War-dated ANS by artist and patriot Charles Willson Peale, requesting payment for nails used in renovations and repairs to Independence Hall in 1780Charles Willson Peale Autograph Note Signed as a member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, one page, 3" x 7", [Philadelphia], Jan 29, 1780, to State Treasurer David Rittenhouse. Peale requests that Rittenhouse pay Jacob Greiner £478.7.6 "For Nails Used on the Stadt [State] House and public stables..." Countersigned by William Hollingshead and Jacob Schreiner of the "Committee of Assembly."
The Philadelphia building now famous as Independence Hall, the birthplace of the United States as an independent nation, was originally known as the State House. Originally built to provide a headquarters for the Pennsylvania provincial government, its construction began in 1732. Although not completed in its entirety until about 1747, some areas were used as early as 1735.
As the Revolutionary War began, the Continental Congress met in the State House and continued doing so until the Summer of 1793. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation were adopted there, and the bell which hung in its tower became known as the Liberty Bell. During the British occupation of Philadelphia between September of 1777 and June 1778, the State House suffered considerable damage. British troops were housed in it; and later one area served as a hospital for Continental soldiers wounded in the Battle of Germantown.
The adoption of Pennsylvania's Constitution in 1776 increased the size of the State Assembly so that, as it was still sharing the State House with Congress, conditions were rather cramped. Committees were named in the fall of 1779 to deal with alterations which would make the building more spacious; and apparently, there were still repairs to be made to the damage done by the British. In March 1780 there was a report of expenses for the alterations. The nails, which Peale as an Assembly member requests payment for in this 1780 note, must have been used in those renovations and repairs. The large sum being paid for them probably reflects inflated wartime currency.
Peale was in the process of establishing himself as a major portraitist in 1776 when he relocated from Maryland to Philadelphia. The artist was already involved in the patriotic cause when he arrived, and his service in the city militia later included the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. He was elected to the Assembly in 1779 and served on term. Interestingly, Peale had a later professional connection with the State House. In 1802, after the assembly had permanently moved out, he was given free use of the space for his pioneering museum (which first opened in 1785). Another footnote to this item is that Peale as an artist was responsible for what was probably the most widely-reproduced early image of the State House.
The use here of the German "Stadt" may have been an inside joke between Peale and Rittenhouse, referring to the speech of Germans who worked on the building (at this time the population of Pennsylvania was about 30% German). David Rittenhouse, several generations removed from his own German background, was another Renaissance man of Pennsylvania in these years. He made important contributions as an astronomer, mathematician and instrument maker. The high regard in which he was held caused him to be chosen for a number of public offices, such as that of State Treasurer; he was also in charge of the large clock housed in the State House Tower with the Liberty Bell.
The autograph of Charles Wilson Peale is one of the rarest of major American artists; in addition, this item is a remarkable document related to Independence Hall during the Revolutionary War. Very good to fine condition with the bold ink.
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