of painter of the Revolution. In 1824 Trumbull installed his paintings in the United States Capitol. A collection of Trumbull's work became the center around which the Yale Art Gallery was formed. Trumbull also served as a private secretary to John Jay during negotiations which ended in Jay's Treaty. In 1817 he became president of the American Academy of Fine Arts. Trumbull died in 1843 in New Haven, Connecticut.

Separated Materials

The originals of Painting: Prime, Mary Rutherford (Jay), pallets used for portrait (Series II, box 4, folder 64) were transferred to the Yale Art Gallery.

Guide to the John Trumbull Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Diane E. Kaplan
March 1991
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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