Caesar Rodney is one of Delaware’s greatest heroes, but it has long been known that there is no portrait of him, although hope springs eternal. Imagine how excited the Society’s directors must have been in 1934 when they were approached by Dr. John J. Hughes who offered for sale a portrait of Rodney attributed to Rembrandt Peale. The Society consulted with experts, who said that the Rodney portrait was genuine. So the Society purchased it, along with similar images of Thomas McKean, John Dickinson, George Read, Allan McLane, and James A. Bayard.. Newspaper articles touted the acquisition of Rodney’s portrait.
But despite their efforts at due diligence, the Society had been swindled. It had not purchased authentic works of art, but forgeries made by George Joseph Shepard, who also operated under other aliases including Dr. John Jacques Hughes, Dr. F.D. Vernon, and Mr. Zantzinger. But we weren’t the only institution or individual that he swindled, if that’s any comfort. Shepherd was arrested in 1935 and served prison time.
Following good professional procedure, the Delaware Historical Society has kept all of the documentation regarding the purchase—it fills a thick folder. The Society also still has the fraudulent portraits in its collection. All of this came full circle a number of years ago, when the PBS series History Detectives did a segment on Sheperd, featuring our fake portraits and real documentation.
And Caesar Rodney? He’s still without a portrait.