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Fort Marion, St. Augustine with Plains Indians Teepees, 1887
Frank Henry Shapleigh (1842 – 1906)

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Oil on canvas
10 x 16 inches
Inscribed on verso: Fort Marion, St. Augustine. Florida. / by / F.H. Shapleigh
Signature Details: F.H. Shapleigh 1887.
Status: Available

While residing in Saint Augustine, Florida, in the 1880s the Boston-born painter, Frank Henry Shapleigh painted this harbor scene of Fort Marion, on the Matanzas River.  The work depicts the northeast bastion of the fort with its distinctive watchtower that overlooks the river’s northern inlet, the direction from which danger most frequently arrived during the fort’s early centuries.  The painting is small in size and captures a simple scene—a small auxiliary building, boats sailing in the river, and a small, barely distinguishable group of people on the plaza adjacent to the fort’s eastern wall—but, in fact, the painting depicts an episode in late 19th-century American history that is emblematic of the full sweep of New World history from the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the rise of the United States as a world power at the turn of the twentieth century. 

For viewers today, the real subject of Shapleigh’s painting is Fort Marion’s role as a prison for a band of more than five hundred Apache Native Americans from April 1886 until May 1887.  The incarceration of these Native Americans is the human face of Fort Marion’s emblematic character.  Because he was living in Saint Augustine when they arrived Shapleigh knew well that the Apaches had been imprisoned within Fort Marion.  On the ramparts far in the background of Fort Marion he depicted the prisoners’ “Sibley tent” shelters, which bore a considerable resemblance to the teepees of the Plains Indians of the American West.  However, he probably did not know that Fort Marion, named Castillo de San Marcos by the Spanish who built it, had for centuries played a vast, defining role in the colonial and antebellum history of southeastern America.  Shapleigh’s Fort Marion is an example of the accidental or inadvertent significance that an artist’s dedication to verisimilitude can bring to a painting.  Art historians value these works because of their factual content and the contextual impact they have upon discerning viewers.

Landscape painter Frank Henry Shapleigh was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 7, 1842.  He served during the American Civil War as a private in the Union Army, Company A of the 45th Massachusetts Infantry (Militia) during 1862‒63.  After the war concluded, Shapleigh studied art at the Lowell Institute Drawing School and the Boston Art Club.  In 1866 he visited Europe and studied painting with Emile Charles Lambinet (1813‒77), a proponent of the Barbizon School o landscape painting.  Several of Shapleigh’s landscapes from his European sojourn depict Italian and Swiss locales.  By 1870 he was back in the United States; for, in that year he wed Mary Adaline Studley (1854‒1927), of Cohasset, MA.  Shapleigh traveled through the American West in the 1870s where he painted scenes of the Yosemite Valley and California.  He also continued to paint European scenes from studies he made prior to 1870.  Throughout his life Shapleigh painted almost exclusively landscapes, dividing his time and subjects between the White Mountains regions of New Hampshire and the Saint Augustine region of Florida.  He had a studio at the Crawford House Resort in the White Mountains and then in 1888 became an artist-in-residence at Henry M. Flagler’s luxurious, brand-new Hotel Ponce de Leon, in Saint Augustine.  From 1888 to 1892 he spent part of the year in Saint Augustine, where he was among a group of painters who broadly comprised a southern school of plein-air, impressionist, and even genre artists.  Among Shapleigh’s colleagues who had studios at Flagler’s Hotel Ponce de Leon were Felix F. de Crano (1842‒1908), Martin Johnson Heade (1819‒1904), Laura Woodward (1834‒96), and William Aiken Walker (1839‒1921).  This group helped define a type of southern impressionism that influenced painting into the mid twentieth century. 

During the 1880s and early 1890s Shapleigh painted Fort Marion several times, not only as the main feature of a landscape but also as part of larger perspectives of the city and its fortress.  Another version of Fort Marion, Saint Augustine, Florida, dated 1888 is in the CIGNA Corporation Museum and Art Collection, Philadelphia, PA.  Fort Marion and the event Shapleigh depicted deep in the background of the painting under discussion resonate powerfully through the course of American history to such an extent that both the place and the event merit investigation.  For more than two centuries after Christopher Columbus entered the Caribbean Ocean and began the Spanish conquista of the New World, the Kingdom of Spain claimed ownership of much of southeastern North America and the Gulf of Mexico.  They established the town of Saint Augustine in 1565, which became the capital of the colony they called La Florida.  When French and English explorers and then settlers entered the Southeast, they sought to destroy Saint Augustine on repeated occasions.  Sir Francis Drake burned the town in 1585 and the pirate/privateer sacked it in 1668.  In response to the increasing English threat posed by the establishment of the Carolina colony in Charles Town, Spanish authorities began construction of the Castillo de San Marcos in the 1670s and completed it in the 1690s.  The rivalry between Spanish Saint Augustine and British Charles Town and, after the founding of Savannah, Georgia, in 1733, affected European history and kept the Southeast in turmoil throughout the eighteenth century.  British attempts in 1702 and 1740 to capture Saint Augustine failed, and the Castillo de San Marcos (with its nearby black settlement at Fort Mose) became a refuge for southeastern Native Americans and African Americans escaping warfare and enslavement in Carolina.  The Castillo de San Marco is now the oldest surviving masonry-built fort in North America.  Its distinctive shape, construction material, and especially the watch tower captured the attention of military engineers, artists like Shapleigh and others, and historic preservationists throughout the world. 

The British took brief ownership of East Florida and Saint Augustine in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War and renamed the Castillo de San Marcos Fort Saint Mark.  East Florida was a Loyalist stronghold during the American Revolution, and, once again became a haven for Native Americans under attack by the Americans, African Americans escaping enslavement in Georgia and South Carolina, as well as British colonists whose loyalty to George III forced them to flee the rebellious Americans.  In a situation that proved ironic in the near future, the fort was used as a prison to house Americans captured at Charlestown in May 1780.  Among those prisoners were the South Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, Thomas Heyward Junior, and other leaders of the American Revolution.  East Florida as returned to Spain in 1783 after the Treaty of Paris that ended the War of Independence but in 1821 Spain ceded Florida to the United States.  When the Americans took over Saint Augustine they renamed the Castillo Fort Marion in honor of South Carolina’s Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox.”  Under American ownership Fort Marion was important to the coastal defenses of the nation but it also became notorious as a prison in which rebellious Native Americans were incarcerated before and after the American Civil War.  Frank Shapleigh’s Fort Marion tells that part of the history of the fort and of the Indian wars that plagued the American West.

Now part of the United States Florida Territory was the site of two devastating wars between the Seminole Indians, remnants of the Creeks who once filled the Southeast.  During the Second Seminole War (1835‒42), the American commanding general Thomas Jesup invited the Seminole chief Osceola (1804‒38) to Saint Augustine for a conference but instead captured him and his companions on October 21, 1837.  They were imprisoned briefly in Fort Marion but were transferred to Fort Moultrie, in Charleston Harbor, where Osceola died on January 30, 1838.  While a prisoner in Charleston, the war chief was the subject of curiosity and even sympathy because of the way he had been captured.  The artists Robert John Curtis and George Catlin painted portraits of Osceola.  Lithographs of the portraits spread the fame of the Seminole chief, and he became the subject of a sympathetic body of literature. 

After the American Civil War Fort Marion was again used to imprison Native Americans who battled American forces in the West.  From 1874 to 1878 Fort Marion housed seventy-four Cheyanne, Comanche, Arapaho, Kiowa, Caddo—Plains Indians tribes—and ten Mexicans, all of whom had been captured during the Red River War of 1874.  Eventually, these prisoners were returned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory.  The scene that Frank Shapleigh depicted was part of the 1886‒87 imprisonment of more than five hundred Apache men women, and children, among whom was the famous war chief Geronimo (1829‒1909), who led a band of Chiracahua Apaches on raids in Mexico and the New Mexico Territory.  The Apaches arrived at Fort Marion in April 1886 and were housed on the ramparts of the fort in Sibley tents, a type of United States Army tent patterned on Plains Indians’ teepees.  Some viewers of Shapleigh’s Fort Marion have honestly mistaken these tents for teepees and have given that anecdotal name to the painting.  During their one-year incarceration the Native Americans were often visited by curious citizens.  They created and sold baskets, moccasins, and other traditional handicrafts to visitors, and received English language lessons from local Roman Catholic nuns and schoolteachers.  

While the terms of imprisonment were not severe, the fort was overcrowded; Army-issued rations were unfamiliar to the Apaches; and conditions promoted sickness.  Twenty-four Native Americans died of disease while twelve children, including Lenna, daughter of Geronimo and his wife Ih-Tenna were born during the year.  In May 1887 American authorities determined to end the imprisonment.  The Apaches were transported to Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory, where they remained as prisoners of war for into the twentieth century.  Geronimo died at Fort Sill on February 17, 1909. 

Frank Shapleigh’s Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida is a small, almost modest depiction of one of the most interesting structures in the American Southeast.  Rich in history, the Castillo de San Marcos, became a National Park in 1933, where interpreters offer narratives and exhibit artifacts of the Spanish, British, and American epochs of Saint Augustine history.  Shapleigh’s painting or another version of it might well serve as a valuable artifact, one that reveals not only an artist’s vision of a specific location but also a fine-arts representation of the complicated, mostly tragic, history of Native Americans in every era of American history. 


Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS), Art Inventories, Frank Henry Shapleigh:  https://siris-artinventories.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?session=Q53194534N76T.5193&menu=search&aspect=Keyword&npp=50&ipp=20&spp=20&profile=ariall&ri=&term=&index=.GW&x=0&y=0&aspect=Keyword&term=shapleigh&index=.AW&term=&index=.TW&term=&index=.SW&term=&index=.FW&term=&index=.OW&term=&index=.NW, accessed July 17, 2018.

“Apache Incarceration.” https://www.nps.gov/casa/learn/historyculture/apache-incarceration.htm, accessed July 15, 2018.

Garvin, James, and others.  Full of Facts and Sentiment: The Art of Frank Henry Shapleigh.  Concord: New Hampshire Historical Society. 1982.

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This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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