|Charles Willson Peale, The Artist in His Museum, 1822|
Collection of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Looking beyond the surface of his illustrious career, Peale's story reveals the complexity of race relations during the late 1700s and early 1800s. A slaveowner for decades, Peale has been praised for voting in favor of abolition, with one brief biography from 1955 going so far as to claim that Peale "hated slavery and freed those few he had inherited as soon as they could support themselves" (Oliver Jensen, "The Peales," American Heritage, April 1955). In truth, Peale never inherited slaves, he purchased them or accepted them as payment for his paintings. While he did eventually free his slaves, his writings suggest he was not concerned about the harm that slavery did to the enslaved; instead, he was concerned that slavery harmed the slave owners.