When considering the intersection of United States history and the Discalced Carmelite Order, there is one figure who stands out. Charles Warren Currier’s history of Carmel in America provides fascinating insights into the life of one Mother Teresa of Jesus, a Discalced Carmelite nun from the first Discalced Carmelite foundation in Maryland (Juliana Sewell, 1799–1878).
She was a near relative of Francis Scott Key, author of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and she had strongly imbibed the patriotic spirit of her family. She always impressed it as a duty upon the young religious to pray for the political, social, and religious welfare of the country.
The celebration of the centennial anniversary of American Independence was a great joy to her heart, and she took much pleasure at the time in singing the Star-Spangled Banner and in relating little anecdotes of revolutionary days, which she had heard from her father [Clement Sewall], who, as we have seen, had been so intimately connected with General Washington [Clement Sewall was manager of the Georgetown City Tavern and served in the Revolution alongside his friend John Parke Custis, Washington’s stepson].
The Saturday morning edition of The Baltimore Sun on March 29, 1873, devotes several column inches to a news item concerning the “removal of the Carmelite nuns” to a newly constructed monastery at the intersection of Biddle and Caroline Streets in Baltimore. Of notable mention is “the daughter of Clement Sewell, a distinguished citizen of Georgetown, who was on intimate terms with General George Washington.”
Currier, C 1890, Carmel in America: a centennial history of the Discalced Carmelites in the United States, J. Murphy, Baltimore.
Featured image: American painter Edward Savage (1761–1817) created this iconic oil on canvas image of George Washington, the first president of the United States with his family sometime between 1789 and its first showing in 1796. The Washington Family has a unique history, as the gallery label from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC explains:
Edward Savage’s The Washington Family quickly became a veritable icon of our early national pride. In the winter of 1789–1790, President Washington and his wife posed for Savage in New York City, then the nation’s capital. Mrs. Washington’s grandchildren, adopted by the Washingtons after the deaths of their parents, probably also sat for their oil portraits in New York. Savage began to incorporate the separate life studies of their faces into a group portrait engraved on a copper plate. After a stay in England, he resumed the family portrait in Philadelphia—this time, however, in large format as an oil on canvas. The Washington Family was exhibited in 1796.
Savage’s catalogue states that Washington’s uniform and the papers beneath his hand allude to his “Military Character” and “Presidentship” respectively. With a map before her, Martha Washington is “pointing with her fan to the grand avenue,” now known as Pennsylvania Avenue. An enslaved man dressed in livery and a supposed vista down the Potomac complete the imaginary scene.
Savage’s self-taught ability to distinguish between satins, gauzes, and laces is nothing short of astonishing. However, the anatomy alternates between wooden and rubbery, and the family strangely avoids eye contact. Despite Savage’s lack of experience, his huge Washington Family remains one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken by a federal artist.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, pages 146–158, which is available as a free PDF at https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/american-paintings-18th-century.pdf