Casting Call for a Hero

A talented New England sculptor was commissioned to produce a bronze piece to commemorate the valiant Captain John Lovewell and the desperate fight waged by his rangers after he was killed in an ambush at Saco Pond in 1725.  There is a fascinating series of youtube videos leading us through the whole process, from early sketches to final casting.  The subject of the sketches is one of John Lovewell’s descendants, who surely must resemble one of his ancestors, though we can’t be certain which one, or which of several, he happens to favor.

Captain John was Thomas Lovewell’s great-great-grandfather, which is to say that he was one of sixteen relatives who contributed to Thomas’s DNA profile.  In turn, Thomas is the great-great-grandfather of several members of my generation, making each of those great-great-grandchildren 1/16th times 1/16th, or the 1/256th part of Captain John Lovewell’s genetic makeup.  While not exactly a drop in the bucket, that is still some serious genetic dilution.  Yet, lacking pictorial evidence of Captain John Lovewell’s appearance, what else can we do but look to one of Captain John Lovewell’s descendants, cross our fingers, and hope for the best? 

When I showed a picture of the clay model of Captain John to attendees at the Lovewell/Davis reunion in June, I commented that the sculpture somewhat resembles Thomas’s sister Hepsabeth.  The line got a chuckle, but I was only half-joking.  Photographs of the artist’s model and Thomas’s sister do both convey a hungry, rather careworn look.

The fact is, we don’t know what Captain John Lovewell looked like.  His fame was not widespread until after his death, so there were probably no life-drawings or other likenesses made of the man.  Descriptions of him emphasize his obvious valor and his skills as a ranger and a leader.  It might seem an indictment of our superficial times if we suggest that we would also like to know if he were tall, with chiseled features, or short, rotund or doughy.  Not that looks necessarily count for that much, except that our leaders are often tall, because we tend to look up to people figuratively as well as literally.  They are also generally trim, but not always.  One of Colonial America’s most famous rangers, Benjamin Church, managed to become the hero of King Philip’s War and Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent book “Mayflower,” all while maintaining the “consistent panda-bear shape” of John Goodman (Who, besides having the heft to stand in for Church, also has the chops to play the heck out of the part).   

Occasionally we are tipped off to the body-contour of even certain minor historical figures within Thomas Lovewell’s orbit, as when Washington County Deputy Sheriff C. M. Murdock informed readers of the Western Observer that he offered to make the trip to Lake Sibley in place of  Excelsior Colony president “Captain” Lewis Walker in May of 1869, because he felt confident that the horse would have suffered a more grueling ordeal under Walker’s weight.  If we suspect that reporters from a Jewell County newspaper were offering a clue about his size when they wrote of a “jolly” White Rock blacksmith and dry-goods salesman named Thomas Shuler, we would be correct.  Thomas Lovewell’s granddaughter Orel Poole wrote a monograph about Shuler, one of her grandfather’s dearest friends, and reported him to be a portly man.  

Thomas Shuler was also president of the Old Settler’s Association in 1900, and would have given the welcoming address which famously eulogized Thomas, who, according to legend, was feared to have perished while prospecting in Alaska.  Athough Shuler fell ill at the last minute and Lydia Charles had to fill in for him, the amusing vaudeville routine which ensued, with a very-much-alive Thomas Lovewell spotted in the crowd at the last minute, was probably cooked up by Lovewell and Shuler, who really does seem to have been jolly.

© Dale Switzer 2023