The Artistry of

James Madison Alden
of the U.S. Boundary Commission

1834-1922

 

The following is taken from Katherine Church Holland's write up on James from the California Historical Society's web site.

The great great great grand grandson of the John Alden who had journeyed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower, and his wife Priscilla Mullins, James Madison Alden was born in Boxborough, Massachusetts on 26 September 1834.  Son of Robert Tate Alden and wife Sarah Brewer Taylor, and eldest of 6, James spent his formative years in Boston.  After his father's death 22 April 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 M. 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.

Interspersed with inland expeditions in California 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.

Other sources from the above information include:

Ask/Art http://www.askart.com/artist/A/james_madison_alden.asp?ID=6481

Alden Kin Search Project
http://www.alden.org/aldengen/pafg259.htm#19068

His works include:
H.B. COMPANY'S FORT AT VICTORIA, VANCOUVER'S ISLAND
SEPT. 1854

Above photograph courtesy of BC Archives
Call Number
PDP02143

FRASER'S RIVER : VIEW LOOKING DOWN FROM FT. LANGLEY
1858

Above photograph courtesy of BC Archives
Call Number
PDP00123

INDIAN VILLAGE, NANAIMO BAY, VANCOUVER'S ISLAND
1858

Above photograph courtesy of BC Archives
Call Number
PDP02144


 
Camp Similkameen
1858

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Camp Mooyie
1859

Photo courtesy of the National Archives, Washington, D.C. (138C)