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[Great Lakes Forts] Belton, Major Francis Smith, Suite of Five Unrecorded Views of Great Lakes Forts, 1817. Five views in pencil and water color wash of American Forts in the Great Lakes region. All five views are done in a workmanlike manner typical of sketches of the period by Army officers. At this time a large part of the Army's work was engineering, and officers were trained to sketch sites. All the views are in VG condition except as noted. Sold
The views are:
a) Michillimackena. Signed "Belton 1817." 4½ x 6¾. A view of the town and fort as seen from the water. A number of sailing ships are in the foreground. The fort, on the bluff, overlooks the town
b) Arch Rock Mackena. Signed "B-n 1817." 4½ x 7½. The view shows the arch as elongated horizontally compared to modern photographs, but does suggest it's height as the arch is more than 100 feet above the water. A two-masted vessel is seen in the distance at the left
c) Untitled scene of two Indians in a canoe. 5¼ x 7. Unsigned and undated. Uncolored pencil sketch. Apparently an unfinished piece. Small loss at lower right corner filled in with matching paper
d) Chicago 1817. Signed "B-n." 4¾ x 7. View of the second Fort Dearborn from the water. Fort Dearborn is in the center with Kinzie's trading post at the right. To the left of the Fort are several smaller buildings. A two-masted vessel is again seen in the foreground
e) Fort Wayne 1816. Unsigned. 4¾ x 7. View of the fort and some outbuildings with two native Americans in the foreground
Francis Smith Belton (1791 - 1861) was a U.S. Army officer who served in many campaigns starting with the War of 1812. He had a fiery temper and was twice court-martialed, but reinstated each time.. During the Mexican War he was for a time Lt. Governor of Mexico. He retired in August, 1861, dying the following month.
In December, 1816 Belton was assigned to Detroit as assistant inspector general. In August 1817 he started a tour of the upper lake posts, first to Fort Gratiot by row boat. From there by schooner to "Mackina." He continued in a bark canoe from Mackinaw to Green Bay and then to Chicago via "Milwaukie." From Chicago he went overland to Fort Wayne and then to Fort Meigs, returning to Detroit November 2, 1817.
This group of images is significant as it depicts parts of the upper Midwest at time when the region was still wilderness. The Chicago view is of the greatest interest as it is the earliest surviving perspective view of Chicago. The only earlier depiction we can locate is Captain John Whistler's plan of the first Fort Dearborn (1808), now in the National Archives. Whistler's plan is unusual as it combines a map of the locality, a plan of Fort Dearborn and views of buildings.
Provenance: In a private collection since the 1930s.
References: Danckers & Meredith, A Compendium of the Early History of Chicago to the Year 1835..., p 359 (Whistler); Danzer, "Chicago's First Maps" in Conzen (ed), Chicago Mapmakers: Essays on the Rise of the City's Map Trade, pp. 12-14; Holland, Chicago in Maps, 42-3 (Whistler Plan of Fort Dearborn); New York Public Library, Belton-Kirby-Dawson-Todd Family Papers, ca. 1763-1861. Call number MssCol258. Within this archive the papers of Francis Smith Belton, 1818-1853, include correspondence with his wife, military papers (some are copies) and an autobiography. The autobiography is handwritten but has been transcribed and typed.
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