William Brewster was there when Abraham Lincoln received word from Ulysses S. Grant that Robert E. Lee was seeking a peace conference. He witnessed the last hours of the presidencies of Ulysses S. Grant, Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison. In 1917 William Brewster was present at the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson and he greeted Ronald Reagan, and every president since, immediately after they took the oath of office. William Brewster died in 1644, but the significance of his life has allowed him to be a witness to the acts of presidents and leaders for over 150 years — a fete that will continue for decades to follow.
William Brewster is my 10th-great grandfather on the Crosby side. Born in England in about 1566, William went on to become a leader (Elder) of a separatist church in England. In 1620 William and other members of the church set sail for America aboard the Mayflower.
During the late 1850s the Capitol building underwent renovation and extension. Constantino Brumidi was commissioned to paint the walls and ceilings of the Senate wing. One part of the addition to the Capital was the President’s room. The purpose of the room was to provide a space for the president during visits to the senate.
In the corners, as if seated in curved niches, with feet or knees projecting toward the viewer, are four historical figures representing fundamental aspects of the development of the nation: Amerigo Vespucci, with maps and spyglass, for Exploration; Christopher Columbus, with nautical instruments, for Discovery; Benjamin Franklin, reading a sheet inscribed Buon Uomo Ricardo (“Poor Richard” in Italian), referring to his almanac, and surrounded by books, newspapers, and a printing press, for History; and Pilgrim leader William Brewster holding a Bible for Religion. Early guidebooks note that Brumidi based his depictions on known portraits. — U.S. Senate brochure
What must the presidents and other leaders and dignitaries thought of William, seated overhead and holding a bible?
In 1965 William Brewster was joined in the President’s room by President Lyndon Johnson and an influential religious and civil rights leader. The Reverend Martin Luther King was present when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act which eliminated discrimination at the polls. William Brewster, as if he was an invited guest, was directly over head during this seminal moment in history.
Quest for the Image
When I learned of the fresco of William Brewster my first task was to find a photograph of the painting. I searched the Internet and was unable to locate a quality photo of the painting. The Library of Congress had some images, but none showed the painting as the primary subject. Given the importance of the artwork in the Capitol, I emailed the Library of Congress and asked if archival photos of the painting existed. The Librarian was very helpful and included links to the images that were available. But none of the photos showed William Brewster. The Librarian suggested I contact the Office of the Curator at the Architect of the Capitol.
I sent an email to the Curator and received a response very quickly. Mr. Eric Paff of the Office of the Curator provided some links to existing photos and documents relating to the Brumidi works. Mr. Paff informed me that the photo I requested would be made available on the Internet within 30 days (and probably sooner). Today (14 days later!) I was notified by Mr. Paff that the photo I requested was online. The photo at the top of this page is the photo provided by the Curator’s office. (This photo far outshines any other photo that I could find!)
The people I dealt with at the Library of Congress and in the Curator’s office at the Architect of the Capitol were fantastic. They were responsive, professional and very helpful with providing the information, and eventually the photograph, I sought.
Earlier blog post about William Brewster : Newest Mayflower Ancestor
“Constantino Brumidi: Artist of the Capitol”, published by U.S. Senate, 1998
“The President’s Room“, U.S. Senate brochure
William Brewster Fresco (top image in this page)
(Note: Photoshop was used to enhance the Brewster fresco image above.)