WILLIAM WILKINS was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on 20 December 1779; moved with his family to Pittsburgh in 1783; graduated from Dickinson College, Carlisle, in 1802; studied law with David Watts at Carlisle; returned to Pittsburgh and was admitted to the Allegheny County bar; was censured in 1806 for participating as a second in a duel; was an organizer of the Pittsburgh Manufacturing Company; became its president when it was chartered in 1814 as the Bank of Pittsburgh; was president of the Monongahela Bridge Company; was president of the Greensburg and Pittsburgh Turnpike Company; married Catherine Holmes, 1815, who died the following year; was president of the Pittsburgh Common Council, 1816–1819; married Mathilda Dallas, 1818; was elected to the state legislature, 1819; resigned in December 1820 to become presiding judge of the Fifth Judicial District; was appointed judge of the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania, 1824; was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, 1826; was elected to the House in 1828 but resigned before taking office; was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1831; resigned to accept appointment as minister to Russia, 1834–1836; was again defeated as a candidate for Congress, 1840; was again elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, 1842–1843; served as Secretary of War, 15 February 1844–4 March 1845; espoused territorial expansion and favored the annexation of Texas; returned to private life in Pittsburgh; served in the Pennsylvania Senate, 1855–1857; became major general in the Pennsylvania Home Guard, 1862; lived in retirement in Pittsburgh; died there on 23 June 1865.
Robert Walter Weir (1803–1889) is second only to Daniel Huntington in the number of portraits he produced for the Army portrait gallery. Weir received $300 each for his portraits of Secretaries Monroe, Eaton, Spencer, Wilkins, and interim Secretary Butler. When Secretary Belknap’s portrait project, begun in the centennial year, was terminated in the bicentennial year, the taxpayers’ investment appeared to have been well secured. The five Weir paintings, produced in the 1870’s at a total cost of $1,500, were appraised in the 1970’s at slightly more than $10,000.
By Robert Walter Weir
Oil on canvas, 29½" x 24½", 1873
page created 2 March 2001
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