Joseph Badger
Captain-Lieutenant John Larrabee
, about 1750

Captain-Lieutenant John Larrabee is a full-length portrait of an older man standing in a coastal landscape. His body faces three-quarters to the right, and his head is turned forward. Larrabee’s proper right arm is akimbo, with his index and middle finger forming a horizontal V shape at his waist. His other fingers are curled under, with his hand holding back his open coat. His proper left hand holds a spyglass with a variegated red and dark-brown case and brass fittings at either end. The upright spyglass rests on the barrel of a black cannon immediately behind Larrabee and just below his waist. Just above the cannon at the figure’s proper left side is the gold handle of a small sword, which is strapped to his side. Larrabee’s weight rests on his proper right leg, which points slightly right. His left leg is turned outward, with the contour of his calf muscle clearly defined and his foot nearly in silhouette.

Larrabee wears a white, tightly curled shoulder-length wig. His face is fleshy, and his blue eyes stare intensely at the viewer. His complexion is ruddy, and there are white highlights running the length of his nose and shadows on both sides of his face, in his eye sockets, to the right of his nose, and under his chin.

Larrabee wears a white shirt with a neck band and a pleated front, a brown greatcoat with cloth buttons, black waistcoat, and brown breeches. His clothes are simply cut and relatively unadorned. His coat, lined with a contrasting reddish-brown fabric, features broad cuffs; the right cuff corner folds back in a slight trompe l’oeil curl, which is echoed by an opposing curl on the flap of his pocket. A square buckle is visible on the band at the bottom of his breeches on his knee. His white stockings are ornamented with embroidery that forms an inverted V with lines at the top and abstract floral designs to the sides. His black shoes have large rectangular buckles with rounded corners, floral designs on the top and bottom, and scalloped arches tracing the perimeter.

A wedge of land extends from the center-left to the bottom-left corner and to the bottom right of the composition. A tree fills the right edge and extends behind Larrabee. The ground is rocky, eroded, and brown, with sparse grass in the foreground and a denser patch of grass behind the figure to the right. The sky is filled with cumulus clouds and painted in soft blues and peaches. The water is deep blue along the horizon, shifting to dark gray-blue toward the foreground. Out on the water are five vessels. On the horizon, three sailing ships are faintly visible. A fourth ship, slightly forward, is painted with considerably more detail, including red pennants fore and aft, two masts with three and two sails each, and a row of gun ports along the bow. In front of that ship is a long boat, rowed by an eight-man crew, with four oars visible on the viewer’s side. A man in a red uniform and black hat stands facing the crew; behind him, another figure stands facing in the same direction.

John Larrabee was born in Lynn or Malden, Massachusetts, about 1686 to Stephen (1652–1719) and Isabella Larrabee.1 On September 29, 1710, he married Elizabeth Jordan, daughter of Robert Jordan, in Malden.2 They had at least four children, including a child who was baptized in 1711, followed by a son, John (1713–1778), and two daughters, Elizabeth (1715–1746) and Sarah (1719–1791).3 Although Larrabee "mostly resided" at Castle William, he purchased a parcel of land on Charter Street at the north end of Boston in 1726, valued at 300 pounds. By the time he died, that property had been developed to include "My Mansion house and Land with the Outhouses & Edifices thereon."4 He left the land to his two surviving children.

Figure 1. A PLAN of CASTLE WILLIAM and Island, at Boston, to the Rt. Hon.ble Mr. Secretary Pitt, by Pownall, about 1757–59, 8 11/16 x 9 13/16 in. (22 x 25 cm), Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MHS Neg. #470. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Not to be reproduced without the written permission of the Society.

By 1707, Larrabee had entered public service and four years later was working at Castle William, the Boston Harbor fortification that he would later command (fig. 1).5 Castle Island was established as a fort in 1634, and Castle William was erected there between 1701 and 1705 under the direction of the British Crown’s chief military engineer in North America, Colonel Wolfgang William Romer. The fortifications, made of brick and wood and measuring 180 feet from bastion to bastion, consisted of three lines of defense: the waterfront, the secondary line, and the fort itself. It was supplied in 1705 with twenty cannons; by 1742 there were eighty-four cannons, and twenty more desired.6 The cannon pictured directly behind Larrabee evokes this important feature of the Castle William defenses.

As one obituary of Larrabee would note, "from a common Soldier [he] rose to be Captain-Lieutenant."7 By 1720, he was identified as quarter gunner, an office subordinate to the gunner.8 Two years later, he was listed as sergeant, and according to his own account, promoted later that year to lieutenant, a rank that entailed the daily management of the fort.9 As specified in the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s 1691 charter, the nominal, nonresident commander of Castle William was the lieutenant-governor, who held the rank of captain and to whom Larrabee reported. The annual salaries listed in the muster rolls suggest Larrabee’s relative importance at the fort: he was paid £28/11/5 as lieutenant, compared to £56/3/10 for Captain Spencer Phips (the lieutenant-governor), and £33/6/8 apiece for the chaplain and gunner.

Larrabee’s compensation also included his living expenses and a slave named York, whom Larrabee described in 1740 as "able to Do Duty in that service and [who] has bin faithful therein for several years."10 York served Larrabee from the late 1730s until 1762, when his master died. Larrabee’s will freed York and granted him a suit of mourning clothes. It also stated that if York should become sick or unable to sustain himself, "I Order that he be Supported out of my Estate."11

On several occasions Larrabee petitioned the colonial for additional compensation. For instance, in 1739 he wrote: "That his being So Long in the Service of His Country has prevented him puting himself into a way of business to provide any thing Whereby to Settle his Children in the world (wch is the Duty of Parents to do by all Honest & prudent ways and Means)." The House of Representatives responded the following month by granting Larrabee 175 pounds in new tenor bills and 500 acres of unappropriated land.12

As captain-lieutenant, Larrabee commanded an armed force ranging between 60 and 120 men.13 One of his surviving certificates of appointment as lieutenant shows that in that role he was responsible for "all the Batteries, Fortifications & Platforms upon the said Island, and of the Soldiers which are, or from time to time shall be posted in Garrison there, or sent down for the further strengthning thereof upon any Occasion."14 In letters, he sometimes referred to himself as lieutenant and "Victualler of the Garrison," meaning that he was to supply food and other provisions to the men stationed there. Larrabee’s letters contain requests for allotments to pay for food, firewood, and coats for the soldiers and for increases of the per-man allowance he received to provide for them.15 Lists of expenses—as in a 1736 summary of accounts with a painter, brazier, oar maker, tin man, glazier, flag maker, carpenter, and laborer—demonstrate that Larrabee was more broadly responsible for the upkeep of the garrison.16 His responsibility for the boats at Castle William is indicated by his request for funds to purchase a new yawl, a small transport boat, which he described as "Twenty three feet Keil & six feet seven inches Beam."17 It is possible that just such a boat is depicted in the background of the painting.18

Larrabee continued in office at Castle William until his death in 1762, when as his several obituaries demonstrate, he commanded public respect and admiration. "He deservedly acquired and sustained the reputation of an officer honest, good and faithful," one of them noted. "He steadily discovered himself to be a regular and serious attender on the offices of Religion; kind to his Relatives, Friends and Acquaintances; charitable and liberal to the Poor; a lover of good men; and benevolently humane and courteous to all about him."19 Larrabee was buried at Castle William.20

This is Joseph Badger’s most ambitious extant portrait. It is larger than any of his other canvases and is his only known full-length portrait of an adult. He painted many three-quarter-length portraits of adults and full-length likenesses of children, frequently with landscape backgrounds. Despite its weaknesses—namely, the limitations of drawing in the proper right hand, the woodenness of the modeling, and the unconvincing illusion of space—the painting is among Badger’s strongest accomplishments. Larrabee projects a convincingly authoritative air, and his professional role is clearly signified by the attributes included: the spyglass, sword, cannon, and the ships at sea in the distance.

There is no documentation of the commission to paint this portrait, but it seems likely that John Larrabee ordered the painting to hang at Castle William. The scale suggests that it was intended for public, rather than domestic, display. Full-length Grand Manner portraits of the eighteenth century often commemorated a defining episode in a sitter’s life. For instance, between 1745 and 1751 several of Larrabee’s contemporaries who distinguished themselves in the capture of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, from the French in 1745 commissioned portraits from Robert Feke, Thomas Hudson, and John Smibert.21

Figure 2. Robert Feke, Brigadier General Samuel Waldo, about 1748, oil on canvas, 96 3/4 x 60 1/4 in. (245.7 x 153 cm), Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, Bequest of Mrs. Lucy Flucker Thatcher, 1855.003.

Badger and his patron were clearly conscious of those portraits, because the composition of Captain- Lieutenant John Larrabee closely follows that of Feke’s Brigadier General Samuel Waldo (fig. 2). Indeed, Badger’s figure is nearly the mirror image of Feke’s, which features Waldo, second in command in the Louisbourg assault, similarly posed in a landscape, left arm akimbo and right hand holding a baton (instead of a spyglass) in a vertical position. Both subjects stand erect, their weight resting on the back foot and the front foot gracefully turned outward. The art historian Margaretta Lovell has demonstrated that this pose stems from eighteenth-century etiquette books. She quotes from one published in London in 1737: "The whole body must rest on the right foot and the right knee, . . . the Back be kept straight; the left leg must be foremost and only bear its own weight, and both feet must be turned outwards."22

Both portraits are set in an appropriate landscape—Feke’s showing the fort at Louisbourg in the background, Badger’s evoking the shore at Castle William. Badger probably saw the Feke portrait, since he painted Samuel Waldo’s first cousin Cornelius Waldo and his wife, Faith. Badger also painted a Louisbourg officer, Capt. John Marston (about 1755, location unknown), showing the ruins of a fort labeled "Louisbourg" in the background.23 He might have met John Larrabee through the Brattle Street Church, where both men’s children were baptized.24

Why Larrabee had his portrait painted in such an auspicious way has puzzled some art historians. For instance, Michael Quick, who in 1981 organized a major exhibition of American Grand Manner portraiture, wrote of this portrait:

[T]here is no single act of valor in his career as we know it to suggest the justification for a public commission of a portrait that would honor him and allow him to join the gallery of worthies in Faneuil Hall. It also would have been unlikely that a private individual of Larrabee’s station in life would himself commission a monumental portrait. The only possibility that suggests itself is that Larrabee commissioned the painting to hang as a state portrait at Castle William, as royal governors hang their portraits in the seat of government, but there is no precedent at the level of the military commander.25

Larrabee may have identified with such heroes of Louisbourg as Samuel Waldo, whose portrait by Feke was so clearly a model for his own. As commander of the principal fortification of Boston, one of the chief ports in British North America, Larrabee was in a position to support military expeditions. For example, Castle William contributed to the effort to take Louisbourg in 1745 by lending guns to the fleet that defeated the French there.26

In his official capacity, Larrabee reported to another Louisbourg hero, the colonial Massachusetts governor William Shirley, who sat for John Smibert in 1746 (location unknown) and for Thomas Hudson in 1750 (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.). Shirley readied Castle William in the event of French retaliation after Louisbourg, ordering the preparation of twenty forty-two- pound cannons and construction of a barracks to house a thousand men, improvements that Larrabee would have administered. Indeed, the garrison was reinforced with guns captured from the French at Louisbourg, and the cannons roared at the fort in January 1746 to honor Shirley’s triumphant return. Although the anticipated French attack never occurred, the governor’s plans demonstrate the perceived significance of Castle William to colonial defense and, by extension, Larrabee’s importance as its commander.27 Although the painting seems to have been prompted by the Louisbourg capture and ensuing portraits of its heroes, Badger’s portrait honors Larrabee’s long and steady career as a public servant at Castle William rather than his role in a single episode.

The argument that Larrabee was identifying with the Louisbourg heroes suggests an earlier date for the portrait of him than is traditionally assigned, that is, about 1760. It seems likely that Badger’s portrait would have followed Feke’s painting of Waldo closely, in about 1750. That earlier date is also supported by the sitter’s age. Although Larrabee is represented as a man of advanced years, he appears to be closer to sixty-four years old than to seventy-four, his ages in 1750 and 1760, respectively. Lawrence Park, who wrote the first monograph on Badger in 1917, proposed the later date. Park’s date is not explained but seems to reflect his assessment that this "is the largest and in some ways, the most important canvas by Badger, which I have found"28—the implication being that Badger could only have attained that level of accomplishment near the end of his career. An earlier date for the work also is supported by the style of Larrabee’s wig and clothes.29

Badger tended to reuse poses and formats. For instance, the overall composition closely resembles the one he employed in Captain Thomas Shippard (about 1758, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts). Although that portrait is a three-quarter-length one, the body is oriented in the same way as Larrabee’s. As in the Larrabee, land occupies the left side of the painting, and water with ships appears on the right. The paintings are even similar in the trompe l’oeil flip of fabric at the edge of the cuff on the right sleeve and in the positioning of the fingers, with index and middle digits extended in a V. That hand gesture was frequently repeated in Badger’s portraits of men, including John Adams (about 1750, location unknown); Timothy Orne (1757, location unknown); Thomas Savage (1758, Miss Helen B. Page, Washington, D.C., in 1972); Stephen Brown (about 1758, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston); and Benjamin Badger (about 1762, Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware).

Joseph Badger often painted several members of the same family, for example the Waldos and Ornes. He also depicted at least one other member of Larrabee’s family in Sarah (Larrabee) Edes (about 1760, Los Angeles County Museum of Art). That three-quarter-length portrait of his adult daughter shows the woman seated in a pose also borrowed from an English print: a mezzotint by Isaac Beckett (after Willem Wissing), The Princess Anne (about 1683). Interestingly, that print also was the prototype for Feke’s portrait Mrs. James Bowdoin II (Elizabeth Erving) (1748, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine).30 In place of the beads held by the English sitter, Badger’s daughter holds a blue flower in her proper left hand and rests her open right hand in her lap. Although the early provenance for both Badger portraits has been lost, it seems likely that they descended together until well into the nineteenth century; one of the first published mentions of Captain-Lieutenant John Larrabee notes that it "came down through the Edes family."31

John Larrabee is dressed like an American gentleman of the mid-eighteenth century rather than as a military officer. The pleating on the stock and the embroidery on his stockings, a type of decoration known as clocking, are characteristic of fine-quality clothing of the period.32 Although one might expect conservative dress on an older man, Larrabee’s clothes more likely suggest the cut and fabrics of the 1740s or early 1750s. After that date, his waistcoat would have been one of brighter colors, perhaps ornamented with needlework, and the textiles probably would have included silks and other exotic fabrics. As noted above, the folds in his coat are echoed in the lines of the one worn by Captain Thomas Shippard in his portrait by Badger, suggesting the possibility that the clothes, too, were borrowed from a mezzotint.

The vessels in the Larrabee portrait do not represent actual boats but probably were derived from English engravings. The central ship appears identical to one in the portrait of the merchant James Bowdoin (about 1746–47, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine).33 As in other Badger portraits, attributes served as emblematic references to the sitter’s life rather than specific references to the exact ship that a merchant owned or that an officer of a fort protected. Badger was probably following the lead of John Smibert, the sophisticated London-trained Scottish artist in Boston who lived near the younger American painter. In 1744 Smibert wrote to fellow artist Arthur Pond in London requesting prints of ships: "These ships I want sometime for to be in a distant view in Portraits of Merchts etc who chuse such, so if there be any done since send them but they must be in the modern construction."34 The vessel in the middle of Larrabee’s portrait flies long red pennants that identify it as a ship in the Royal Navy. Since Larrabee never served in the navy, the ship is typical of those that might have entered the port he protected.35 Precisely identifying the kinds of ships pictured is difficult, but it has been suggested that the central one is a brig, frigate, or sloop-of-war.36 The others may include a shallop, snow, or corvette.37 The rowboat—perhaps a yawl, pinnace, or barge—manned by a crew of eight is of a type used to transport crew from shore to a vessel anchored offshore.38 As suggested in the above biography of the sitter, it is possible that the boat is a yawl, given Larrabee’s mention in a letter of one such craft at Castle William.

The spyglass Larrabee holds also represents his position as commander of a harbor fortification. The maritime historian Jane Allen has suggested that this was an especially appropriate item for a merchant or a military seaman: "The spyglass was usually red, the painter’s version of the leather casing. It was a particularly important instrument for the sea captain, used to sight breakers on reefs or shore lines, other vessels at sea, and for making landfall."39 Together, the attributes included in the painting—the spyglass, boats, cannon, and sword—strongly suggest that John Larrabee was a powerful man, charged with protecting a vital port.

1. Larrabee’s birth year is based on obituaries stating that he was "aged 76" and "in the 76th Year of Age" in 1762. Boston News-Letter, February 18, 1762, and Green and Russells Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, February 15, 1762. His birthplace is based on a long line of Larrabees in Lynn, according to Ridlon 1895, 821. Cora Stanwood Cobb, a descendant of John Larrabee, to Louisa Dresser, November 4, 1940, gives his birthplace as Malden. According to a 1977 genealogy, his father settled in Malden. Johnson 1977, 43. Both Lynn and Malden are north of Boston and near one another.

2. Records of the Town of Malden, cited in Edes 1862, 15.

3. Brattle Square 1902, 131, 133, 136; Ridlon 1895, 822; Ancient Artillery II, 8; and Columbian Centinel, Boston, May 21, 1791.

4. For Larrabee living mainly at Castle William, see Boston Evening Post, February 15, 1762. For the property on Charter Street, see Will of John Larrabee, signed December 10, 1760, entered February 19, 1762, Suffolk County Probate, 12904; Thomas and Sarah Edes to John Larrabee (1713–1778), April 14, 1762, Suffolk County Deeds, Massachusetts Archives, 97.219; and Ridlon 1895, 822.

5. John Larrabee to Governor Jonathan Belcher et al., May 30, 1739, and Larrabee to Lieutenant-Governor Spencer Phips et al., March 30, 1753, Massachusetts Archives, Military 1712–47, vol. 72, 478, and Military 1751–55, vol. 74, 98.

6. Reid 1995, 3, 5, 21–27.

7. Green and Russells Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, February 15, 1762.

8. John Clark to James Scolley, November 18, 1720, Massachusetts Archives, Military 1712–47, vol. 72, 20; Oxford English Dictionary.

9. Muster Roll, 1722, Massachusetts Archives, vol. 91, 69; Larrabee to Belcher et al., May 30, 1739; and Larrabee to Phips et al., March 30, 1753.

10. Larrabee to Belcher et al., November 1740; Muster Roll, November 1754–May 1755, Massachusetts Archives, Military 1712–47, vol. 72, 544, and vol. 93, 164.

11. Will of John Larrabee.

12. Larrabee to Belcher et al., November 1740; and J. Quincy, Speaker of the House of Representatives, June 22, 1739, Massachusetts Archives, Military 1712–47, vol. 72, 478–79a. The resulting plat is dated December 24, 1739, Massachusetts Archives, Maps and Plans, vol. 46, 107.

13. See Acts, Massachusetts, I, 1869, 631, setting the force at 80 men in 1709; and III, 1878, 982, limiting the force to 120. See also Larrabee to the Council and House of Representatives (protesting proposed reduction of force from sixty to fifty soldiers), April 8, 1757, Massachusetts Archives, Military 1757–59, vol. 76, 624.

14. Governor William Shirley to Larrabee, commission dated August 10, 1753, Massachusetts Historical Society, Mss L.

15. Larrabee to Lieutenant-Governor William Dummer et al., May 31, 1727; Larrabee to Shirley et al., November 25, 1741, Massachusetts Archives, Military 1712–47, vol. 72, 280, 576.

16. Account of the Province of Massachusetts with Larrabee, February 17, 1736, Massachusetts Archives, vol. 245, doc. 700, folio 119.

17. Larrabee to Shirley et al., October 29, 1754, Massachusetts Archives, Military 1751–55, vol. 74, 257.

18. A yawl was a small craft that may or may not have been outfitted with sails. For an example without sails, see Thomas Blanckley, A Naval Expositor (London, 1750), as illustrated in Allen 1993, 152. For one with sails, see sale notice, Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury, May 25, 1762.

19. Boston News-Letter, February 25, 1762, as quoted in NEHGR 19 (1865), 124–25. See also Boston Evening Post, February 15, 1762; Green and Russells Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, February 15, 1762; Boston News-Letter, February 18, 1762.

20. Reid 1995, 58.

21. Miles 1983.

22. François Nivelson, The Rudiments of Genteel Behavior (London, 1737), as quoted in Lovell 1987, 245.

23. Park 1918a, 28.

24. Brattle Square 1902, 131, 133, 136, 156, 159, 165, 169.

25. Quick 1981, 94.

26. Snow 1967, n.p.

27. Reid 1995, 27, 28.

28. Park 1918a, 25.

29. Nigel Arch, Director, Kensington Palace, London, to Laura K. Mills, January 6, 1999.

30. Sellers 1957, 429, 431.

31. Ridlon 1895, 821. The portraits do not appear in Sarah Larrabee Edes’s probate inventory.

32. This observation is based on my conversation with the costume historian Claudia Brush Kidwell, May 3, 1999.

33. Docherty 1994, 78 n 28.

34. As quoted in Saunders and Miles 1987, 24.

35. Roger Quarm, Curator of Pictures, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England, to Laura K. Mills, February 24, 1999.

36. Daniel Finamore, Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History, Peabody Essex Museum, to Laura K. Mills, November 24, 1998; William M. Fowler, Jr., Director, Massachusetts Historical Society, to Laura K. Mills, November 7, 1998.

37. Finamore to Mills, December 21, 1998; F. Michael Angelo, Independence Seaport Museum, Philadelphia, to Laura K. Mills, December 2, 1998.

38. Jane E. (Allen) Epstein, Executive Director, Noyes Museum of Art, Oceanville, N.J., to Laura K. Mills, November 18, 1998; Allen 1993, 152; William M. Fowler, Jr., to Laura K. Mills, November 7, 1998.

39. Allen 1991, 52.