This miniature portrait is by Pierre Henri (c1760-1822) who was born in Paris, France. He is also known as Peter Henry and is reported to have been shipwrecked in the West Indies before proceeding to New York where in 1788 he advertised; "A Miniature Painter. Lately arrived from France ... he draws Likenesses ... at the lowest price, and engages the painting to be equal to any in Europe". Perhaps because of excessive competition, or his French background was unhelpful, he then moved to Philadelphia in 1789 where he married Elizabeth Osborne, the daughter of Captain Peter Osborne.
As Dale Johnson observed; "Henri tended to give his subjects overly large heads and to place them high on the ivory. Their features are strongly delineated, with large round eyes and a slightly curling mouth. Skin tones are pale, backgrounds of a neutral shade." Henri often signed his miniatures, but that is not evident here.
A miniature of a lady in the collection as showing here has also been attributed to Pierre Henri. To fit her mob cap into the portrait, Henri has positioned her a little lower on the ivory. The miniature was not removed from its case when it was scanned, so the colours appear a little paler than in real life. For more about the miniature of the lady, see View
Identifying the male sitter has been assisted by a label on the reverse and portions of two letters that were acquired with the miniature, although there is some element of doubt as which of two Cowell brothers is depicted.
The label on the reverse of the gold case appears to read "[Portrait] of John Gower [sic] Cowell grandson of Gen. Glover of Marblehead." with a number on the left "M - 839" which may be a dealer's inventory number. The name on the case has been given precedence here in identifying the sitter, although the portrait may be of his brother Richard, if an attached letter is taken as referring to this portrait.
John Glover Cowell (18 September 1785 – 18 April 1814) was the second son of Captain Richard Cowell and Hannah Glover (18 Apr 1761- 1809) who were married at Marblehead, Massachusetts on 7 March 1780. Their elder son, Richard was born on 25 July 1781 and from the letter, appears to have died on 10 September 1798 aged only 17. Captain Richard Cowell was described as;
A man of whom his contemporaries spoke in the highest terms of veneration. Early in the Revolution, he held successively the command of several private armed vessels, and was celebrated in that capacity, for the many valuable prizes he captured, and for the undaunted courage and invincible firmness which he manifested on every occasion. Many of his companions recounted with admiration the gallant achievements of this heroic man and the many signal proofs he gave of his coolness and intrepidity as a naval commander, entitle him to a very conspicuous rank among the heroes of the Revolution.
At one time, while commander of a ship of sixteen guns, he fell in with an enemy's ship of twenty-two and nearly double the number of men. Though aware of the vastly superior force of his opponent, he was determined to engage her, and after a desperate battle of forty-two minutes, succeeded in capturing her. On board captain Cowell's ship there was but one man slightly wounded while the enemy had twenty-three killed and wounded. In the year 1780, he had the command of another ship called the Marquis, mounting sixteen guns, a great part of which were small four pounders. While on a cruise be fell in with a letter of marque ship of the enemy mounting twenty-four guns and with a complement of men far superior in numbers to his own. Relying, however, on the spirit and bravery of his officers and crew, he laid his ship alongside the enemy and continued there for the space of six glasses. ... This gallant and heroic action deserved a fortunate result, but the enemy after having expended all his ammunition, hauled off from his opponent and the disabled state of the spars and rigging of captain Cowell's ship prevented his pursuing her. She was taken however soon after in a sinking condition by a small sloop and proved a very valuable prize.
The first letter is addressed to;
Mrs Cowell, Marblehead
New York, 12 Nov. 1798
Your kind letter of the 31st last has renewed my affliction of the cruel death of your beloved son Richard, which I have always called mine, and considered as such. I cannot express to yourself enough how that terrible event is forever present to my memory, my only comfort is that nothing has been spared to save him, good physicians, two and three nurses, myself, and my clerks have attended him constantly day and night since the first moment he was taken sick until he expired in our arms in the night of the 10th September last at 2 o'clock. Your distress is equal to mine, and your past misfortunes are increased by the great dependence you made on that promising young man. I repeated to him every day[s] that he was the only person upon whom you could depend and his brothers and sisters and I observed with the greatest sensibility that thee good principles were deeply engraved in his heart: the most flattering prospect[s] have vanished and left you with a series of calamities, which I should wish certainly to diminish by complying with your desire of taking charge of another of your sons, but it is out of my power as I have sworn, the moment I was deprived of my most tender affection, that I should never expose myself to such a loss. Therefore I beg of you to excuse my refusal, which has got no other ground than to assure my own tranquility. It will be always a great satisfaction to me to be of any service to you, and you may depend that I will try every thing[s] in my power to find a good situation for your son, and you'd be informed immediately if I could succeed.
I have returned to my house only since a few days, but as I have not entered yet into the room occupied by our son, I could not give you any account of the cloths and things left. What there is will be at your disposal, and in a few days, you'd have an accurate account of the whole. Please to accept the assurances of the great respect with which I have the honor to be.
Your most obedient and humble servant, John Jukes, New York, 12 Nov. 1798
The addressee of the first letter, Mrs Cowell, was formerly Hannah Glover the daughter of Brigadier General John Glover (1732-1797) who fought in the War of Independence. As child she lived in this house.
General Glover was active in the militia for many years before the Revolution, with his earliest service dating back to 1759. In 1775 he was elected lieutenant colonel of the 21st Massachusetts Regiment from Marblehead, and became commander of the unit after the death of Colonel Jeremiah Lee in April 1775. Glover marched his regiment to join the siege of Boston in June 1775. At Boston, General George Washington chartered Glover's schooner Hannah to raid British supply vessels, the first of many privateers authorized by Washington. For this reason the Hannah has been called the first vessel of the United States Navy.
A detailed account of General Glover's career at Revolutionary War - Major General John Glover records that he was an underrated hero, who on three occasions saved the revolution. There is also more about him at Gen John Glover
The first letter is accompanied by part of another letter, only part of the original of which remains, but there is a later transcription;
Mrs Rebecca Dixby,
Newark, NJ 14 April 1812
We now send you by Doctor Trevitt, a portrait of your brother, who lived and died at Mr Jukes. Mrs Alden requested it of Mrs Durand's family on purpose to send to you. Mr Durand was a partner in business with Mr Jukes. With my best regards to your family and friends, in which Mrs Alden writes with me. I am your friend and ???.
John Glover Cowell was the second son, after Richard, and was followed by Rebecca, William, Ovid, Hector, and Hannah. Rebecca later becoming the Mrs Rebecca Dixby of the second letter above. Although the letter refers to a portrait of Richard, the sitter in the miniature looks to be somewhat older than 17. It would also be a little unusual to paint a youth at age 17, more often at age 21 or on his marriage.
Born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, John Glover Cowell entered the United States Navy as a master on 21 January 1809. As acting lieutenant, Cowell was severely wounded, losing a leg, in the action on 28 March 1814 between USS Essex and HMS Phoebe and HMS Cherub off Valparaíso, Chile. Refusing to be carried below, Cowell cheered his companions on through the remainder of the action. He was carried on shore, and exhibited such gallantry and courage under severe pain until his death on 18 April that the people of Valparaíso honored him with a burial place in their principal church; a most unusual honor for a foreigner.
According to Wikipedia three ships of the United States Navy have been named after John G. Cowell.
- The USS Cowell (DD-139), was renamed the Ward prior to launching.
- The USS Cowell (DD-167), a Wickes-class destroyer, launched in 1918 and decommissioned in 1940.
- The USS Cowell (DD-547), a Fletcher-class destroyer, launched in 1943 and decommissioned in 1971.
There is a fuller account of his career and death at Weekly register: Volume 7 - Page 29 1439