Howard Pyle: Illustrator



Howard Pyle (1853-1911) an American artist, illustrator, author, and teacher was declared at the time of his death by the New York Times—“the father of American magazine illustration.”
Howard Pyle asked in Harper’s Monthly magazine in 1897, “Why have we no national art?” So, he began the discussion and creation of an American historical identity through his art.
Today, Howard Pyle is not nearly as well known, as are his magnificent images. However, back in the day, he was America’s most popular illustrator and storyteller. In effect, he was like a “movie star” in modern times. His illustrations appeared in magazines like Harper’s Monthly, Colliers Weekly, St. Nicholas, and Scribner’s Magazine—this exposure gained him national and world wide acclaim. Evidence of such recognition came from an unlikely source. In a letter to his brother, Vincent Van Gogh wrote, “Do you know an American magazine—Harper’s Monthly? There are wonderful sketches in it… which strike me in admiration…by one Howard Pyle.” Today, many Americans have admired his images without knowing his name.

A short discussion of Pyle’s background and style follows. Americans had seen his work in school books, in art galleries, and in the study of the American Revolution. Many are struck by the style, force and vivacity of his images. His art spoke with a compelling, emotional force. Further examination of his style found that his heroes were depicted with a lively, animated quality of realism. In support of his legacy, there was evidence that he collaborated with renowned writers, politicians, historians, and poets. His most noteworthy colleagues were; Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Cabot Lodge, Woodrow Wilson, William Dean Howells, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Our discussion will be limited to a few of his paintings and an illustration of the American Revolution. Pyle’s work transformed American’s individual perceptions of the American Revolution into a collective set of national ideals. In effect, he shared his values with Americans by making us privy to historical moments between our American heroes and their supreme moments. Second, he took us back into history to experience an emerging moment that resonated through their animated faces and actions. Finally, he had the ability to consistently look for what he called the “supreme moment,” the phase of action that conveyed the most suspense. In a nutshell, Pyle’s art helped our nation to visualize and value its authentic history.
A brief description of his work will help us to discover or rediscover his masterful depictions of the American Revolution.

General Washington–Retreating through the Jerseys

“Retreating through the Jerseys,” showed the strong relationship between Washington and his men. The orderliness of their retreat exemplified a unity and strength, even as the outcome of the war was doubtful. Washington’s confidence and leadership in retreat gave his men a sense that their lives mattered; such was evidenced by the General’s careful strategy for engaging with the enemy. He defended his troops against annihilation and decimation by using retreat to save their lives. As a result, when he commanded them into battle, they trusted his leadership. Pyle captured the dramatic retreat and the esprit d’ corps of the army marching in step with General Washington leading the way. United we stand, divided we fall appeared to be the valued expressed in his painting.

Baron Von Steuben & General Washington at Valley Forge

Baron Von Steuben, a Prussian military officer, arrived at General Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge in 1778, he brought with him a renewed sense of spirit to Washington and the Continental Army. He commenced training soldiers in close order drill, instilling new confidence and discipline in the demoralized army. The painting of “General Washington and Baron Von Steuben at Valley Forge,” stimulated one’s senses and feelings for the chilling outdoors. It was the dead of winter with freezing temperatures; blowing winds, and the sound of crunching snow was heard beneath army boots. The drawing invited Americans into the picture to share the enduring hardships with every soldier who served at Valley Forge. The importance of self-sacrifice in the name of freedom was implied.
Baron Von Steuben established standards of sanitation which included the order by General Washington to vaccinate his troops against smallpox. It was a decision that saved his army from disease and death, which became pivotal to the outcome of the war—the bonding between the generals was a dramatic moment in the history of the American Revolution.

John Paul Jones at the Battle of Flamborough, 1779

The Battle of Flamborough Head of 1779, featured a favorite American naval hero of Pyle. John Paul Jones raised his sabre in defiance of the British commander’s request to surrender. He defied the request with his famous reply, “I have not yet begun to fight.” If you allow yourself to be drawn into the painting,  one’s senses become overwhelmed with its sights and sounds; Cannons ablaze, muskets a fire, smoke filled the air, as Jones fought with desire. Jones transformed the naval battle with his bravery and determination to  overcome the odds and achieve victory. Pyle made us a part of that moment by depicting Jones as a hero. Jones’ hero like qualities were expressed through an intense facial expression and strong body posture. Furthermore, his image of Jones was rebellious, defiant, and unshaken in the face of the enemy.

Washington’s Refusal to be King

In a sketch of “General Washington’s Refusal to be King, Colonel Lewis Nicola presented him with a written document to declare Washington as King.  Washington fiercely refused, as he discarded the document to the floor. The mood in the drawing is defined by Washington’s unemotional rejection of the proposal in a room filled with silence. It appeared that the importance of loyalty to country  was his underlying message.



British Charge on Bunker Hill

The Battle of Bunker Hill,” pictured the British troops commanded by Major  General William Howe; they were directed to make a second charge up Bunker Hill. They were accompanied by the sounds of fife and drum with a stern determination to retake the hill. The painting expressed the bravery and resolution of the colonists as they had to…wait until the last minute to fire. “Wait ‘til you see the whites of their eyes,” shouted Colonel William Prescott to his troops. The British generals were astonished by the bravery of the colonists that day on Bunker Hill in 1775. Pyle painted the British army as a mass of military humanity, disciplined, battle tested, and as a fearless fighting machine. His illustration dramatized the moment of truth.

Howard Pyle’s genius as a man was never in doubt, but it was Pyle’s visual storytelling that  was remembered more than the man himself, and that was his legacy.

He helped the people of our nation to see —what it meant to be an American.

The Last Voyage of John Paul Jones


John Paul Jones, “The Father of the U.S. Navy.”

Finding The Lost Grave of John Paul Jones:

In 1792, the story of the lost legacy of John Paul Jones began. John Paul Jones died on July 18 at the age of 45 years old from acute inflammation of the kidney. He lived and died in Paris as a forgotten man. Although he once was a naval hero of the American Revolution, a confirmed admiral in the Russian navy, and later dubbed the “Father of the U.S. Navy,” he sadly fell into obscurity. He lived out his final days with a few loyal friends, a servant, and his chambermaid, as he died a  lonely man.

Less than two weeks after his 45th birthday; he was found in his Paris apartment, lying face down on his bed, with his feet on the floor. Although not a religious man, the position of the body led to speculation that he was attempting to kneel, as he took his last breath.  In retrospect,  Jones’ final years were filled with frustration, sickness, and solitude amid the chaos of the French Revolution; he died far from the country that he had fought so valiantly to free.

Anticipating that American authorities would transport their legendary naval hero back to the U.S., the French laid his body to rest in a lead coffin that was filled with alcohol and sealed to preserve the remains. Within three weeks of the funeral, armed Revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace, where Louis XVI and his family were being held. Many of the 600 Swiss Guard died defending the king. Their dead bodies  were tossed into a mass grave next to Jones’ burial site. In the chaos, madness,  and  fanatical beheadings of the French Revolution;  John Paul Jones died swiftly, quietly, and  without fanfare.

To further complicate finding his final resting place,  came the sale to a private developer of the Saint Louis Cemetery property.  The new owners   regraded and covered over the graveyard which  made way  for urban redevelopment.  The former cemetery  site was  covered and hidden forever by city life.

Decades passed, then one man;  who possessed an extraordinary degree of  intestinal  fortitude, an undying duty to  persistence, and a dedication to his own personal need,  rediscovered the site.  How?  It was through his tireless  investigation and discovery that he uncovered the resting place of John Paul Jones.   Who was this incredible man who solved the mystery of the lost grave of John Paul Jones?

Louis XVI awarded Jones the Order of Military Merit and title of Chevalier(knight) with a gold hilted sword, note Benjamin Franklin and escorts.

One Man’s Quest to Find– John Paul Jones:

Just over a century later, in 1897, Horace Porter;a Civil War Medal of Honor winner, a former member of U.S. Grant’s staff, and the current Ambassador to France  arrived in Paris.  Here he began to ask questions regarding the lost grave of John Paul Jones. Two years later, he began a search that would consume six years and a great deal of his own money. He along with a number of Americans were distraught that the remains of their early naval hero was buried on foreign soil. Horace Porter’s motivation for taking on the task of finding Jones was personal. In addition, Porter feared that Jones’  heroism  would be forgotten,  and that his memory   would  be relegated to fiction.

Porter is the same man who personally undertook the massive task of fund raising, constructing, and co-designing  Grant’s Tomb in 1892, as well as,  seeing its historic dedication along the Hudson River  in New York’s Riverside Park in 1897.

Finding John Paul Jones’ burial site; gaining access to the grave, and proving the recovered remains were those of John Paul Jones was a challenge for the most sophisticated forensic investigators of the day. The task began,  as  Porter reviewed hundreds of records to find evidence of a burial site and cemetery. It was  rumored at the time that a Protestant cemetery was used,  After exhaustive research; the mystery was solved, when Porter discovered the minutes of Jones’ funeral oration.  The contents of  the minutes confirmed that he was buried at a different site–the Saint Louis Cemetery in Paris. Further investigation found that the land hand been sold in 1796, and the location of the graves rested about eight feet below ground level, beneath a courtyard, shacks, and buildings.

Paris, France, graves buried eight feet below the earth. Tunneling and drilling using miners was used to locate former cemetery and grave of J.P.J.

A  Risky Excavation Below a City Street:

To proceed with excavation at the former site of the Saint Louis Cemetery, Porter had many hoops to jump; political, economic, as well as  technical challenges. Exorbitant amounts of money were needed to gain the rights to tunnel under the site, in addition, the miners’ working conditions of noxious odors and poor ventilation were a concern. Finally in 1905, he started the excavation, after Porter had obtain an agreement to tunnel for a period of no more than three months.
The first shaft found the remains of many skeletons of destitute individuals buried in inexpensive wooden coffins that had long since rotted away. As the excavation continued, a mass grave of skeletons piled helter-skelter was discovered. This was apparently the trench where the bodies of the Swiss Guards had been dumped.

On March 31st, a third and final lead coffin was found. The decision was made to open this coffin, the others had identifying markings. A preliminary examination determined that the uncovered corpse was 5 feet 7 inches, the exact height of the former admiral. The remains were taken to the Paris School of Medicine for examination.

For six days and in the presence of a dozen French and American officials, they attempted to identify the body. Head and facial measurements were compared to a three quarter size bust by famed French sculpture Jean Antoine Houdon. The measurements and facial features of the corpse were consistent with the features displayed on the bust. An autopsy further revealed the left lung displayed signs of pneumonia of which Jones had been diagnosed in late 1788. Indications of kidney disease were found to be consistent with symptoms he displayed just prior to his death. Formal documents were signed by all in attendance that attested to the finding: that the exhumed body was that of John Paul Jones.


Bust of John Paul Jones by Jean-Antoine Houdin

Exhumed remains of John Paul Jones after a century.


Our Hero’s  Last Voyage 

Notified of the panel’s findings, President Theodore Roosevelt immediately dispatched a squadron of four cruisers to escort the casket of the admiral home. The American squadron left Cherbourg, France on July 8th flying the American ensign at the fore and the French ensign at the main. Arriving at Chesapeake Bay on July 22nd, the squadron was joined by seven battleships to convoy the final leg of the journey to Annapolis, Maryland, and the U.S. Naval Academy. As the  Brooklyn passed with his remains, four of the battle wagons fired a 15 gun salute.

On April 24th 1906, John Paul Jones was ceremoniously honored by President “Teddy” Roosevelt, with Horace Porter, at the Naval Academy. John Paul’s final interment was designated in an elaborate crypt beneath the transept of the Naval Academy Chapel on January 26th 1903.



John Paul Jones was interred with military honors that befitted his status as the spiritual “Father of the U.S. Navy.” America and its naval hero were reunited after one hundred and fourteen (114) years and two burials with his final resting place at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.

John Paul Jones, “Father of the U.S. Navy.”


This great American, Horace Porter, made it all possible.  Like so many unhearlded Americans who gave their life and limb for mother country, they go nameless.  Horace Porter played a role in perpetuating the legacy of U.S. Grant and John Paul Jones.

I wrote this article to pay homage to Horace Porter and John Paul Jones for their service, as well as, their role  in protecting and defending the freedoms of all Americans.



Horace Porter was U.S. Ambassador to France from 1897 to 1905, he was responsible for  finding and for  paying to  recover the body of John Paul Jones.  He lived as he died; a true man among men.