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A Ball Hughes Correspondence

    According to  A Ball Hughes Correspondence by Thomas B. Brumbaugh, from: Art Quarterly 21 (Winter 1958), pp. 423-27, Brumbaugh acquired this group of letters from Ball Hughes and his wife Eliza to Colonel John Trumbull, the painter. Brumbaugh kept the spelling and punctuation of the letters intact as shown below.


    The letters were dated in the early 1830's and reflect Hughes' desperate financial plight in his early years in New York after arriving from London in 1829. According to Brumbaugh, the letters reveal "the ridiculously inadequate compensation given him by apathetic "patrons."" (including Trumbull).


    See Letter to Mr. Casey from Eliza for another plea for money in about 1840 after the Ball Hugheses moved from New York to Phildelphia.


    See Nothing at All by B. Hughes for information about an undated manuscript containing a poem by Ball Hughes that Brumbaugh acquired with this group off letters.





My dear Sir.

I know not how to apologize for trespassing on your kindness but am really compelled from circumstances. Will you oblige me by a loan of twenty dollars. Next week the Completion of my figure will enable me without fail to return it again. And I shall ever remember with pleasure the kindness you have ever shewn me—


Believe me

Dr Sir

yours sincerely

Ball Hughes


57 Broadway

Saturday August 1830





Dear Colonel

It is my painful task to inform you that the few Marble Busts now on hand at my Studio have been levied on by a Landlord's Warrant for One Quarters Rent amounting to Sixty two Dollars, and if the said Rent is not paid today they will be sold to-morrow at ten oclock in accordance with the advertisement and the Law.

I have applied to those whose works I have the honor to be employed in hopes of collecting the amount in that my only way,

 And if my good Sir I dare solicit Ten Dollars of you I have no doubt I shall be able to make up the Rent.

I would personally have made this request of you but have been and am confined to my Room by a severe cold brought on by over excitement and troubles,

Your faithful Servant

B. Hughes

Thursday morning





Dear Colonel

Circumstances of a very peculiar nature forced me actually forced me to draw on you for Fifteen Dollars on amount of Bust.

Consider that Sum as the balance for it, and forgive me for God sake the liberty I have taken. I could not my dear good Sir, avoid it.

When the order is presented to you for Heavens sake accept it. and for ever favour

Your ser't and Respectful friend

Ball Hughes


The Bust is Moulded





Dear Colnel Trumbull

Can you lend Hughes five dollars. t'is to complete in Plaster the figure of Uncle Toby which actually waits still for that--and the hopes which I entertain of that works success make us sooner again intrude on your kindness than see it delay’d—

Respectfully yours

E. B. Hughes

51 Greenwich St.





Dear Colonel Trumbull.

Can you send Balls two dollars. it is too bad but Uncle Toby and Widow Wadman have declared their determination of not walking to the academy--they protest they will stay where they are till doom's day if a proper conveyance is not provided for them—

I enclose you a couple knowing you to be a Ladies Man and there may be some two or three to whom you may be anxious to pay the compliment. Balls has been at his Studio all night and I will await your answer before I go there—

Respectfully and Sincerely

your obliged friend

E. B. Hughes





May 31,1834

51 Greenwich St.

Dear Colnl

Mr. Carew the person who has been engaged in pointing your Bust, having completed his contract by finishing the Same entirely to my satisfaction, I beg respectfully to know when he may present to you his Bill for his labour on it. the agreement was for 30 Dollars. I should be glad to know at the same time if it will be your pleasure immediately to have it finished if so I will make a good bargain with the same person for the carving of the drapery.

I find I am compell'd to relinquish your Room for my Exhibition in consequence of Mr. Cole' still retaining it.

Trusting your cold is better

I remain faithfully

Your Servant

B Hughes

Colnl Trumbull





Dear CoInl

We have an opportunity of going on and finishing your Marble Bust. the Bearer of this is willing to complete with my help all but the Head for Twenty Six doll and will not request one cent until his contract is fulfilled. The Bust in question is really a great favourite of mine and I should be truly happy to have it finished without delay

I have the honor to be yours


B Hughes

CoInl Trumbull





Dear Colonel Trumbull.

May Robert refer to you for his respectability, and ability to pay for a coat? Will you do him the kindness to tell a tailor you believe him able to pay for one, as Hamilton goes into the exchange next Monday and Hughes is really so abominably shabby that he will he ashamed to be seen there--the man does not care about the money. he only wishes a reference, and being anxious that it should be an unexceptionable one t'willl be obliging us most truly if you would tell him Hughes has plenty of good orders in his  Study--that is all. Should you be so kind his name is Stokes--in Broadway--may I refer him to you.

I thank heaven the bewitching widow has fallen into hands that any woman might be glad of and, when I have the happiness of seeing you I will tell you great good news--all will soon be well with us--now. I feel convinced the worst is passed.

If possible tomorrow I will take the liberty of calling to see you. An attendant believe me

Dr Sir

Respectfully and Sincerely yours

E. B. Hughes

Thursday Morning

12th March 1835





Letter 1

Brumbaugh believes the figure mentioned may be that of Alexander Hamilton or any one of a number of worthies whose statues he was then making …” I believe it to be the model for the Statue of Hamilton based on Philips Hones diary entry in December 24, 1830 where he describes viewing the model.


Brumbaugh states that this letter was written in the hand of Eliza Hughes.


This letter indicates that it was sent from 57 Broadway in New York, not far from Trumbull’s address at 38 Broadway in August 1830.


Letter 2

Brumbaugh believes this letter was written not long before letter number 3, dated December 1833.


Letter 3

Brumbaugh states that Trumbull has written on the reverse of this letter: “R. B. Hughes—Dec. 1833. Paid $15..”


“The Bust is Moulded” may refer to a plaster model for the Bust of Trumbull that was later carved in marble.


Letter 4

The letter refers to the plaster statue of Uncle Toby.


Brumbaugh states that Trumbull has written on the reverse of this letter: “Mrs. Hughes. 25th Mar 1834 D. $5—for plaster”


Letter 5

Eliza Ball Hughes humorously refers to the plaster statues of Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman. See also Notes for Letter 8 for more information about the sale of the group of Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman.


Note especially Eliza’s reference to her husband Robert Ball Hughes as “Balls” twice in the same letter in 1834. This is the only reference I have seen to Robert being called by his given middle name. Eliza appears to be using it as his nickname.  All other public references to him have been Robert Ball Hughes, Ball Hughes, B. Hughes, or R. B. Hughes. In one of the letters to Trumbull, Eliza refers to her husband as “Robert” and in another “Hughes.” Perhaps this adds to the mystery of his middle name.


Note that according to Eliza in Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes, p. 7, Ball Hughes “had a stable converted to a superb studio at the corner of White St. and Broadway in New York.” Note that it was on White St. (apparently at the corner of Broadway) according to another reference by Eliza on p. 8. See also Notes for Letter 6 for more information about Robert’s stable studio on White St.


Brumbaugh states that Trumbull has written on the reverse of this letter: “Mrs. E. B. Hughes 19th April 1834. Done.”


Letter 6

The reference to “your Bust” may refer to the marble Bust of Trumbull.


Brumbaugh believes that “Cole” refers to Thomas Cole, the painter, as he had painting rooms at Broadway and Wall Street in 1834.


Note that Robert refers to it as “your Room for my Exhibition.”  According to Eliza Ball Hughes in Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes, pp. 7-8, “Colnl Trumbull got him the large gallery full of antique statutes near the City Hall which beautiful Collection had been made by Edward Livingston_While he was Minister in France_Here Mr. Hughes at once commenced his large (plaster) Model (of Alexander Hamilton), and while waiting for the Marble made some beautiful busts.” Eliza states on p.8 that when the marble arrived from Italy, it was conveyed to his new stable studio on White St., where “was exquisitely finished the first marble statue carved in America.” See also Notes for Letter 5 for more information about Robert’s stable studio on White St.


Brumbaugh states that this letter was addressed to 38 Broadway.


Letter 7

Brumbaugh believes “your Marble Bust” this letter refers to the marble Bust of Trumbull and was probably written in June of 1834.


Letter 8

This letter refers to the life-sized marble Statue of Hamilton that was placed in the NY Merchants Exchange on Wall St. in March of 1835 and destroyed by fire eight months after it’s unveiling.


Stokes & Co. was the name of merchant tailors at 157 Broadway in 1835.


In the second paragraph, I believe that Eliza is happy that the statue of the Widow Wadman has been sold. According to Mabel M. Swan in The Athenaeum Gallery, 1827-1873, Boston 1940, p. 152, the original model of Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman was sold to Mr. Dorr of NY and deposited in the Boston Athenaeum as early as 1835 where it was seen in May 1835. According to Eliza Ball Hughes in Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes, pp. 13-14, the group of Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman “was destin’d for the Duke of Sussex who had given him the order to make it at his leisure. The group was most beautifully finished, but owing to its having occupied so much time, to the neglect of more profitable work. Owing to money troubles it never cross’d the ocean, and was finally purchased by Mr.       Edwards of Boston.  All honor to his name!  who having purchased it for a small sum, and hearing of the regret expressed by the family that it should have been so sacrificed, at once wrote to them saying, that he would give it back if they desired it. The offer was declined but his kindness is well, and gratefully remember’d.  and Boston has it.” I tend to think that Eliza knew who bought it and either way it was deposited in the Boston Athenaeum and Boston has it!


Does anyone know the current owner of the letters?
last update 3/8/2012 
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2012