Commonplace
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www.common-place.org · vol. 4 · no. 2 · January 2004
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Cabinet of Curiosities

Overcoming Nausea:
The Brothers Hesselius and the American Mystery

Kenneth A. Lockridge

Part I | II | III | IV | Further Reading

Sources and Further Reading:

After having completed this work I discovered that Gunloeg Fur had raised the very same set of questions about Andreas and Gustavus and the two paintings in her "Konsten att se," in Historiska Etyder, published by the department of history at Uppsala University, 83-94 (Uppsala, 1997). Fur’s brilliant opening, and awareness that it is the conditions of clear, tolerant sight of others in a few Europeans that we must investigate, make hers the pioneering work in the field. Without full use of the archival sources in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania or the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, she romanticizes Andreas as a kind of woodland Swede, senses but then drops the importance of Gustavus’s ties to his brother and to the Moravians, and explains the tolerant vision of both by a "marginality" that may not describe either Gustavus or Andreas very exactly. Nonetheless, I have tread inadvertently in her early footsteps, and hope I have been able to refine her depictions of these events so that we can one day return to the issue of marginality with more knowledge.

As far as I know the only fiction in the essay has just been pointed out by one of the students from the class, who remembers that only one of the paintings was in Calloway’s book and that another member of the group had found and brought a copy of the other to that class. I checked the book and, sure enough, there was Lapowinska alone. Otherwise I have not relied on memory. While I here make interpretive choices on larger historical issues, the only unconfirmed evidence specifically on Hesselius and his brothers is a) that the crucifixion John Adams saw in a Catholic church in Philadelphia in 1776 is the one Hesselius placed in his window in 1748, and b) that in the 1740’s he went to a Moravian leader to discuss his guilt over beating his female slave. In both cases respectable older authorities either cited sources inadequately or named sources since lost. I have tried to write the text to reflect the uncertainty of these two claims. Otherwise I have looked up every fact in original sources or in reliable secondary works that footnote specific original sources and are often confirmed by others’ citations. I have not used footnotes not only because this journal in its wisdom prohibits them, or because this is a work in progress, but because there is neither certainty nor science to the origins of tolerance pursued through a myriad of oblique sources. It delights me to write an informed reflection on an issue that I hope can never be resolved and to name the sources only at the end so as to invite others to make the same journey. If we were to find Gustavus Hesselius’s personal papers and they were to reveal a single specific source of his tolerance, I would be disappointed.

We begin with Colin Calloway, The World Turned Upside Down (New York, 1994). For Gustavus himself and his painting, the older and still useful work is Christian Brinton, Gustavus Hesselius, 1682-1755 (Philadelphia, 1938) and the modern classic is Roland Fleischer, Gustavus Hesselius, Face Painter to the Middle Colonies (Trenton, 1987). Fleischer also has an article, "Gustavus Hesselius and the Penn Family Portraits," American Art Journal 19(3) (1987): 4-18, a piece which led Carin Arnborg to find and publish Hesselius’s long letter home used here, as "‘with God’s blessings on both land and sea’: Gustavus Hesselius Describes the New World to the Old . . .," American Art Journal, 21(3) (1989): 4-17. Arnborg’s essay in history of art at the University of Stockholm, "Gustavus Hesselius in Sweden and Europe from 1682 to 1712" (1989) is in English and very valuable. All of these works list most of the vital documentary sources. Carin Arnborg had the assistance of Swedish antiquarian Lars Oestlund in her work, and she has kindly provided me with copies of his excellent and almost perfectly footnoted private (Xerox, bound) work on Andreas Hesselius, "Andreas Hesselius, Dalapraest och naturskildrare I 1700-talets Delaware" (1993), a work deeply based in a fine reading of original published Swedish sources. It should be published. Oestlund’s earlier Hesselius, Den Bortgloemda Slaeken (Avesta, 1989) covers the family as a whole, has a specific and valuable essay on Gustavus, and is based in many original sources, but is not footnoted and the bibliography includes a few genealogical and antiquarian works that tend to mythologize the Swedes in Delaware, so despite Oestlund’s high standards, specific information from this latter work should perhaps be checked.

Please note that Hesselius’s paintings of the two chiefs have just been moved from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to the Atwater-Kent Museum of Philadelphia, where they are on display. They are well reproduced in William Sawitzky, Catalogue Descriptive and Critical of the Paintings and Miniatures in The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1942) and are discussed in John C. Ewers, "An Anthropologist looks at Early Pictures of North American Indians," New-York Historical Society Quarterly 33 (1949): 223-35. James Logan’s remarks about Hesselius’s frankness as a painter are in Frederick B. Tolles, "A Contemporary Comment on Gustavus Hesselius," Art Quarterly (Autumn, 1954): 271-73. A Google search will turn up standard Swedish biographical dictionaries that report on Gustavus Hesselius as on many of the characters described here. Hesselius’s will is reproduced in Francis de Sales Dundas, Dundas-Hesselius, (Maryland, 1938), 111-14; other legal documents including his naturalization are available online through the Maryland Archives. And a search of the digitalized Pennsylvania Gazette will produce a few more legal notices as well as advertisements for Hesselius’s many skills. Still more information on the three brothers in America and on the Swedes in the middle colonies, including an excellent sets of reference to sources in Sweden and here are in Carol Hoffecker et al., eds., New Sweden in America (Newark, Del., 1995), especially the essays by Staffan Brunius, Hans Norman, and Richard Waldron. Here will be found references to some of the classic narratives by Swedish priests and others describing the colony, many of which are available in English, most notably Israel Acrelius’s A History of New Sweden (original published in Sweden in 1759 but the William R. Reynolds translation from 1874–volume 11 in the Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania–is available from University Microfilms in Ann Arbor).

Andreas Hesselius’s "diary" of notes on America, immensely revealing of the man, is in English as The Journal of Andreas Hesselius, in Delaware History, 2 (1947), and in Swedish as Andreas Hesselii Anmaerkningar om Amerika, ed. by Nils Jacobsson (Uppsala, 1938). Sadly, Andreas’s bold proposals for reforming the American missions, which aimed straight at Jesper Svedberg’s heart, exist only in the original Old Swedish and printed in fraktur, in the original edition of Kort baerettelse om den Svenska kyrkios naervarande tilstoand i America (Norrkoeping, 1725). Be aware that some of the English translations omit a few pages of the originals. For a sharp contrast to Andreas, and a look at the kind of obedient missionary priest Svedberg preferred, see Andreas Sandels Dagbok, 1701-1743, ed. Frank Blomfelt, (Stockholm, 1988). Then there is the classic work of visiting naturalist Per/Peter Kalm, who spent a day with Gustavus at John Bartram’s farm near Philadelphia, Travels in North America, 2 vols., ed. Hanna Benson, original translation published 1937, Dover edition (New York, 1966).

Together these sources contain a surprising wealth of contemporary information by and about the brothers Hesselius. The unpublished records of the local Swedish community are widely scattered and there are no known collections of Hesselius family or personal papers. Susan Klepp has kindly provided information on the family from the Gloria Dei church records. The best single source of unpublished documents on the Swedes in the greater Philadelphia area is the Amandus Johnson Papers in the Balch Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Johnson transcribed many revealing documents in Swedish pertaining to the local Swedish community and translated a few. Lars Oestlund used these sources for his work on the Hesselius family and I have benefited from his detailed narrative based partly in them, but I still need to see the full Johnson Papers for myself. They were unavailable for some time because the Balch Collection was being moved into the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, but this week the HSP has at last been able to send me its description of the folders with copies of the contents of the most crucial folders. Johnson’s selections focus on the ministers and churches and so do not at any point dwell on the more secular Gustavus Hesselius. But these slim folders on Andreas and on Samuel Hesselius with miscellaneous documents in Swedish do have previously unnoticed information on Andreas, which confirms the picture of Andreas offered here. The other Jonsson papers are not as promising but on an impending visit I will check them all in case any yet undiscovered bits relevant to Gustavus still hide behind less likely folder descriptions. As for archival resources in Sweden, while I have spent considerable time in Swedish archives over the last thirty years, a recent summer visit to see archivist-friends to search their databases for Hesselius and to speak with Kathryn Carin Arnborg, and a subsequent exchange of correspondence with Staffan Brunius, have not been promising. There are some places to look that have not been searched thoroughly, but seeking Hesselius papers in Sweden beyond those found by Lars Oestlund would take a year of full-time enquiry with no sure rewards. Hopefully dissemination of this essay in Sweden will jog loose some finds. Hans Ling, formerly with Riksantikvarieaembetet, is about to publish further information on the Hesselius family in the online bulletin of the Swedish Colonial Society and has been of immeasurable help in improving this essay.

Staying on the Swedish end of things, Jesper Svedberg’s America Illuminata (1732), the bishop’s abbreviation of his long, somewhat differently titled manuscript Svecium Nova (see below), which virtually no one seems to have read, is available as America Illuminata, ed. Robert Murray, (Stockholm, 1985). And selections from Svedberg’s Levernebeskrivning, original 1729, are edited and modernized by Inge Jonsson, (Stockholm, 1960). These have just come in and Jonsson’s excellent introduction does not make Svedberg at all an attractive character. The correspondence between Andreas and the angry Svedberg is cited in Oestlund’s Andreas Hesselius, but much of it appears originally in Svedberg’s long 1727 manuscript, Svecium Nova seu America illuminata, original in the Library of Uppsala University (copy in the Amandus Jonsson Papers), on which his 1732 America Illuminata is based, and the correspondence in full is in the Cederhjelmska samlingen, Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek, B238. Samuel Hesselius’s collection of curious things and the early ethnographic world of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century Sweden are beautifully described in Staffan Brunius’s contributions to Med vaerlden I kappsaecken: samlingarnas vaeg till Etnografiska museet (Stockholm, 2002), a spectacular book available from the national Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm. Brunius has promised to keep me informed of his further progress with Samuel, the collector. For the botanical and zoological side of the same culture, see Yngve Loevegren’s first rate Naturaliekabinett I Sverige Under 1700-Talet (Lund, 1952). The Swedish husfoerhoer and the literacy campaign that made it work are the subjects of Egil Johannson’s life work, and can be sampled in English as Alphabeta Varia, Orality, Reading and Writing in the History of Literacy, ed. by Daniel Lindmark (Umea, 1988). See also Franklin Scott, Sweden: The Nation’s History, revised enlarged edition (Carbondale, 1988).

Private Martin is found in Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin (St. James, N.Y., 1993), Nicholas Collin in The Journal of Nicholas Collin, 1746-1831 (Philadelphia, 1936), key sections reproduced in Life in Early Philadelphia, ed. Susan Klepp and Billy Smith, (University Park, Pa., 1995). The Moravians are best seen through the remarkable new article by Aaron Fogleman, "Jesus is Female: The Moravian Challenge to the German communities of North America," William and Mary Quarterly 60(2) (April, 2003): 295-332. Fogleman and Paul Peukel of the Moravian archives in Herrnhut and Bethlehem have traced the materials on Hesselius for me through the letter book of Bishop Cammerhoff and the diary of Moravian missionary Abraham Reinke. The rest of this story will appear in Fogleman’s book on the Moravian challenge, in 2004. The painter’s son John Hesselius, still less well documented than his father though a portrait painter in pre-Revolutionary Virginia, can be encountered in "John Hesselius, Maryland Limner," by Richard K. Doud, Winterthur Portfolio 5 (1969): 129-153. The gentrified and artistic world Hesselius’s daughters and descendants married into can be traced under the family name, and under "Wertmuller."

The main effort to treat the origins of toleration in religiously diverse Pennsylvania is Stephen Longnecker’s Piety and Tolerance: Pennsylvania German Religion, 1700-1850 (Scarecrow Press, 1994), but in this thoughtful work the evidence for conflict and mistrust is almost as convincing as the evidence for mutual toleration until well past 1800.

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