Putnam was born in Sutton, Massachusetts. He apprenticed as a millwright and taught himself geography and mathematics. During the French and Indian War, he served with a Connecticut regiment in the Great Lakes region. In 1773, he became the surveyor of East Florida after a trip there to assess veterans' land grants along the Mississippi River. In 1775, he joined one of Massachusetts's first Revolutionary regiments. His fortifications protected Dorchester Heights during the British siege of Boston. He supervised the building of defenses around New York City. He refused an appointment as Chief Engineer and took a field command, fighting in the New York campaign that led to the British surrender at Saratoga. He then rebuilt West Point and fought at Stony Point.

After the Revolution, Putnam returned to survey work in Maine (then part of Massachusetts). He supported the award of lands in lieu of back pay to soldiers during the war. Putnam was one of the authors of the army's Newburgh Petition to Congress that requested land disbursements. In 1788, he led a group of Revolutionary veterans to settle Marietta, Ohio, for the Ohio Company. He became a Supreme Court judge for the Northwest Territory. Later, he served in General Anthony Wayne's early campaigns against the Ohio Valley Native American tribes. In 1796, President George Washington appointed Putnam as the first Surveyor General of the U.S. He served in that capacity until 1803. Putnam died on May 4, 1824.


  • Creator: James Sharples Sr., from life
  • Date Created: 1796/1797
  • Contributor: Independence National Historical Park, National Park Service
  • Original Source: http://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/revwar/image_gal/indeimg/putnam.html
  • Source: Independence NHP
  • Portrait Figure Birth and Death Dates: 1737-1824
  • Ownership History: Given by Ellen (Mrs. James) Sharples to Felix Sharples in 1811. Given by Felix Sharples to Levin Yardly Winder in the 1830s. Inherited by Nathaniel James Winder from Levin Yardly Winder. Inherited by Richard Bayly Winder from Nathaniel James Winder in 1844. Purchased by Murray Harrison from Richard Bayly Winder around 1865. Purchased by the City of Philadelphia from Murray Harrison in 1876.
  • National Park Service Catalog Number: INDE 11914
  • Measurements: H 9, W 7 in (H 22.9, W 17.8 cm)
  • Materials: Oil on canvas.
  • About This Portrait: About this Portrait: British pastelist James Sharples Sr. (1751-1811) apparently drew Putnam's portrait when both men lived in the federal capital of Philadelphia during 1796 and 1797. The artist depicted his subject in uniform. Putnam wears a green sash to indicate his rank as colonel, his status for most of the Revolution. At the time the portrait was drawn, he apparently regarded this Revolutionary rank as his most significant military service. He had been promoted to brigadier general in late 1783, and had served in this capacity during the Ohio Valley Native American wars. Putnam's reputation was overshadowed by his contemporaries. George Washington remarked, he is but little known out of his own state, and a narrow circle. This obscurity may explain the omission of Putnam's name from the catalog of portraits that Sharples published in 1802 on returning to England after his first American painting trip. Sometime after Sharples completed Putnam's portrait, someone drew and pasted a brigadier general's one-star epaulette onto Putnam's left shoulder. A rendering of the Society of the Cincinnati eagle [medal on blue and white ribbon hanging from his left lapel] was added to the portrait in the same way. Possibly, the artist (or a member of his artist family) decided that these changes increased the Putnam's public appeal, making the portrait a better attraction to potential clients.

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