General James Gillespie

Male, #20265, (2 Dec 1754 - 18 May 1828)
Father*James Gillespie (c 1715 - Jun 1755)
Mother*Mary Young (c 1720 - c 1766)
Birth*2 Dec 1754 James was born at South Carolina on 2 Dec 1754. 
Death of FatherJun 1755 His father James Gillespie died in Jun 1755 at Craven Co., South Carolina
Death of Mothercirca 1766 His mother Mary Young died circa 1766 at Craven Co., South Carolina
American Revolution*between 1775 and 1783 He provided service in the American Revolutionary War between 1775 and 1783
(DAR Listing: James Gillespie, born 2 Dec 1754 in South Carolina, died 18 May 1828 in South Carolina, married Sarah Wild, Sergeant, South Carolina.)1 
Portrait*say 1795 He was in a portrait say 1795 at Darlington District, South Carolina:
Rockford Morning Star, Sunday, Jan. 15, 1967, page A 15 -- By Dolores Pollen, Morning Star Correspondent

PECATONICA -- When S. L. Gillespie recently salvaged a damaged portrait from the attic of his family home in South Carolina, he brought it back to Rockford, hoping to have it restored.

William J. Purnell, Pecatonica artist, accepted the challenge. The canvas apparently had been neglected for many years and required a great amount of research and work to achieve a satisfactory end result.

According to a family Bible, the figure in the painting is that of James Gillespie, who lived in Cheraw, Marlboro County, South Carolina from 1754 to 1828. The Bible notations also state that it was painted by Thomas Sully (1783 - 1872) [note from William L. Gillespie: not true; not in Bible, probably not by Sully].

Sully, considered to be the last of the "American old masters," was a prominent English-born American artist, best noted for his portraits of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, "Portrait of Eliza," and "The Torn Hat." He was a pupil of Gilbert Stuart, and finished Stuart's portrait of John Quincy Adams. During his career, Sully painted more than 2,500 portraits.

"It is quite probable that he did the portrait of my ancestor during the early part of his career," Gillespie said.

James Gillespie is a direct paternal ancestor of S. L. Gillespie, and it states in "A History of Marlboro County," that he served three terms in the state legislature.

When Purnell received the masterpiece for restoration, it was in a great state of disrepair.

"The entire background, clothing, and portions of the head were devoid of paint, except for minute areas which gave a clue as to color," Purnell related "The canvas was torn in areas."

Purnell had the canvas removed from the stretcher and mounted on hardboard by a Rockford art shop. He then did a considerable amount of research on the original artist, so Sully's technique could be followed.

Research on clothing worn by aristocracy of that era was also done, since the canvas was so badly deteriorated. In some places, only bare outlines visible.

After research was completed and the canvas repaired, the task of actual painting started.

"I worked on much of it through a magnifying glass in order to pick up colors of paint," Purnell said. "Only flecks of paint were showing in many areas. The features of the face were there, although the hair and sideburns on one side were missing.

"Although the project entailed hours of research and painstaking work at the easel," he said, " I feel satisfied with the outcome. Considering that the original painting is almost 200 years old, it was a gratifying experience to restore it."

Both Gillespie and Purnell are employed by the Woodward Governor Co., Gillespie in the research department and Purnell in publications as a professional artist.

He is a graduate of the Layton School of Art, Milwaukee, and also teaches adult art classes at the YWCA in Rockford.

Caption beneath the photo:

FINISHING TOUCHES... W. J. Purnell, Pecatonica artist, put the finishing touches on an old painting he restored for a Rockford co-worker, S. L. Gillespie. The painting, about 200 years old, was done by Thomas Sully, the last of the "American old masters." (Morning Star photo.)2
General James Gillespie Jr.
Death*18 May 1828 He died on 18 May 1828 at age 73. 
Biography* The Gillespie family Bible can be found at:
Last Edited30 Apr 2012


  1. DAR Patriot Index, Washington, DC: National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, 2003.
  2. E-mail written 2001 - 2002 to Lew Griffin from William Lockwood Gillespie, Fort Collins, CO, e-mail address.