The Wilkes Heritage Museum has been given a copy of a painting of Col. Benjamin Cleveland by an artist known for the historically accurate details of work.
Don Troiani of Southbury, Conn., unveiled his “Benjamin Cleveland’s War Prize” in September. Troiani’s artwork has appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor,” as well as in The Washington Post, The New York Times and National Geographic.
The Wilkes Heritage Museum received a giclee replica—or an exact reproduction of the Troiani painting—this week from the Allan Jones Foundation based in Cleveland, Tenn.
The foundation commissioned Troiani to paint the Col. Cleveland piece in 2011. Jones is founder and owner of Check Into Cash, one of the nation’s largest payday lending companies.
Troiani is known for his paintings of famous people and scenes from the American Revolution, Civil War and other historical times.
The 36-by-48-inch painting shows Cleveland and some of his men coming through woods on their way back to Wilkes after they helped win the Revolutionary War Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780.
Cleveland is riding a white horse formerly ridden by Major Patrick Ferguson, the English officer who was killed while commanding American loyalists at Kings Mountain.
By general consent, Cleveland was given Ferguson’s horse after his horse, “Roebuck,” was shot early in the battle.
Troiani teamed with experts from across the nation to work on the painting, including Henry Cooke, described by Jones as the nation’s most respected tailor of 18th century authentic historic clothing and a regular consultant for the History Channel.
Troiani will only do works that are historically accurate, said Jones.
The team conducting research for the painting working has yet to find a firsthand account from the Revolutionary era that describes Cleveland’s appearance in the war years, said Cooke, owner of Historical Costume Services in Randolph, Mass.
It is known that Cleveland was 6 feet tall and weighed 300 pounds, Cooke said. Although his nickname was “Old Roundabout,” Cooke said he reportedly very athletic.
Dr. Philip Mead, a professional historian from Harvard University who teaches Revolutionary War Theory, conducted research for the painting through the National Archives and located a period sword for Cleveland.
Tim Wilson, the shoe and boot maker for Colonial Williamsburg, made a pair of boots identical to the ones Cleveland would have worn. Williamsburg’s arms expert, Erik Goldstein, worked with Wilson to recreate a scabbard for an original Revolutionary War militia officer’s sword located by Mead.
Cooke hand-stitched the clothes and hat featured in the painting, while Tim Wilson, a shoe and boot maker for Colonial Williamsburg, made a pair of boots identical to the ones Cleveland would have worn. He ordered leather from England that is identical to that used in gentleman’s riding boots in the late 18th century.
Williamsburg’s arms expert, Erik Goldstein, worked with Wilson to recreate a scabbard for an original Revolutionary War militia officer’s sword located by Dr. Mead that was used in the painting, as well as an officer’s sword belt based on an original belt in the Williamsburg collection.
“The waistcoat in the painting features hand-embroidered silk that is identical to an authentic North Carolina waistcoat from 1770 that we are replicating,” Cooke said. “Every detail, down to the buttons, was embroidered by hand.”
Cleveland was an American pioneer and soldier in North Carolina who achieved legendary status for his service as a leader in the local Wilkes County militia during the Revolutionary War.
Cleveland’s militia was comprised of volunteers who were mostly farmers who didn’t wear uniforms but instead put on their “Sunday best” to go to war.
Cleveland played a key role in the American victory that occurred on Oct. 7, 1780, at the Battle of Kings Mountain.
“The defeat was called the turning point of the American Revolution in the South, and was the first hope for the Patriots of defeating the English,” said Toby Pendergrass of the Jones Foundation.
“The victory inspired the local Patriot cause and discouraged Loyalists from joining the ranks of the invading British forces.”
Pendergrass said Ferguson led an army into the mountains hoping to crush the rebels, but he was killed in the first 10 minutes of the battle. Cleveland had his horse shot out from under him during the last 10 minutes of the battle.
“At the battle, Cleveland took Ferguson’s white stallion as his war prize and rode it back to his estate, called Roundabout. He also took an English drum and proudly displayed it at the entrance hall to his estate,” Pendergrass said.
The white stallion was Cleveland’s “prized possession” and included a very fancy English-made leather saddle and an exquisite saddle blanket made of finer materials than Cleveland would have had access to in North Carolina.
Jones said Cleveland was a larger-than-life character, which made him a fascinating subject for the painting.
“He was a guy who knew how to get things done,” Jones said. “He was the richest man in his county and some said he actually controlled the county, although his home was15 miles out of town. Whether he was noteworthy or notorious depends on if you were a friend or an enemy.”
Cleveland served as a judge in Wilkes County and was known for hanging large numbers of Tories, or those who were loyal to the king. He hung so many Tories from an oak tree near the Wilkes County Courthouse that the tree became known as the Tory Oak, while Cleveland was called “The Terror of the Tories.”
Jones said, “He was very tough. People who knew him thought he was obsessed with hanging Tories and that he likely hung more of them than anyone else during the savage civil war between patriots and loyalists in this part of the South during the Revolution.”
Cleveland was born on May 28, 1738, and died in October 1806, at the age of 68. He was a judge in northwestern South Carolina after the war and is buried near the Tugaloo River in Oconee County, S.C.