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Seth Eastman: The Soldier Artist

Seth Eastman: The Soldier Artist

by Patricia Condon Johnston

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The Soldier

Arguably the foremost pictorial historian of the American Indian, Seth Eastman was born in Brunswick, Maine, on January 24, 1808. Thomas Jefferson was finishing his second term as president of the United States - there were seventeen States - and less than four years earlier, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had set out from St. Louis to explore Louisiana Territory*. The rapidly growing country counted almost seven million inhabitants; one in every seven people was a black slave; Indians were not counted in census figures.
Enlarge: Young Eastman self-portrait


The eldest of thirteen children of Robert and Sarah Lee Eastman, Seth Eastman descended directly from Roger Eastman, the first Eastman in the colonies. An adventurous young man from southern England, Roger boarded the ship Confidence in April 1638*. A carpenter by trade, he received lands in Salisbury, Massachusetts, where he was listed on church rolls until his death in 1694.

Robert Eastman hoped to educate his first-born at Bowdoin College. Had Seth attended the school, his classmates would have included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne, but the young man had other ideas. He had "early conceived a passion for military life" and convinced his father to let him attend West Point. Seth Eastman was sixteen years old when he entered the Military Academy in 1824, where he spent five happy years.


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