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CHARLES WILLSON PEALE AND HIS PUBLIC SERVICES DURING THE AMERICAN
[Read December 15, 1896, before the Society of Sons of the American Revolution, Washington, District of Columbia.]
CHARLES WILLSON PEALE is known to-day mainly from the fact that our familiarity with the features of many of those who took part in the Revolutionary War is due to his brush, and without the persistent effort that he made to secure their portraits our knowledge of their personal appearance in many cases would be very limited. However, Peale was not only an artist or portrait painter, as well as author and naturalist, but he took a prominent part in the American Revlution, not only in a civil capacity, but also in connection with the army as a member of the militia of Philadelphia. The family from which he was descended seems to have been settled in Leicestershire, England, very early, certainly as early as the beginning of the thirteenth century and probably long before that time. The name Peale is of French origin, and was first applied doubtless to some one who was bald, as Thomas LePele, or William LePyl. The name LePele evidently passed through many variations, such as Peil, Peile, Peill and Peyl. By the early part of the sixteenth century the spelling had become Peall or Peel, and more commonly Peale. From 1520 until about 1600 the family was most numerous in the Western and Northwestern portions of Leicestershire, the church records in that section of the county showing that the most common Christian names were Richard, Thomas and William. Toward the middle of the seventeenth century some branches of the family had removed to the eastern part of the county and had settled mostly in the vicinity of Great Dalby, Thorpe Arnold and adjacent portions of Rutlandshire and Lincolnshire.
The great-grandfather of Charles Willson Peale was the Rev. Thomas Peale, born about 1658, son of William Peale, of Great Dalby. Thomas Peale was a scholar at the public school at Oakham in Rutlandshire, from which, in 1677, when eighteen years of age, he was admitted to St. John's College, Cambridge. He obtained the degree of B. A. in 1680 and from 1681 to 1717 was Rector at Great Dalby; from 1687 to 1717 was the Rector of the Church at Edith Weston in Rutlandshire, and was buried there August 2, 1717. His wife was Jane (probably Jane Wilson). His children were Charles, Anne, James, Thomas, Richard, Catharine, William, Elizabeth and George. Charles Peale, the eldest son, born at Edith Weston, October 21, 1688, the grandfather of Charles Willson Peale, was evidently named for Dr. Charles Wilson, a relative, the relationship probably being through his mother Jane, wife of Rev. Thomas Peale. The will of Dr. Charles Wilson proved at London, May 3, 1723, was witnessed by Jane Peale and her daughter Jane, and contains the following clause: “I give to my dear and only child, Mistress Mary Wilson and the heirs of her body lawfully to be begotten and for default of such issue to my kinsman, the Rev. Mr. Charles Peale, Rector of Edyth Weston in the said county of Rutland, Clerk, and to his heirs forever.”
Charles Peale was also a pupil at Oakham as was his father, and in 1705, when sixteen years of age, was also admitted to St. John's College, Cambridge, from which he was graduated B. A. in 1708, and from which he obtained the degree of M. A. in 1717. He succeeded his father as Rector at Edith Weston, his services beginning in 1717 and continuing until his death in October, 1734. His wife's name was Elizabeth (probably Elizabeth Digby) and their children were Charles, Jane (who was the wife of Rev. Joseph Digby, Rector of St. Mary's, Stamford, and afterwards of Tinwell in Rutlandshire), Thomas, Mary, John and Margaret.
Charles Peale, the eldest son of Rev. Charles Peale, and father of Charles Willson Peale, was born at Edith Weston, December 22, 1709. He, as shown by some of his letters, was also a student at Cambridge, although evidently was never graduated, probably not completing his course. He came to Maryland about 1727, and is said to have been the private secretary of one of the Calverts. In 1746 he was married at Annapolis to Margaret Triggs and soon after was appointed master of the free school in Queen Anne County, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Later he removed to Chestertown in Kent County, Maryland, where he was master of the school for that county and where he died in 1750. Charles Willson Peale was his oldest child, his birthplace usually being incorrectly given as Chestertown, Maryland. His own statement as to his birth is as follows: "My birth is registered in the vestry records of St. Paul's Parish in Queen Anne's Co., where I was born, in this manner, i. e. 'Charles Willson, son of Charles Peale by Margaret, his wife, born April 15th, 1741, which said Charles as he says is the oldest son of Reverend Charles Peale, Rector of Edith Weston in the County (f Rutland.'"
Before Charles Willson Peale reached the age of nine years, his father died, leaving four children, all younger than Charles. They were Margaret Jane, who was the first wife of Col. Nathaniel Ramsay', St. George Peale?, Elizabeth Digby, who was the wife of Capt. Robert Polk, and James Peale. Soon after
Nathaniel Ramsay was the second son of James and Jane (Montgomery) Ramsay, of Drumore, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and brother of David Ramsay, the historian. He was born May 1, 1741, and graduated from Princeton in the class of 1767. He was admitted to the bar in Cecil County, Maryland, March 14, 1771, and the same year married Margaret Jane Peale. At the outbreak of the Revolution he was living at Charlestown, Maryland, practicing his profession of law. He was one of the signers of the “Declaration of Freemen of Maryland," and was a delegate from Cecil County in the Convention at Annapolis in 1775. When troops were raised he became captain in Colonel Smallwood's battalion in 1776. He was commissioned lieutenant colonel of Third Battalion of the Maryland Line in the Continental Army in 1777. At the "Battle of Monmouth” he was told by Washington to hold the enemy in check, which he did, and was wounded and taken prisoner and remained in the hands of the British from 1778-1780. In 1781 he was one of the supernumerary lieutenant colonels in the reorganized Maryland Line. His wife was with him at Valley Forge, at Monmouth and while he was a prisoner on Long Island.
* St. George Peale, prior to the Revolution, was a clerk in the Land Office of Maryland, becoming chief clerk; and after the Declaration of Independence, upon the resignation of Mr. David Stewart on the 21st of April, 1777, was commissioned Register of the Land Office. He was also commissary of military supplies 1776-1778. March 6th, 1776, he was commissioned first lieutenant in an independent company of militia at Annapolis. He died in 1778.
* Captain Robert Polk commanded the privateer Montgomery in 1776, his commission being issued September 5th, and on June 21, 1777,