Thomas Jefferson Papers

James Warrell to Thomas Jefferson, 27 May 1816

From James Warrell

Richmond 27th May 1816


The laudable zeal you have invariably manifested for the honour, dignity and improvement of your native country, induces me to hope that the Museum of Virginia, about to be established in this Metropolis, will find in you a patron—

I therefore take the liberty to forward to you the subjoined proposals, conceiving should I neglect to do so, that I would be deficient in respect to yourself and1 attention to the establishment.

Permit me to tender you my acknowledgements for the polite attention I have personally received while your guest, and accept, Sir an assurance of my high consideration.

I have the honour to subscribe myself

your Obedient Servant

James Warrell

RC (MoSHi: TJC-BC); subjoined to enclosure; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr Monticello”; franked; postmarked Richmond, 30 May; endorsed by TJ as received 1 June 1816 and so recorded (mistakenly dated 22 May 1816) in SJL.

James Warrell (b. ca. 1780), artist and museum proprietor, came to the United States in 1793 with his English parents to join a Philadelphia-based theatrical company. He appeared in numerous stage productions in Philadelphia and Baltimore before settling in Richmond by 1799. The following year he opened a dancing school there with his brother, Thomas Warrell. By 1808 a leg injury forced him to concentrate on painting. Warrell specialized in portraits, historical scenes, and theater scenery. He visited Monticello on 27 Dec. 1809, having professed a desire to see TJ’s collection of paintings. Warrell moved regularly as he pursued his new career, with brief stays in Washington, Philadelphia, and Providence, Rhode Island, before returning to Richmond by 1812. The Virginia General Assembly granted him permission in 1816 to build the Virginia Museum on a portion of Capitol Square. The following year Warrell and Richard Lorton, his financial partner and brother-in-law, opened the new institution, which showcased both fine arts and natural history. Warrell bought his partner’s share in 1819. Due to declining revenue, however, he could not pay for that share, and the museum reverted to Lorton in 1832. Even before he lost control of the museum, Warrell was forced to market his artistic skills elsewhere. Beginning in 1825 he moved about the United States, with intermittent residence in Richmond until at least 1846. Warrell died by 1854 (R. Lewis Wright, “James Warrell: Artist and Entrepreneur,” Virginia Cavalcade 22 [winter 1973]: 4–19; George O. Seilhamer, History of the American Theatre: New Foundations [1891], 3:122, 136–7, 151, 202; Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, 28 Sept. 1793; Valentine Museum, Richmond Portraits … 1737–1860 [1949], 235–9; Groce and Wallace, Dictionary of Artists description begins George C. Groce and David H. Wallace, The New-York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America 1564–1860, 1957 description ends , 662; Peter Hastings Falk, ed., Annual Exhibition Record of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1807–1870 [1988 revision of a 1955 work by Anna Wells Rutledge], 1:242; Archibald Stuart to TJ, 25 Dec. 1809; Richmond Enquirer, 29 Sept. 1812; Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1815–16 sess.], 26–7 [7 Feb. 1816]).

Warrell wrote a nearly identical letter this day to President James Madison, omitting the third paragraph (DLC: Madison Papers).

1Manuscript: “and and.”

Index Entries

  • museums; Virginia Museum search
  • Richmond, Va.; museum in search
  • Virginia Museum (Richmond) search
  • Warrell, James; and Virginia Museum search
  • Warrell, James; identified search
  • Warrell, James; letter from search