Lieut. James Madison Alden

Male 1834 - 1922  (87 years)

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  • Name James Madison Alden 
    Title Lieut. 
    Born 23 Sep 1834  Massachusetts, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Gender Male 
    Died 10 May 1922  Orlando, Orange, Florida, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Buried Arlington, Alexandria, Virginia, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    • Arlington National Cemetery
    Person ID I5765  My Genealogy
    Last Modified 22 Feb 2020 

    Family 1 Charlotte Elizabeth Bowie,   b. 29 Dec 1830, Prince George's, Maryland, USA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1886  (Age 55 years) 
    Married 10 Apr 1867  Washington, District of Columbia, USA Find all individuals with events at this location 
     1. Sarah Alden,   b. Abt 1872, District of Columbia, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  [natural]
    Last Modified 22 Feb 2020 
    Family ID F2008  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Married Abt 1880 
    Last Modified 22 Feb 2020 
    Family ID F2009  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 23 Sep 1834 - Massachusetts, USA Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsMarried - 10 Apr 1867 - Washington, District of Columbia, USA Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 10 May 1922 - Orlando, Orange, Florida, USA Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsBuried - - Arlington, Alexandria, Virginia, USA Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 

  • Notes 
    • - The stream of ships carrying Argonauts to the gold fields of California plied waters fraught with danger. The Pacific coastline, charted only sketchily by early explorers, proved to be deadly for many bound for the calm waters of San Francisco Bay. In response, the United States government initiated the Coast Survey, mandated to accurately map the myriad offshore hazards, as well as the inlets, capes and bays that defined the western edge of the continent. Aboard the vessels that plotted the coast were not only surveyors and scientists, but artists like James Madison Alden - who recorded both faithfully and as interpretations - the views they beheld.

      In spring 1854, James Madison Alden arrived in San Francisco, eager to begin work as a cartographer for the United States Navy. Alden, a descendant of the John Alden who had journeyed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower was born in Boxborough, Massachusetts in 1834 and spent his formative years in Boston. After his father's death in 1853, he enlisted in the naval force and was assigned to the West Coast charting project. Following instruction in mapmaking in Washington City (now Washington, D.C.), the young Alden sailed for California via the Chagres River across the Isthmus of Panama. Upon reaching San Francisco, he was assigned to the steamer Active under the command of his uncle, then Lieutenant James Alden. James Madison Alden was charged with sketching and coloring the many points of interest he was to observe during the ship's tours along the western coast. Also on board the Active was William Birch McMurtrie, a fellow artist who had arrived in California in 1849 and had painted several early vistas of the fledgling settlement of San Francisco. McMurtrie was assigned to draw precise views that could be used in survey charts. After an initial foray in San Francisco Bay, the Active turned north and spent the summer cruising the waters off Washington Territory.

      In February 1855, the Active towed the sloop U.S.S. St Mary's to the new navy yard at Mare Island near Vallejo where Alden executed a highly detailed rendering of the disabled vessel and a view of the navy yard. Perhaps because of McMurtrie's influence, these watercolors are tighter than Alden's later work and exhibit a diligent attention to record rather than aesthetic interpretation. Reflective of Alden's position with the survey are the notations on these drawings -- and subsequent works -- that describe the scene. Inscribed on the verso of the watercolor of Mare Island, for instance. are the words, "View of Mare Island with the tules or marshes in the distance. The Active can be seen above the Sloop of War St. Mary's that she has just towed up from San Francisco. Don't mistake the Active's two masts & a smoke-stack... The workmen are crossing to Vallejo to go home to supper..."

      During the fall of 1855 Alden sailed south, stopping at Santa Barbara, where by land he traced the El Camino Real to Mission San Buenaventura. His depiction faithfully reports the architecture of the church and its outbuildings and alludes to the everyday activities of mission life. Another trip to Southern California took place the following year when, aboard the schooner Ewing, the surveying crew was given the task of logging the currents that flowed through Santa Barbara Channel and around the Channel Islands.

      By 1857, Alden had travelled the length of the coast, from the border with Mexico to the as-yet undelineated boundary line of British America, but he had not explored the inland territory. In the spring he trekked to the counties north of San Francisco Bay -- Marin, Sonoma and Lake -- and the following year he ventured up the Sacramento River to the Gold Rush diggings of Sierra County. The spring of 1859 found him visiting Yosemite Valley and the giant redwoods of Calaveras County. The drawings from these tours of inland California give insight into Alden's working methods, for while some are meticulously finished with sensitive coloration and accurate detailing, many are quick sketches, broadly drawn, with notations, not only as to place, date, time of day and, often, direction of the view, but also of colors presumably to be used later when the drawing would be "worked up" into finished form. The views display a respectful awe of the scale of the land and the wonders of geological patterning.

      Interspersed with these inland expeditions were cruises in 1857, 1858, 1859 and 1860 to the Pacific Northwest where the water boundary between the United States and British America was in dispute. In January 1858 Alden became the official artist of the Northwestern Boundary Survey, a body charged with gathering information to help determine the setting of the border. His duties took him throughout the straits and sounds of the Northwest, and inland to the Continental Divide. In his final trip for the survey, which began in late summer 1860, Alden followed the Fraser River to the Hudson's Bay Company outpost at Fort Hope, then climbed up and over the summit of the Rocky Mountains. Battling snow and cold as winter approached, he continued south through eastern Washington Territory, along the Grand Canyon of the Palouse River and back to San Francisco. Undoubtedly weary of the arduous life of a western explorer, Alden quickly boarded a steamer bound for New York and served out his assignment with the Northwestern Boundary Commission in Washington, D.C. There he expanded many of his field drawings into large-scale detailed works. In 1863 he re-enlisted in the Navy and became secretary to Admiral David Porter whom he served until 1891. His final years were spent in Florida, where he died in 1922.

      James Madison Alden's quick sketches convey the working methods of an artist recording cogent facts about a newly discovered landscape. His finished works attest to the powers of his sense of color, innate appreciation of form and skilled handling of the watercolor medium. Through his eyes, through his strokes, the landscape of the western edge of North America -- vistas of sea and land -- becomes a reality. In his drawings and paintings, Alden combines the history and the art history of California. [Source: "Past Exhibitions: James Madison Alden, Watercolors & Drawings," by Katherine Church Holland, California Historical Society, <>]

      - In 1860, James was in Washington Territory as an Artist with many other civil employees such as a US Commissioner, surveyors, a geologist, and an astronomer. He was part of the United States Boundary Commission.

      - According to the 1880 Washington DC Federal Census, James's father was born in Massachusettes; his mother was born in Maine.

      - During the time of the 1910 Orange County, Florida Federal Census, James had his nephew, Thomas Hulett, living with him. Thomas was 15 years old and born in England. Since James' second wife, Frances H. was also born in England, Thomas could be the son of a sibling of her's. Since Frances is listed with a middle initial of H, Hulett may be her maiden name, and Thomas could be the son of a brother. He could also be the son of Carrie Hewlett, the sister-in-law of James living with him in the 1900 Orange County, Florida Federal Census.

      - Evening Star (Washington, DC) 22 May 1922, pg. 7 [GenealogyBank]
      ALDEN, At Orlando, Fla., May 10, 1922, JAMES MADISON ALDEN, late lieutenant, U.S.N., in the 88th year if his age. Interment at Arlington.

  • Sources 
    1. [S59] 1880 Washington, Washington DC Federal Census.

    2. [S557] Evening Star, Washington, District of Columbia (online archive), "Deaths." 22 May 1922, pg. 7, accessed 23 June 2014, name of interest: James Madison Alden.