Portrait of Stewart Dean (black and white reproduction)

Portrait of Stewart Dean (1785)

Artist's notes...

Stewart Dean was born on the fourth of July.  He was a sailor
and, in every sense of the word, an American patriot. In his early twenties he moved from Maryland to Albany, New York. At that time he commanded a small merchant ship and was engaged in the cargo trade between the colonies. He married Pietertje Bratt of Albany, in 1773, but a quiet life on the Hudson River would have to wait. Dean was passionately committed to the spirit of independence. The times were unstable and it was obvious that an open break with Britain was close at hand. He offered his services to the fledgling military forces of General Washington.
          Within days of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Dean had his first command, the privateer sloop Beaver, and was engaged in a naval battle in the Caribbean Sea. For the next five years Dean divided his time between naval duties and serving in the militia in Albany. In 1782 he was given command of a larger and more heavily armed vessel, the schooner Nimrod. In May of that year, while patrolling St. Christopherís harbor in the West Indies, Dean was attacked by two 20-gun British war ships. After a short and bloody battle Nimrod was captured and Stewart Dean fell seriously wounded. He was held prisoner for 20 days after which his freedom was secured through the negotiations of the Governor of Antigua. In the closing year of the war while Dean was back in Albany recovering from his injuries his wife Pietertje died. One can only imagine the mixed feelings Dean experienced at that time.
           In 1784, Captain Dean returned to the merchant trade and required a new ship. Near his house, on the banks of the Hudson River in Albany, he had a 60 foot sloop built. He named the vessel, Experiment and after several commercial ventures, sailed her into maritime history. His famous voyage lasted one year and four months and covered 14,000 dangerous nautical miles. With the unbelievably small crew of 7 men and 2 boys, Experiment became the second vessel in US history to sail to China. That voyage combined with his distinguished war record made him a living legend. He was celebrated as a hero for the rest of this long life. It was written, that of all the sloops available for transit on the Hudson River the Experiment under the command of Stewart Dean was by far the most interesting, for it was aboard that vessel that travelers got to hear of the Captainís great tale of adventure in China.
          In the years that followed Dean lived a very contented life in Albany. He married Margaret Whetten in October of 1787, and built a new house on a hillside overlooking the river. His passenger and cargo business flourished. He enjoyed his large family of 11 children and 31 grandchildren. He looked on as the little town on the upper Hudson he had come to as a young man grew into a thriving city. Many honors were bestowed on him in his later years, including the renaming of Dock Street to Dean Street. He watched his children lead successful, productive lives. It was a fitting reward for a lifetime of service and patriotism. On August 4, 1836, at the age of 89, Stewart Dean died in the company of his family.
          Sometime in his 30s the only known image of Stewart Dean was painted from life on a small piece of jewelry. The portrait was done in a primitive style by an artist who apparently had little knowledge of the structure of the human head. As a part of a much larger project concerning the exploits of Captain Dean, I decided to do a new portrait based on the period painting but utilizing the proper proportions of facial bone structure. I also wanted my work to have an 18th century style. I reconfigured the earlier work without giving up the shapes of Deanís eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and chin. The end result, I believe, is the credible face of a man I came to admire and respect as a true American hero.
          (text excerpted from Visions of New York State: The Historical Paintings of L.F. Tantillo published by Shawangunk Press.)