James Sidney Rollins: Warmest Personal Friend – Part I

“From early youth to manhood’s ripened years, [they would be] the warmest personal friends, and next to their own kith and kin, each by the other has been the best beloved.”[1] So said Alban Jasper Conant, a mutual friend of both George Caleb Bingham and James Sidney Rollins, some 40 years after Bingham and Rollins  met.  Rollins was the man, who at the behest of Abraham Lincoln, gave a stirring speech that persuaded his colleagues to pass the 13th amendment, the bill that abolished slavery. Rollins was also the man who helped artist George Caleb Bingham achieve fame.

When James Sidney Rollins was born in Richmond, Kentucky, on April 19, 1812, to Dr. Anthony Wayne Rollins and Sarah [Sallie] Harris Rodes Rollins, he inherited his father’s cleft chin and his mother’s aristocratic nose. His parents reared him to be a gentleman of principles. They shared their love of education with him. In 1830 he graduated as valedictorian from Indiana University.[2] That same year his family moved to Boone County, Missouri, for his father’s health. James joined them there but soon relocated to Fayette, Missouri to study law under attorney – and later state Supreme Court justice – Abiel Leonard. When the short-lived Black Hawk War erupted in 1832, Rollins served as aide-de-camp to General Richard Gentry, one of the most famous military men of his day. After six months of service Rollins was discharged with the rank of major, a title he used the rest of his life.

Major Rollins left Missouri again to attend law school at Transylvania University in Louisville, Kentucky. After his graduation as valedictorian in 1834 he started a law practice in Columbia. He defended a slave, Conway, accused of murdering a white man, Judge Israel Grant.  “Although a young man, [Rollins] delivered an argument of great eloquence and ability and one which is yet remembered for its remarkable power and beauty.”[3]  Unfortunately, Rollins’ defense was no match for the era’s prejudices. Conway was convicted and hanged [and later perceived as innocent.]

By 1836 Rollins and college friend Thomas Miller had purchased two newspapers, the Boon’s Lick Advertiser and the Missouri Intelligencer, and combined them into The Columbia Patriot. He chaired the state’s first railway convention and drafted a petition to Congress for railroad land grants for Missouri. He was 24.

Part II

(c) Fine Art Investigations, 2012
All Rights Reserved



[1] A. J. Conant on the occasion of the dedication of a Bingham portrait of Rollins commissioned by the curators of the University of Missouri in The Rollins Portrait: Proceedings and Addresses on Its Presentation to the Board of Curators of the University by the Citizens of Boone County, June 24-26, 1873 (Columbia, Missouri: Statesman Book and Job Office, 1873), 13. The portrait was destroyed in a fire in 1892.

[2] James Sidney Rollins also attended Richmond Academy and Washington College (now Washington and Jefferson College) in Washington, Pennsylvania.

[3]Felix Eugene Snyder, History of Boone County, Missouri…, (Ramfire Press, 1882), 206.



Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress, “Rollins, James Sidney (1812-1888),” http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=R000412

Bloch, E. Maurice, George Caleb Bingham: A Catalogue Raisonné, Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1967

Bloch, E. Maurice, George Caleb Bingham: The Evolution of an Artist, Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1967

Bloch, E. Maurice, The Paintings of George Caleb Bingham, (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1986)

Gentzler, Lynn Wolf, ed., Roger E. Robinson, compiler, “But I Forget That I am a Painter and Not a Politician”: The Letters of George Caleb Bingham, Columbia, Missouri: State Historical Society of Missouri and Friends of Arrow Rock, Inc., 2011

Mering, Clay, “James S. Rollins,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_S._Rollins

Mering, John Vollmer, The Whig Party in Missouri, Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1967

Shoemaker, F. C., Missouri’s Hall of Fame: Lives of Eminent Missourians, Missouri Book Company, 1918

Smith, William Benjamin. James Sidney Rollins. New York, 1891

Snyder, Felix Eugene, History of Boone County, Missouri…, (Ramfire Press, 1882)

State Historical Society of Missouri, Rollins, James S. (1812-1888), Papers, 1546-1968, http://shs.umsystem.edu/manuscripts/invent/1026.pdf

Stewart, A. J. D., The History of the bench and bar of Missouri: with reminiscences of the the prominent lawyers of the past, and a record of the law’s leaders of the present, Legal Publishing Company, 1898

Winn, Kenneth, “James Sidney Rollins,” Missouri Civil War Sesquicentennial: http://mocivilwar150.com/history/figure/194

About Patricia Moss

Patricia Moss is an art historian, or art detective if you will, who solves mysteries of 19th century American portraits. She located nearly 70 of Bingham’s lost portraits, a feat acknowledged by the Smithsonian’s Research and Scholar’s Center. From expertise with portraits of George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), she developed skills that evolved into a comprehensive system based on the scientific method that conforms to the legal and ethical standards of art authentication. Moss served as a guest curator for the Bingham Bicentennial Exhibit, “Steamboats to Steam Engines: George Caleb Bingham’s Missouri: 1819-1879,” (March 10-September 8, 2011) at the Truman Presidential Museum and curated the opening exhibition, “George Caleb Bingham: Witness to History,” (September 2013 –), Jackson County Art Museum, Independence, Missouri. She is also the principal researcher for Fine Art Investigations.
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