Monroe crossing the Delaware.
That sounds strange, doesn’t it? The name of the famous painting should be correctly termed Washington Crossing the Delaware. I misnamed it on purpose to bring another president to the forefront because President James Monroe is also depicted in this famous painting.
Do you see him? The boat is rather crowded, isn’t it? You might notice several different figures of interest. Can you pick out the man of Scottish descent? What about the African Prince Whipple? Can you find the two frontiersmen? The two farmers? What about the man who looks very feminine? No, this isn’t going to be a replay of The Davinci Code…..but, you’ve got to admit the man with the red shirt does look feminine, or at least many art scholars seem to think so.
The artist, Emanuel Leutze, positioned many different types of people in the boat. He was attempting to show that the desire for independence….the willingness to fight for it existed all across the colonies from an African to even the remote west. The feminine man has been suggested by some art scholars to be representative of the many women who followed men in battle and even fought themselves.
Take another look at the painting. The frontiersmen are located at the bow and stern of the durham boat. Prince Whipple is seen kneeling by George Washington. He is looking backwards and is on the backside of the boat. Arguments exists that lay out the case that Whipple did not actually cross with Washington and that he may have been in Baltimore at the time. The two men with hats are the farmers. One has a bandaged head. The Scottish man is on the side of the boat closest to the viewer sitting even with Prince Whipple and he is also facing backwards.
George Washington is very easy to pick out, but what about James Monroe. Where is he? See the young man holding the flag. There he is. The two of them are interesting together in that Washington was our first president under the Constitution while Monroe was our last president who actually fought in the Revolution. Yes, I know that Andrew Jackson was involved during the Revolution, however, he was very young, was a courier, and was held as a British prisoner during the war.
The flag Monroe is holding is one of the inaccuracies of the painting because it did not exist on December 25, 1776. The correct flag at the time would have been the Grand Union flag, the standard of the Continental Army. Many argue even this, however, it would not have been the one used if one was used at all.
There are some questions concerning if Monroe would have actually crossed with Washington. Monroe was a lieutenant at the time and he was at Trenton. He did cross that night along with several other notables in U.S. history including future Chief Justice John Marshall, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton. It has been documented that Monroe was quartered in the house where the decision was made to cross the Delaware and he may have been involved in the discussion. He has been described as a scout and advisor to Washington, but there have been no records to indicate he crossed in Washington’s boat.
James Monroe attended William and Mary College in Williamsburg at the time the Revolution was heating up. When Royal Governor Dunmore left the capital the Governor’s Palace was exposed, and it is said that Jame Monroe joined in with some of his college friends to loot the arsenal. Two hundred muskets and three hundred swords were obtained for the cause. Later Monroe joined the Virginia Third Regiment in the spring of 1776 and saw action in New York before heading to Trenton. Monroe also served as an aide to General William Alexander, was at Valley Forge, and the Battle of Monmouth.
For his efforts at Trenton James Monroe received a near fatal wound to his shoulder. In fact only two Americans were wounded at Trenton….Monroe and William Washington, a cousin to George Washington. The injury occcurred as the Americans tried to rush the Hessian soldiers to prevent them from using their guns. The bullet grazed Monroe’s chest before entering the shoulder. John Bumgarner’s The Health of the President advises a major artery that brings blood to the arm was injured. Monroe would have bled to death if a doctor had not saved his life by sticking his index finger into the wound and applying pressure. The bullet remained in Monroe shoulder for the rest of his life.
James Monroe was an authentic Revolutionary War hero and he died appropriately on July 4th following in the footsteps of Jefferson and Adams who had passed on the same date five years earlier.