Special Exhibit at Middleton Place: Discovery & Adventure

Category: Blog, Museum

Within the age of 19th-century exploration, two individuals stand out within the Middleton family: John Izard Middleton and his nephew Edward. They both shared a profound interest in the ancient cities of the Mediterranean. John Izard Middleton, known as “America’s First Classical Archaeologist,” embarked on captivating journeys through the hillsides of Italy and Greece. Meanwhile, Edward circumnavigated the globe as a dedicated member of the U.S. Navy. During their extensive travels, John and Edward amassed a captivating “collection of antiquities,” now on temporary display in the House Museum Library.


John Izard Middleton, the youngest son of Arthur and Mary Middleton, was born in 1785. Growing up, he had the companionship of one brother and six sisters. His educational journey took him to Trinity College at Cambridge University from 1801 to 1803, where he earned his degree at 19. Fortunate to hail from a family of substantial wealth, resources, and influential connections, John was privileged to traverse the landscapes of England, France, and Italy. Throughout his extensive travels, he cultivated ties with Europe’s intellectual and cultural icons, including renowned writers, artists, and intellectuals. One of the most captivating chapters of his life unfolded from 1807 to 1809 when he embarked on a quest through the Alban Hills and the countryside south of Rome.


The culmination of his findings from this expedition resulted in his groundbreaking publication in 1812, titled Grecian Remains in Italy: A Description of Cyclopian Walls and Roman Antiquities, with Topographical and Picturesque Views of Ancient Latium. This work would become a cornerstone of modern archaeology and earn John Izard Middleton the prestigious title of “America’s First Classical Archaeologist.” His artistic legacy lives on through a collection of paintings, watercolors, and drawings showcased in renowned institutions worldwide, including Galerie Koller in Zurich, Switzerland; The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; The Gibbes Museum of Art; The Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; and The South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.




Notebook Sketch from John Izard Middleton Circa 1820

Middleton Place Foundation Collections



Sketchbook belonging to John Izard Middleton Circa 1820

Middleton Place Foundation Collections


Edward Middleton, born in 1810, arrived as the youngest son of Governor Henry and Mary Middleton. During his parents’ time in Russia, Edward, along with his siblings Williams, Eliza, and Catherine, found themselves under the care of his mother’s family in England and France. Here, they received their education. At 18, Edward made a life-altering decision—to embark on a naval career. To fulfill his aspiration of joining the American Fleet, which was stationed in the Mediterranean, Edward embarked on a six-month odyssey across the Baltic Sea aboard the Russian ship Czar Konstantin, under the command of Admiral Rikord. Over the subsequent decade, Edward’s seafaring career saw him serving on numerous ships, voyaging across the globe, and visiting over 23 countries. His adventures took him to every continent except for Asia and Antarctica.


U.S. Navy Epaulets from Edward Middleton Circa 1870

Middleton Place Foundation Collections


Among the treasures you’ll encounter in the library are a diverse array of objects, ranging from unguentaria (Greek or Roman glass jars) and alabastrons (Greek or Roman jars for oils and perfumes) to ushabtis (funerary figurines), oil lamps, and ceramic cups and statuary. The lives of John Izard Middleton and Edward Middleton are a testament to the spirit of exploration and discovery. Their profound contributions to archaeology and global exploration have left an indelible mark on history, and their adventures continue to inspire future generations.

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