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Thursday, December 14, 2017

A View of a Private in the First Regt. of N.H. Light-Horse on Duty

Discoveries from the Field
Fig. 1: “A View of a Private in the First Regt. of N.H. Light-Horse on Duty.” Attributed to George Melvill (working 1780s and 1790s), 1784–1792. Ink and watercolor on paper, 8 x 12-/8 inches. Courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society Katharine Prentis Murphy Fund.
Fig. 1: “A View of a Private in the First Regt. of N.H. Light-Horse on Duty.” Attributed to George Melvill (working 1780s and 1790s), 1784–1792. Ink and watercolor on paper, 8 x 12-/8 inches. Courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society Katharine Prentis Murphy Fund.

A View of a Private in the First Regt. of N.H. Light-Horse on Duty
by Donna-Belle Garvin and Wesley G. Balla

Recent research about the work of New Hampshire schoolmaster-artist George Melvill, known primarily for the family record art he produced from the mid 1780s to 1800, has revealed an important drawing of a late-eighteenth-century, non-commissioned New Hampshire militia soldier. The drawing (Fig. 1), inscribed A View of a Private in the first Regt. of N.H. Light-Horse on Duty/Done by the request of Serjent Henry Moore of said Regt., is a rare, early, and visually appealing military item. Based on stylistic similarities to signed family records (Figs. 2, 3), it is firmly attributed to Melvill, yet unique within the artist’s known productions.

Citizen military service was an important part of the history of the state of New Hampshire and the nation, from the time of the American Revolution through the Civil War. Men from all walks of life provided compulsory military service to the state each year. Currently no drawings of eighteenth-century New Hampshire non-commissioned militia soldiers are known to exist in public or private collections. The fact that the inscription on this drawing refers to the First Regiment of Light-Horse helps in dating it to before 1792, when there were from one to three regiments of Light-Horse for the entire state, each composed—like infantry regiments—of companies, while from 1792 on, in accord with a new militia act made necessary by the new Constitution, each infantry regiment within the state was entitled to form its own Light-Horse company. Although no lists appear to have survived of the men or officers in the Light-Horse regiments, the Henry Moore who commissioned this piece appears to have been from the vicinity of Candia, where Melvill taught school from 1783 to 1798.

The First Regiment of N.H. Light-Horse participated in an important event in New Hampshire history during the 1780s. In New Hampshire’s own version of Massachusetts’ Shays’ Rebellion, about two hundred armed men from the rural towns of western Rockingham County, angry about the economic situation and demanding relief via the issuance of paper currency, marched in September 1786 on the state capital, then in Exeter, and surrounded the legislature. Governor John Sullivan ordered the state militia, including three companies within the First Regiment of Light-Horse, to suppress the uprising.

Fig. 2: “A Record of Mr. Thomas Mathes’ Family of Deerfield, in the County of Rockingham in the State of New-hampshire,” signed George Melvill Scripsit, ca. 1795. Ink and watercolor on paper, 16-9/10 x 13-7/10 inches. Courtesy of a private collection; photography courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Fig. 2: “A Record of Mr. Thomas Mathes’ Family of Deerfield, in the County of Rockingham in the State of New-hampshire,” signed George Melvill Scripsit, ca. 1795. Ink and watercolor on paper, 16-9/10 x 13-7/10 inches. Courtesy of a private collection; photography courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Fig. 3: “A Family Record of Moses Dudley Esqr. of Raymond, in the County of Rockingham, and State of New-hampshire,” signed George Melvill Scripsit, ca. 1797. Ink and watercolor on paper, 9-1/2 x 15-1/4 inches. Courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society; gift of Christine D. Foster.
Fig. 3: “A Family Record of Moses Dudley Esqr. of Raymond, in the County of Rockingham, and State of New-hampshire,” signed George Melvill Scripsit, ca. 1797. Ink and watercolor on paper, 9-1/2 x 15-1/4 inches. Courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society; gift of Christine D. Foster.


For more about Melvill, see “The Decorative Family Records of Schoolmaster George Melvill,” in Historical New Hampshire, Fall 2009. Copies are available through the New Hampshire Historical Society’s store, by calling 603.856.0625, emailing This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visiting online at www.nhhistory.org.

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