A painting of the city of Cleveland’s namesake — Col. Benjamin Cleveland will be on display later this month at the Museum Center at Five Points.
A special Revolutionary War exhibit will be on display at the museum to coincide with the April 19 unveiling of the Col. Benjamin Cleveland statue in the First Street Park.
The museum exhibit begins on April 18 and concludes in July.
The painting on display at the museum – titled “Benjamin Cleveland’s War Prize” – was created by Don Troiani, who is regarded as one of the most respected Revolutionary War artist.
The painting features Cleveland, one of history’s greatest patriots, leading his troops back home to Wilkes County after the Battle of Kings Mountain.
Troiani was commissioned to paint the Cleveland piece by the Allan Jones Foundation.
Six local models were used in the painting, including Josh Coleman, the sculptor who created the Col. Cleveland statue. The statue was commissioned by the Col. Benjamin Cleveland Chapter of the Tennessee Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Troiani, who is based in Southbury, Conn., does works that are historically accurate, said Jones, who is a member of SAR.
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 Col. Cleveland statue by Coleman and the Troiani painting are linked, as the sculptor used the war hero’s uniform in the painting in order to be historically accurate. The face on the sculpture is a composite of several of Cleveland’s past and present relatives.
In 2012, Henry Cooke — the nation’s most respected tailor of 18th century authentic historic clothing — visited Cleveland to discuss the Troiani painting and to meet Coleman.
Cooke, owner of Historical Costume Services in Randolph, Mass., and a regular consultant for the History Channel, said that while the heroics of Benjamin Cleveland are legendary, no historically accurate painting of the war hero existed prior to the Troiani piece.
An earlier painting of Cleveland that surfaced on the Internet was poorly researched and featured Cleveland as a general in the Continental Army, Cooke said.
While Cleveland served as a captain for three years in the 2nd North Carolina Regiment, he was never a general, Cooke noted. In 1778, he resigned his captaincy, and later led local militia in the Carolina backcountry as a militia colonel.
An American pioneer and soldier in North Carolina, Cleveland achieved legendary status for his service as a leader in the Wilkes County militia during the Revolutionary War. Cleveland’s team of militia was comprised of volunteers who were mostly farmers or “Overmountain Men,” who did not 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. It was during the Kings Mountain battle that Cleveland and four other colonels defeated Maj. Patrick Ferguson, who served under General Lord Cornwallis in the British army. The other colonels were William Campbell, Joseph McDowell, John Sevier and Isaac Shelby.
The defeat was called the turning point of the American Revolution in the South. It was the first hope for the Patriots of defeating the English.
Cooke said the victory inspired the local Patriot cause and discouraged Loyalists from joining the ranks of the invading British forces.
“Ferguson led an army into the mountains hoping to crush the rebels, but he was killed in the first 10 minutes of the battle,” Cooke said. “Col. 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.”
Cooke 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.
Cooke teamed with experts from across the nation to work on the painting.
Dr. Philip Mead, Harvard University historian and Revolutionary War Theory instructor, conducted research through the National Archives to locate a period sword for the painting.
Cooke hand-stitched the clothes and hat that were featured in the painting. Tim Wilson, a shoe and boot maker for Colonial Williamsburg, made a pair of boots identical to the ones Cleveland would have worn, right down to ordering specially made 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.
Cooke said through the research conducted for the painting, the team working on the painting did not find a firsthand account from the Revolutionary era that described the appearance of Benjamin Cleveland in the war years.
It is known that Cleveland was 6 feet tall and weighed 300 pounds, Cooke said. His nickname was “Old Roundabout,” yet he was reportedly very athletic.
Cooke pointed out Cleveland was a larger-than-life character.
“He was a man of action and certainly someone who knew how to get things done,” Cooke said. “He was the richest man in the county. It has been written that he controlled the county, even though he lived 15 miles out of town. Whether he was noteworthy or notorious depends on if you were on his good or bad side.”
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.”
Cooke said. “Some said 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.”
Benjamin Cleveland was born on May 28, 1738, and died in October 1806, at the age of 68, reportedly while eating breakfast, Cooke said. The exact date of his death is unknown.
The exhibit at the Museum Center at Five Points will feature more than the Troiani painting. Also featured will be the uniform worn by Col. Cleveland in the painting and a special “The Men Who Made Benjamin Cleveland’s War Prize” display that will reveal the identities of each local resident who participated in the project.