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New York State & Local History

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Colonel Nathaniel Rochester

before 1831
30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm)

American artist
United States
John James Audubon
United States (Les Cayes, Santo Domingo [now Haiti], 1785 - 1851, New York, NY) Previous attribution

Object Type: Painting
Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Gift of Thomas J. Watson
Accession Number: 1934.1
Location: Currently on view
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Long celebrated as our city’s founder, Nathaniel Rochester (1752–1831) was recently discovered to have bought and sold enslaved people while he lived in Maryland. Not only did Rochester buy and sell enslaved people in the South as a business venture, he continued to own and profit from the labor of enslaved individuals after moving north. In fact, he did so until New York State law made it impossible for him to continue in 1827. This information makes evident how insidious and enmeshed slavery was in the business life of the early nineteenth century, even in the northern states.

Many decades before Kodak gave us the snapshot, a portrait such as this one was a way for a privileged, white person of this period to capture their likeness for posterity. In comparison, the enslaved Black men, women, and children of Rochester’s household did not have their portraits painted. Their names, likenesses, and personal stories went largely unrecorded and most have not survived history—another example of the dehumanization of enslaved individuals during this period of American history.

[Gallery label text, 2021]

Inscription, verso: Nathaniel Rochester/painted by J. J. Audubon

John Rochester (1746-1794), brother of the sitter, Westmoreland County, VA; to his daughter, Artemisia Rochester Logan (1787-1813), Boyle County, KY; to her daughter, Emilie Jane Logan (1807-1891), Boyle County, KY; Ehrich Galleries, New York, NY before 1924; purchased by Hiram Burlingham (1827-1880), New York, NY, before 1928; sold at his estate sale, American Art Association-Anderson Galleries, New York, NY, January 11, 1934; purchased at that sale by Chester Dale, New York, NY, 1934; purchased from him by Thomas J. Watson, New York, NY, 1934; his gift to the University of Rochester, Rochester, NY for the Gallery in 1934

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Web Links See links to web pages and lesson plans
Seeing America Inservice Materials from a teacher in-service presentation Spring 2008
Seeing America Chapter on this portrait of Colonel Nathaniel Rochester, written by Peter Ogden Brown.
Nathaniel Rochester 1780-1810 Photo of Nathaniel Rochester from the Rochester Images Project, direct url An additional image of Colonel Nathaniel Rochester from the Rochester Images Project may be viewed at

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