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Chapman Family Correspondence and Other Documents
MSS 0048  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Publication Rights
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Creator: Chapman family
    Title: Chapman Family Correspondence and Other Documents,
    Date (inclusive): 1791-1898
    Extent: 1.20 linear feet (10 oversize folders)
    Abstract: Papers of the family of American painter John Gadsby Chapman (1808-1898) consisting mostly of the correspondence of John Chapman and his son, Conrad Wise Chapman. Of special interest are Conrad Chapman's letters to his family, written while he served in the Confederate army during the Civil War. Also included is a letter written by American painter Thomas Sully (1783-1872), dated 1830.
    Repository: University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Collection number: MSS 0048
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    Collection is open for research.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    Chapman Family Correspondence and Other Documents, MSS 0048. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.


    John Gadsby Chapman (1808-1898) was an American painter who gained great recognition in the mid-19th century. Born in Alexandria, Virginia, he was a pupil of George Cooke and C.B. King. A student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, he was elected a member of the National Academy in 1836.
    Chapman worked in New York City and Washington, D.C., and became well known as a painter of historical scenes and portraits. He also produced wood engravings and etchings, and he often contributed pictures to Harper Brothers' publications. His AMERICAN DRAWING BOOK, published in 1847, became a standard text. Among Chapman's most famous works were his illustrations for Harpers' BIBLE and his painting "The Baptism of Pocahontas," commissioned by the U.S. Congress for the Capitol rotunda.
    In 1848 Chapman returned to Italy, where he lived for the remainder of his life. There he established a studio in Rome and raised his family. Among his children were his daughter Mary and his two sons, John Litton Chapman and Conrad Wise Chapman.
    Conrad Wise Chapman (called "Cooney") also became a painter. After living in Paris, Conrad left for America in 1861 to join the Confederate army. He served in the 3rd Kentucky Regiment and later as Ordnance Sergeant in the 59th Virginia Regiment. In 1863, as a result of his mother's ill-health, he took a furlough and travelled to Italy. Returning to the U.S. in 1865, he led a nomadic life in Texas and Mexico, eventually going back to Italy. By 1896 he was in Mexico again, and by 1898 he was married and living in Richmond, Virginia. His painting "Fort Sumpter" was well known, and he also developed a reputation as a photographer.
    The Chapman Family Papers were collected by Conrad's brother John Litton Chapman. He gave the materials as a gift to Helen Kaley, a friend of the family. Mrs. Kaley carried the materials with her as she moved throughout the U.S., finally donating the collection to the UCSD Library in 1972.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Of great interest in the Chapman Family Papers are the letters written by Conrad Chapman during the Civil War. Also of note is the correspondence of John Gadsby Chapman, which provides documentation on the life and social milieu of an early 19th century American painter. The Papers consist mostly of hand written letters and engravings and are arranged in two series: CORRESPONDENCE and ENGRAVINGS.
    Of interest in the CORRESPONDENCE are letters written to John Gadsby Chapman from his friends and colleagues. These include a lengthy autograph letter from American painter Thomas Sully (1783-1872), dated February 14(?) 1830. In the letter Sully comments on Chapman's work, suggesting ways in which the younger artist can pursue his career. Sully also provides details on activities in the contemporary American art community. Also found in the CORRESPONDENCE are letters from the U.S. Congress regarding Chapman's commission for the Capitol rotunda.
    The major portion of the CORRESPONDENCE consists of letters exchanged by John Gadsby Chapman and his son Conrad. The letters, dating from the years 1861 to 1863, provide details on the Civil War and Conrad's experiences in the Confederate army. These include a set of undated drafts which form an extended diary in letter form. In his letters Conrad writes of forced marches, sleeping on wet straw, the daily routine of camp life, and writing letters by the light of a candle fixed on a bayonet. Sometimes he describes the beauty of the landscape, sometimes the picturesque grouping of officers and men around the camp fires. These written descriptions are augmented by Chapman's Civil War drawings, some of which (in the form of engravings) are included in the collection. Also included are number of letters, dating from the 1890s, written by Conrad to his brother John, and a notarized appraisal of the estate of Thomas Chapman, dated 1791.
    The ENGRAVINGS consist of works of both John Gadsby and Conrad Wise Chapman. These were apparently copied by engravers from the original paintings. Also included is a single page from the Daily South Carolinian, dated June 16, 1863, apparently collected by Conrad Chapman.
    A scrapbook containing John G. Chapman's designs in wood is housed in the Virginia State Library, Richmond.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Chapman, J. G. -- (John Gadsby), 1808-1889
    Chapman, Conrad Wise, 1842-1910
    Confederate States of America. -- Army
    Painters -- America -- Manuscripts
    United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives, Confederate


    Chapman, J. G. -- (John Gadsby), 1808-1889, -- correspondent
    Chapman, Conrad Wise, 1842-1910, -- correspondent
    Sully, Thomas, 1783-1872, -- correspondent
    Chapman, J. G. -- (John Gadsby), 1808-1889
    Chapman, Conrad Wise, 1842-1910
    Chapman, John Litton, -- collector