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Commodore Hull Returns Home

Isaac Hull
Artist unknown, Oil on canvas laid to Masonite. Date: 1798-1804? " given to Commodore James Nicholson (1737-1804) by Isaac Hull and in the possession of the Nicholson and Chrystie families until 1993 when an anonymous family inherited it. 

Derby Historical Society President Tim Dillon unveiled Commodore Hull's portrait in his new home at the Derby Historical Society. Read more about the event here.

Commodore Isaac Hull is home. Well, actually it's his portrait that made a triumphant return to the Derby Historical Society on May 19, 2013. The portrait which dates from approximately 1805 according to a recent appraisal has just been donated to the Society by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. However, the story of the portrait's journey to the Society has a strong connection to the race which bears his name, and you can read it below. The name of the donor is simply noted as anonymous, but we wish to be among those expressing our thanks to have this wonderful addition to the Historical Society's collection.

Story from 2010:

One of our reasons for starting the Commodore Hull Thanksgiving Day 5K Road Race was to honor the memory and accomplishments of one of the U.S.'s greatest naval heroes of all time - Commodore Isaac Hull. This is the story of a non-runner who has recently expanded our vision of this legendary figure in American history as you can clearly see in the oil portrait above - perhaps the earliest one on record!

About a month ago, we received an e-mail from anonymous telling us that she had visited our race website in the course of her research on Commodore Hull. In the e-mail, she also said that she had a very early oil portrait of Commodore Hull that even pre-dates his heroics in the War of 1812. More than that, she wondered if we would like to see it! There was never any doubt about that, and last week she ventured out to the David Humphreys House in Ansonia, the home of the Derby Historical Society, with Isaac Hull in tow! The Society has a chair used by Commodore Hull and a pair of his pants on display in the house!

Anonymous is incredibly knowledgeable about Commodore Hull and she started by recanting the history of the portrait which does have a bit of mystery attached to it. Commodore Hull had made a name for himself long before he took command of Old Ironsides during the War of 1812. He was commanding ships in the West Indies before he was 20 years of age and was commissioned a fourth lieutenant in he U.S. Navy when it was first organized, and was assigned to the frigate Constitution. He served on that vessel under Commodore Samuel Nicholson before moving on to play a larger role in the wars with the Barbary pirates where he further distinguished himself.

And that's about when the story of the picture kicks in. Anonymous' records show that the portrait was given to Commodore James Nicholson, brother of Samuel Nicholson by Commodore Hull - and therein lies the mystery. James Nicholson died in 1804 meaning that he would have had the portrait prior to his death. However, as painted in the portrait, Commodore Hull is wearing the outfit of a captain in the U.S. Navy, a rank that he did not achieve until 1806! There are several other portraits of Commodore Hull, but he is noticeably younger and thinner in this portrait.

In any case, the portrait has been in the family ever since, and Cindy recently became very interested in the portrait and started doing her research. She also had the painting restored to the condition that you see above. We're hoping that this story will not only help to tell the story of the Commodore, but also stir additional interest in uncovering more information about the portrait itself.

Anonymous also had a great anecdote to share about the Commodore and his lovely bride Anna Hart, one of the "Seven beauties of Old Saybrook", seven sisters from a prominent Old Saybrook family who were especially noted for their beauty. As the story goes, Anna and a group of her classmates visited Boston and in the course of the visit were given a tour of the U.S.S. Constitution where Hull was then a lieutenant and working on the maintenance of the ship. Anna took an immediate liking to the handsome young sailor, but she was only 11 years old at the time. She asked the dashing lieutenant for a souvenir of the ship to take back home to Old Saybrook. Hull refused her noting that it was all government property. However, before she left the ship, he did give her a piece of rope that he had wound up like a bracelet. Years passed before they saw each other again, but it proved to be a remarkable reunion. By that time, Hull had become a national hero following his victory over the British. They met at a formal ball in New York, and Anna was wearing the piece of rope. Three weeks later they were married!

We are very pleased that this portrait has come to public attention and thank anonymous for her willingness to share it with the public - starting with all our race participants and supporters!

Full story updated May 18, 2013

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