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The Commodore Richard Dale Historic Monument at the corner of North and Washington Streets
The Commodore Richard Dale Monument in Olde Towne Portsmouth is both art and history. Monuments often combine fine art with the history and people they commemorate. They also reflect the moments in history when the monument itself is installed. Olde Towne Portsmouth brims with historic monuments and markers honoring people and events impacting both the city and the nation. Information on many of these markers can be found on the self-guided Path to History tour. Pick up a printed guide at the Visitor Center. The Commodore Richard Dale monument is one of Olde Towne’s most notable. So, when you stroll through Olde Towne Portsmouth, take note of the fine art and history represented by the Dale Monument. The monument is located at Washington and North Streets.
Commodore Richard Dale. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Commodore Richard Dale (1756 – 1826) is a Portsmouth native who went on to a storied and distinguished career in the early U.S. Navy and served as the first commander of Gosport Shipyard in Portsmouth (known today as Norfolk Naval Shipyard). As a young man, he served aboard a merchant vessel and apprenticed with a ship-builder. During the American Revolution, the British captured him twice but he eventually escaped the inhumane conditions at Mill Prison. He returned to serve in the Continental Navy through the conclusion of the war and he became one of the six original Commodores when Congress established a standing U.S. Navy in 1794. Commodore Richard Dale is a very colorful character of American history.
The monument’s dedication plaque, which appears on its reverse side.
The Commodore Richard Dale monument in Olde Towne Portsmouth was placed 103 years ago. Back in 1917, the Fort Nelson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a local chapter of the D.A.R. still active today, held a dedication ceremony for the newly installed monument.
In the August 1917 issue of the D.A.R. magazine, an account of the monument’s dedication, along with a photograph is featured and includes the following:
“The present day crisis [that is, the First World War], when the liberties of the people and the world’s civilization are threatened, seemed a peculiarly fitting time for the Daughters of the American Revolution to honor Richard Dale—a Portsmouth man, a pioneer of the illustrious line of brave men who have gone forth from this city at duty’s call to uphold the honor and rights of their country.”
Close-up of the monument’s high relief bronze plaque. plaque
This high-relief bronze plaque depicts a Liberty figure riding the bow of a ship, protected by two youths looking out over the raging sea. William Couper (1853 – 1942) sculpted the plaque and it was cast at the Henry-Bonnard Foundry in New York, New York. Henry-Bonnard is the same foundry known for casting some of Fredric Remington’s masterpieces.
So, on your next walk through Portsmouth’s charming Olde Towne neighborhood, pause at the Richard Dale monument to view a piece of fine allegorical sculpture. Remember this local man who served his country in its historical infancy and led the early Gosport Shipyard, now the Navy’s oldest and largest shipyard installation, located right here in Portsmouth, Virginia.
The sculpted bronze and stone monument is a testament to the urge to memorialize great citizens and teach future generations. It’s especially important during moments of national crisis. As the First World War raged, the local D.A.R. recognized the need to rally the community so they placed the monument in its current location. And now, as we endure another world-wide crisis, COVID-19, it’s even more important that we consider our past and remember those who shaped this country. The Commodore Richard Dale monument in historic Olde Towne Portsmouth is one way to do just that.
A special thanks to Diane Cripps, Curator of History Portsmouth Museums for contributions to this article