David Johnson Kennedy, 1816-1898

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David Johnson Kennedy, the son of William (1783-1874) and Elizabeth Spence Kennedy (1783-1861), was born in 1816 or 1817 in Port Mullin, Wigtonshire, Scotland. In addition to his formal education at the Kircolm parish school and Leswalt Academy, Kennedy taught himself to draw and paint. In 1833, the family moved from Scotland where William Kennedy had been building lighthouses on the northern coast of Scotland to Canada where he helped to build the provincial penitentiary at Kingston in Ontario. David Kennedy lived and worked in Canada for two years before traveling to Philadelphia and Nashville, Tennessee. In 1836, Kennedy settled in Philadelphia and married Morgianna Corbin, granddaughter of Benjamin Say, a Philadelphia politician. Kennedy began working as a clerk to the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad in 1839, and continued in that service until 1861 when he retired as a result of poor eyesight.

During his life in Philadelphia, Kennedy painted and drew his surroundings, providing glimpses of a rapidly changing city. His work was well received even during his lifetime. Ferdinand J. Dreer, a Philadelphia business man and philanthropist, "commissioned Kennedy to do some of his extra-illustrating... [and]... Kennedy made replicas for his own files [which] were bound" in volumes (PMHB, p. 67). His paintings were exhibited in windows of the Steam Power Printing Plant of Baker and Kennedy and also at the Artists' Fund Society in 1841 (Bryn Mawr College). Kennedy continued painting until his death in 1898. He was described as "an industrious and enthusiastic worker [who] left behind a series of documented pictures which will cause historians of 19th-century Philadelphia always to remain his debtors" (PHMB, pp. 70-71).
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David J. Kennedy watercolors ()