Monday, July 30, 2012

Ary's Other Presidential Portrait

A little news item that appeared in the Columbia Republican on August 1, 1843, inspired yesterday's post about Henry Ary's portrait of George Washington. That post set out to explain what motivated the newspaper's terse remonstrance of the Common Council, but there is more to the story than I was able to document. A reader recalled reading about how, in a show of public support for the purchase, Ary's portrait of Washington had been paraded through the streets of Hudson, greeted by cheering crowds. Hoping to find some reference to that event in the local press of the day, I searched the old newspapers on the amazing Fulton History site, even though its collection of Hudson newspapers only goes back to 1867. My search was rewarded by the discovery of this story about an Ary portrait of another president, Martin Van Buren, which appeared in the Hudson Evening Register for January 31, 1881.

A Local Painting with a History.
The New York Commercial Advertiser has secured the history of the oil painting of Martin Van Buren, now in the possession of the Long Island Historical Society. The story is told by Hon. John G. Schumaker, and is as follows:

"It was painted by Henry Ary, of Hudson, when Mr. Van Buren was elected President of the United States in 1836. It was the property of the steamer South America, a well known Albany and New York night boat in those days, commanded by Capt. Joe Jenkins, of Hudson.

"It hung up in the main saloon of the South America until a summer morning in the year 1840, on which day the steamer was chartered by the Whigs of Albany to go to a mass meeting of the river counties at Poughkeepsie. As the hilarious partisans of 'Tippecanoe and Tyler too' came aboard of the steamer the picture of the President stared them in the face. Some who had never before been on the boat thought it was a Loco Foco job put up to insult them. The barkeeper, who was a Democrat, overheard the talk and took the painting down in the saloon, and hung it behind the bar, where he thought it would be secure. This seemed to incense the crowd much more, and the picture was seized from behind the bar, the barkeeper fighting like a bulldog all the while to protect the painting of the President from insult, but, overcome by numbers, the portrait and barkeeper were dragged off the steamer, and a bonfire was about to be made on the dock with the picture and frame. About that time Charley Cassidy, brother of the late editor of the Albany Argus, a noble Albany butcher boy, 'the bravest of the brave,' who had been delivering meat on board the boat for the excursion, left his horse and cart and rushed to the rescue of the barkeeper, who was fighting against great odds. 'Jake Best,' one of the pilots of the South America, a stalwart six footer of a Democrat, also jumped from the pilot house to the dock to back up the barkeeper.

"Then the fight commenced in earnest, and although the Whigs had the best of it at the start, headed by 'Hank' Webb, a well known Albany bully, also a butcher, and Sam Strong, a bricklayer and bully, yet Charley Cassidy and Best held their own until reinforced by some longshoremen Democrats, led by Jim Sickles, a pounder, known as the 'Albany Game Cock,' when the tide of the battle turned in favor of the Democrats, and the portrait of President Van Buren was borne in triumph to the pilot house, where it remained during the excursion. It was cut and kicked by the 'mob,' but some of the many who tried to destroy it went on their excursion to Poughkeepsie with faces cut and bruised also. The Pilot Best removed it that night to his home in Hudson. It afterwards became the property of the Hon. Benjamin Ray, ex Senator from Columbia county in the State Senate, who, upon going to California in 1847, gave it to Jim Sickles, who was then a thriving business man in the city of Brooklyn. Sickles kept the picture as a fire board in his front parlor in Lexington street, Brooklyn, for many years after Mr. Van Buren ran 'stump' as he called it, against Mr. Cass, in 1848, for the presidency, in which position Mr. Schumaker found the portrait. Upon remonstration at such an indignity shown to an ex President of the United States, Sickles said he regarded Van Buren as a traitor to his party, a negro worshipper, and did not care a d__n for his picture, although he had once fought for it, and gave it to Mr. Schumaker, who presented it to the society."

The Long Island Historical Society, which was founded by Henry Pierrepont in 1863, changed its name to Brooklyn Historical Society in 1985. Gossips has contacted the Brooklyn Historical Society to ask if the portrait is still in its collection and, if it is, to request permission to publish an image of the portrait.


  1. Thank-you for this fascinating piece of Hudson History and the previous post on Geo.Washington portrait that hangs in City Hall, both by Hudson's Artist Henry Ayer.
    Great reporting,research and story telling. A really odd bit of American History, when art{portrait of President} and politics mix and cause a complete donnybrook,rescued by physical force and then ends up in Brooklyn as a firescreen by one of its rescuers because of
    his dislike of that president[Van Buren], and then is given to what is now Brooklyn Historical Society.
    Hudson has always been a really strange,but rarely dull, place.
    Another reason I love Gossips of Rivertown.

  2. wow - no apathy in that crowd!