The saga of the Samuel Francis DuPont memorials


Historically, the DuPonts are one of the most prominent Delaware families. The patriarch, E.I. DuPont, founded the Eleutherian Powder Mills along the Brandywine Creek at the turn of the 19th century. DuPont Industries have since expanded worldwide, currently employing some 60,000 people.

During the Civil War, several members of the DuPont family made contributions to the Union cause. One in particular was E.I. DuPont’s nephew Samuel Francis, who embarked on a career in the U.S. Navy. In 1815, family connections with President Thomas Jefferson secured for him a commission as a midshipman at age 12.

When the Civil War erupted in 1861, DuPont, then a navy captain with more than 45 years of service, received important assignments that merited promotion to the rank of admiral. He died a few weeks following the war’s end, and in 1882, the U.S. Congress recognized his service by naming a traffic circle in his honor in Washington, D.C.

Two years later, officials unveiled a bronze statue of the admiral sculpted by Irish-born Launt Thompson and placed it in the circle’s center section. DuPont biographer Kevin J. Weddle recorded that President Chester A. Arthur dedicated the statue with many uniformed dignitaries in attendance.

Also on the scene at the unveiling was U.S. Sen. Thomas A. Bayard of Delaware, an advocate of the South during the Civil War. Although he praised the statue’s sculptor, Bayard refrained from comment about the admiral’s wartime accomplishments on behalf of the Union.

Bayard’s mindset was a reflection of the divided loyalties within the state while the national conflict was under way. Although Delaware chose to remain in the Union, the more populous and industrial New Castle County supported the North, while most of those living in the agricultural lower counties favored the Confederacy.

DuPont Circle has since become a familiar landmark in the capital city, located in a fashionable neighborhood featuring foreign embassies and historic homes.

John Kelly, writing in the Dec. 13 issue of the Washington Post, discussed the DuPont family’s desire to replace the formal statue of the admiral with a more inspirational monument. Employing its considerable political influence, the DuPonts lobbied Congress to sanction a suitable memorial.

At their expense, the family engaged Henry Bacon as designer and Daniel Chester French as sculptor of a replacement. Almost 40 years after the Samuel Francis DuPont statue first graced the circle, in 1921 a marble fountain with three classical nudes symbolizing the sea, the stars and the wind supplanted it.

The price for the DuPont statue had been $20,000. The memorial fountain cost the DuPonts more than three times that amount.

A DuPont descendant, Sophie DuPont Ford, was on hand for the dedication ceremony. The band played “Stars & Stripes Forever” and the national anthem for the large gathering in attendance.

Secretary of War John W. Weeks accepted the fountain on the part of the U.S. government as a gift from the DuPont family. Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby commented about how proud the Navy was of the new memorial and praised DuPont’s attitude toward his fellow sailors, as well as his willingness to put the country’s needs above his own.

Three young female members of the DuPont family placed laurel wreaths in the fountain. Thus the admiral was once again honored for his service to the nation.

Although Congress mandated that the original DuPont statue was to be placed at another location within the capital, for some reason that did not happen. Today, Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont stands on a pedestal for all to see in Wilmington’s Rockford Park, not far from the DuPont family homesteads. His original statue had come to rest in his home state.

Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign,” a History Book Club selection available at Bethany Beach Books. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.