The drawing depicts the North Carolina Brigade passing through Philadelphia in 1777.

Collectors know that treasure can hide in plain sight. In August 2023, Judith Hernstadt, urban planner, art collector, and apparent longtime fan of antiques, showed Matthew Skic, curator for Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution, a sketch that had been hanging in her New York apartment for 40 years. To Henstadt, it was an interesting old drawing of an American Revolution-era scene that she had purchased in a group from an antique dealer in the 1970s. Skic immediately realized there was more to the story and, with Hernstadt’s permission, took the sketch to conduct further research.

The drawing depicts an open-sided wagon with two soldiers marching alongside, a wagon driver and a commissioned officer on horseback, two women and an infant inside the wagon, and two men riding on the back. The remainder of an inscription, part of which was removed during a repair, reads “an exact representation of a wagon belonging to the north carolina brigade of continental troops which passed thro Philadelphia august done by…”, with spelling typical of the late 1700s. Five studies of male figures, with one holding a sword and another raising his fists, are sketched on the reverse.

Skic was full of questions. Was the sketch authentic? What could it tell us about the American Revolution and people’s lives at the time? The most enticing mystery of all must have been the identity of the artist, with the inscription tantalizingly cut off just as it got to the attribution. Skic’s enthusiasm was contagious, and Hernstadt let him take the sketch for his research. Later, she donated it to the Museum of the American Revolution.

Skic and his research team determined that the drawing was an authentic eyewitness sketch from the North Carolina Brigade’s march through Philadelphia. Paper conservator Corine McHugh determined that the paper and ink were from the correct time period. Newspaper accounts helped pinpoint the date the sketch was made: August 25, 1777. The brigade, led by Brigadier General Francis Nash, was on its way to join General George Washington’s army, where they would serve in the battles of Brandywine (September 1777) and Germantown (October).

Through handwriting analysis and comparative art examinations, the artist was identified as Pierre Eugène du Simitiére, who was born in Switzerland and came to Philadelphia in about 1774. He documented the American Revolution as it happened, later made portraits of George Washington and other leaders, and, in 1782, founded the first public museum in the United States. The Library Company of Philadelphia and the Library of Congress have many of his manuscripts available for research.

The North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati, an organization of descendants of American Revolution officers from North Carolina, helped fund the research, conservation, and framing for the sketch.

The museum issued a press release about its acquisition and the story behind it in late March. As Women’s History Month was coming to an end, they emphasized the presence of the two women in the sketch. These women were camp followers who marched along with the Continental Army and supported the troops by doing domestic tasks like laundry, sewing, bandaging wounds, and selling food. Some of these women were following their husbands or fathers; some had run away from home; some came from poor families and had no other ways of supporting themselves. Although George Washington complained that camp followers were “a clog on every movement” of the army, they had an important role in the Revolution. This sketch is only the second known eyewitness depiction of them.

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