The new Morven Museum & Garden exhibition, “A Gentleman’s Pursuit: The Commodore’s Greenhouse,” opens Thursday, February 15, and puts the focus on a lost chapter of the historic home built by Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton.
It also puts the spotlight on another Stockton, Richard’s son, Robert Field Stockton, aka the Commodore, pictured at right.
Between being born and dying in Princeton, in 1795 and 1866 respectively, the Commodore had a U.S. Navy career that saw active duty in the War of 1812 and the Barbary Coast pirates war in 1815. Later, as commander of the U.S. naval fleet during the United States and Mexican War in 1846, he oversaw land and sea operations California, and is credited for capturing Los Angeles, overseeing the U.S. annexation of California, and serving as the state’s first governor.
Additional political activities include participating in the American Colonization Society and the creation of Liberia, representing New Jersey in the U.S. Senate, and participating in the creation of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Company, later becoming its president.
His influence was so pronounced that towns in both California and New Jersey are named after him.
The Morven exhibition, however, examines one of Stockton’s less public pursuits: cultivating plants and creating one of New Jersey’s earliest greenhouses.
It is the fruit of a Morven archaeological dig and study conducted by Trenton-based Hunter Research. A partner in the current exhibition, Hunter specializes in historical and archival research and prehistoric, historic, and industrial archaeological investigation. Clients include the State of New Jersey, Mercer County, Central Park Conservancy in New York City, and others.
Through the study of both the site and archives, Hunter researchers determined the Commodore’s greenhouse was built between 1852 and 1854 and eventually contained lemon trees, cacti, azaleas, and other then-exotic plants.
Morven curator Elizabeth Allan says the exhibition “allows visitors to follow the process of archaeologists and historians as they work their way from identifying archaeological digs, unearthing and dating artifacts, researching primary documents, and comparing contemporaneous sites to reveal a fuller picture of what Morven’s greenhouse would have been like.”
The exhibition is on view through June 3.
A Gentleman’s Pursuit: The Commodore’s Greenhouse, Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, Princeton. Opening Thursday, February 15, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Through June 3. Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $8 to $10. 609-924-8144 or morven.org.