Main content

John Neagle papers and related items


Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

John Neagle, born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1796, was a portrait painter who lived and worked in Philadelphia in the mid nineteenth century. While serving as an apprentice to Thomas Wilson, a "coach and ornamental painter," Neagle began to experiment with painting and consider painting as a career for himself. He studied briefly under Bass Otis and then more extensively under Thomas Sully. Both were prominent portrait painters of their times and Neagle quickly earned their praise. In 1818, Neagle ventured to Lexington, Kentucky, with the hope of setting up a business. Upon discovering that another painter, Matthew Harris Jouett, was already established there, he returned to Philadelphia. After a short stay, he traveled to Boston in 1825 to study art with Gilbert Stuart. In 1826, Neagle returned to Philadelphia and married Mary Chester Sully (1802-1845), the niece and stepdaughter of Thomas Sully. That same year, Neagle executed what became his most famous work, Pat Lyon at the Forge. From 1830 to 1831, he served as director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1835, he helped establish the Artists' Fund Society.

Among Neagle's most well-known works are Big Kansas, or Caussetongua, and Sharitarische, Chief of the Grand Pawnees (1821), Pat Lyon at the Forge (1826-1827), Patriotism and Age (1831), William Potts Dewees (1833), and Henry Clay (1843). After the death of his wife in 1845, Neagle slowly began to reduce his output and retire from public view. He suffered a stroke in the 1850s and died in Philadelphia in 1865.

This collection of John Neagle's papers and related items spans almost a century, though most of the material dates from the 1820s to the 1860s. Though small in size at seven volumes and one box, the collection covers Neagle's work and experimentations as an artist and his personal accounts. Materials in the collection are arranged in rough chronological order.

Despite the overall lack of Neagle's personal correspondence or family material in the collection, some information about Neagle's personal life can be gleaned from his professional diary or blotter (Volume 4). The diary covers the period from 1825 to 1852 and Neagle began it just after he returned to Philadelphia from Boston. Throughout the volume, Neagle discussed his work and contacts with other artists. On 15 February 1833 he wrote of one "Mr. Welmore, engraver, [who] borrowed my portrait of Mr. Maffitt for the purpose of engraving from it." Neagle also frequently discussed personal events. "Begun to purchase furniture preparatory to Housekeeping," he wrote on 3 September 1826,"knowing that I should get no-thing with my wife as a marriage portion, + this I knew long before I was engaged." (Box 1, Folder 2). On 10 February 1832, Neagle noted that his son "Garrett is cutting teeth again. Dr. Dewer(?) lanced his gums. I believe both he and Sarah [his daughter] are getting the measles." (Volume 4). Please note that loose pages from the blotter have been placed in Box 1, Folder 2, and copies of pages from the blotter that are owned by the American Philosophical Society are in Box 1, Folder 3.

Other volumes in the collection include Neagle's student notebook (Volume 3), lists of items loaned to other artists, which demonstrates Neagle's many associations within the American artistic community (Volume 5), his personal cashbook (Volume 6), two scrapbooks of clippings collected and annotated by Neagle (Volumes 1-2), and a scrapbook assembled by a later family member that contains mostly obituaries and articles on members of the Neagle, Sully, Rawlins, and Darley families.

This collection also contains thirteen cased photographs of Neagle family members (Box 1). These items have been digitized and links have been provided below to the records in HSP's Digital Library.

Torchia, Robert W. John Neagle: Philadelphia Portrait Painter. Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1989.

The collection has been microfilmed, XR 996-997.

Purchased, 1984.

Gift of Sally Wickham, 1986.

Accession number 1986.3.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Cary Majewicz
Finding Aid Date
; 2012
Processing made possible by a generous donation from Howard Lewis.

Collection Inventory

Ellen Wheeler Neagle.
Ellen Wheeler Neagle.
Ellen Wheeler Neagle.
Ellen Wheeler Neagle.
L. Susan and Jane Darley Neagle.
John Neagle.
John Neagle.
Sarah Sully Neagle.
James Morgan Rawlins.
James Morgan Rawlins.
Morgan Neagle Rawlins.
General Alfred Sully.
Miscellaneous engravings and printed matter, 1818-1847, undated.
Box 1 Folder 1
Scope and Contents note

This folder contains an assortment of items such as advertising cards, book plates, invitations, and other items. The are also photographs of Thomas Sully's studio, as well as a letter to "Blanche."

Loose pages removed from Blotter (Volume 4), 1827-1831.
Box 1 Folder 2
Copies of pages from Blotter, 1826-1832, obtained from American Philosophical Society, 1990.
Box 1 Folder 3
Letter to "Blanche", undated.
Box 1 Folder 4
Scrapbooks, 1821-circa 1859.
Volume 1-2
Scope and Contents note

These two volumes contain clippings relating to art and artists, exhibitions, and other matters. Some articles written by Neagle and his personal notes, in his hand, appear throughout both books.

Student notebook, 1824.
Volume 3
Scope and Contents note

This volume contains notes from the writings of famous artists, comments on the work of Thomas Sully, and Neagle's conclusions on his own experiments in shading. Eighteen pages are used and rest of the book is blank.

Blotter, 1825-1852.
Volume 4
Scope and Contents note

This volume served as Neagle's financial and personal diary. It contains notes on "Pat Lyon the Blacksmith," his courtship of Mary Chester Sully, family matters, and personal affairs.

Memoranda of Articles Loaned by J. Neagle, 1827-1861.
Volume 5
Scope and Contents note

This volume served as a record of the books, paintings, engravings, and cash Neagle lent to other painters and engravers.

Cashbook, 1832-1842.
Volume 6
Scrapbook of Neagle, Sully and related families, circa 1868-circa 1926 .
Volume 7

Print, Suggest