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Colonel James Duncan


The portrait of Mexican War hero Colonel James Duncan by Mathew Brady


Click for Larger Image Colonel James Duncan

James Duncan
Born: Unknown
Died: Yellow Fever 1849
Pre-War: Unknown
War Service:
Florida war against the Seminole Indians and commanded an artillery company during the war with Mexico from 1846 to 1848.

The daguerreotype, the earliest photographic process, was announced in January 1839. It is a medium relying on a silver-coated copper plate that is sensitized and exposed in the camera and developed over mercury vapour. The resulting image is formed at the molecular level and, consequently, is characterized by subtle detail, clarity of definition, and a gradation of tones that is unlike anything we see in photography today.

The Palmer Museum acquired the large daguerreotype portrait of a man named James Duncan in February 1997. Duncan graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1834. Two years later, he served in the Florida war against the Seminole Indians and commanded an artillery company during the war with Mexico from 1846 to 1848. His heroics in the latter conflict caught the attention of army officials, and Duncan rose rapidly from captain to colonel. In late 1848, President James Polk appointed Colonel Duncan inspector general of the United States Army. The daguerreotype in the Palmer collection was made when Duncan came to New York City in December 1848, shortly before beginning his first inspection trip. A few months later, while visiting troops in Mobile, Alabama, he contracted yellow fever and died on July 3, 1849. Duncan's notoriety as a war hero was so great that even three years after his death the most fashionable portrait studio in New York City was still exhibiting his portrait as one of the select "Illustrious Americans."

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More information on; Duncan's Battery, Company A, 2nd US Artillery Mexican War

Source: Mathew Brady (American, c. 1823-1896), Portrait of James Duncan, c. 1848, half-plate daguerreotype, Collection of the Palmer Museum of Art, Penn State, Photo by Penn State Image Resource Centre


John A. Duncan of Sketraw, KCN, Fsa Scot.


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