Jacob Stroud: His likeness in famous painting?


Benjamin West’s painting, “The Death of General Wolfe.”

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

The name Jacob Stroud is well-known in Monroe County. Most citizens know that the town of Stroudsburg, which bears his name, was founded by this man. What no one knows, however, is what Jacob Stroud looked like. There are no known paintings, sketches, silhouettes, or drawings that directly depict Jacob Stroud, a surprising fact since Stroud was such an important figure in the development of the area. But there may be a painting in which Jacob Stroud can be incidentally found.

Jacob Stroud was born in Amwell Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey, on January 13, 1735. He was the second son of Barnard and Keziah (Harker) Stroud. The Stroud Family moved to Smithfield Township, Northampton County (now Monroe County), Pennsylvania, when Jacob was about 10 years old.

After moving across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, Barnard Stroud placed his son, Jacob, in the care of Nicholas DePue, the first European settler in the area and a large land-holder in Shawnee-on-Delaware. It was under DePue’s tutelage that Jacob Stroud learned the farming trade. (Interestingly, Bernard Stroud had also been an apprentice under DePue.)

When Jacob Stroud reached the age of 21, his apprenticeship was complete, and he enlisted as a private in the English Colonial Army for a term of five years. The French and Indian War had begun two years earlier, and through his enlistment, Jacob joined three of his brothers, James, John, and Bernard, all of whom were already fighting.

The French and Indian War (1754-1763) was fought between Britain and France over territorial supremacy as both nations looked to expand their ever-growing North American colonial empires. In particular, both governments wanted control of the valuable waterways of the Ohio, St. Lawrence, and Mississippi river valleys.

During the war, the four Stroud brothers made a commitment to each other that after each day of battle, they would set a rendezvous point at which to meet. This way, they could be certain their brothers were safe after a day of conflict. Jacob often relayed the story that, after a particularly “severe engagement,” he went to the predetermined location where he found only two of his three brothers waiting. John Stroud never arrived at the rendezvous, and the remaining three Stroud boys searched the battlefield by moonlight until they found their brother among the dead.

The Battle of Quebec, also known as The Battle of the Plains of Abraham, was a decisive battle during the French and Indian War. The battle began on September 13, 1759 near Quebec, which was a strategically important French city located along the northern side of the St. Lawrence River.

British General James Wolfe lead forces against French Marquis de Montcalm to take the city, and Jacob Stroud served alongside the general as one of his staff members.

Gen. Wolfe launched a bold night attack against the city and defeated the French forces. While the city fell to British control, both Wolfe and Montcalm were mortally wounded. Wolf died on the battlefield during the attack, and Montcalm died the following morning. The victory at the Battle of Quebec not only secured the American colonies for the British, but it also took New France (Canada) away from the French.

Legend has it that Jacob Stroud, John Fish, and Matthias Hutchinson were the three soldiers who were closest to Gen. Wolfe when he was shot and fell. The three soldiers carried the dying general off the battlefield to a safe place behind a rock. While lying mortally wounded, it was reported that Gen. Wolfe, upon hearing that the French had surrendered, uttered his last sentence, “Now God be praised, I die in peace.”

Because he won the decisive battle, Gen. Wolfe became known as “the hero of Quebec,” and his death became a source of national pride for English and colonial citizens. A number of poems, pamphlets, and plays were written about him, and in 1759, the House of Commons commissioned British sculptor Joseph Wilton to erect a monument in honor of Wolfe in Westminster Abbey.

In addition, a well-known artist of the time, Benjamin West, painted the famous scene depicting Gen. James Wolfe as he was about to die from the wounds he received during the 1759 battle of Quebec. West completed his painting in 1770, and the piece was first exhibited to the public at the Royal Academy in 1771. In the painting, the dying Wolfe is the central figure. While the battle rages on in the background, the St. Lawrence River can be seen on the right, and, to the left, a messenger is dismounting from his horse to deliver the news that the French had surrendered. Wolfe is surrounded by 13 men, six of whom have been positively identified because their likenesses were so accurate and the men were alive when West painted the scene.

Over the years, art and military historians have debated the accuracy of Benjamin West’s painting and the authenticity of the faces depicted in the painting. West, when questioned about any artistic license he may have taken, replied, “the same truth that guides the pen of the historian should govern the pencil of the artist. I consider myself as undertaking to tell this great event to the eye of the world; but, if instead of the facts of the transaction, I represent classical fictions, how shall I be understood by posterity! ... I want to mark the date, the place, and the parties engaged in the event.”

Despite West’s word that he had created a historically-accurate image, historians and scholars have discovered errors in the painting. The dying general is seen lying in the battlefield surrounded by “an entire chorus of admirers” rather than the documented “small party of soldiers” behind a rock. West also depicts a native American in the foreground of the painting, although no native peoples served alongside the British forces in Quebec.

A 1765 sketch of “The Death of General Wolfe” by West still exists. In the sketch, the number of individuals and the configuration of these individuals in relation to Gen. Wolfe mimic what is seen in the finished painting.

What differs between the artist’s sketch and the painting are the faces of those present. It has been noted that some faces are entirely different. Scholars have speculated that West created the drawing before he knew whom to include or, perhaps, before he was able to secure the officers who were present at the time of Wolfe’s death to sit for their portraits. Contemporaries of Benjamin West accused him of requiring payment from the soldiers before he would paint their likenesses in his work.

The only physical description we have of Jacob Stroud is that he was of “medium height and weight, with marked features, clear blue eyes and light reddish hair.” Jacob Stroud said he was at the side of Gen. Wolfe when he died. Can we believe oral tradition? Is Jacob Stroud’s image depicted in Benjamin West’s painting, “The Death of General Wolf?” We may never know.

Jacob Stroud was mustered out of the army on April 6, 1761. He returned home to Smithfield Township, where he married 18-year-old Elizabeth McDowell, Nicholas DePue’s granddaughter. He went on to become a very successful businessman and the founder of Stroudsburg.

This is only a brief history of the French and Indian War, Gen. Wolfe, and Jacob Stroud’s presence during the Battle of Quebec. For additional information, please contact the Monroe County Historical Association at (570) 421-7703.