A Native of this Place

The Richard Dale Monument, Portsmouth, Virginia
By Diane Cripps, Curator of History, Portsmouth Museums

Published April 2020

Monuments often combine fine art with the history and people they commemorate. They are also reflections of the moment in history when the monument itself is installed. If you’re strolling around Olde Towne Portsmouth, take note of the fine art and history represented by the Dale Monument at Washington and North Streets.

Commodore Richard Dale (1756 – 1826) was 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, which today is known as Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Above: The Dale Monument, at Washington and North Streets.
The monument to Dale was placed 103 years ago by the Fort Nelson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a local chapter of the D.A.R. that is still active today.
Above: The monument’s dedication plaque, which appears on its reverse side.
The August 1917, issue of the D.A.R. magazine featured an account of the monument’s dedication, along with a photograph, citing:
“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.”
The high-relief bronze plaque depicts a Liberty figure riding the bow of a ship, protected by two youths looking out over the raging sea. The plaque’s sculptor was William Couper (1853 – 1942), a Norfolk native who studied in Munich and Florence, and was a colleague of sculptor Daniel Chester French. The plaque was cast at the Henry-Bonnard foundry in New York, New York.
So, on your next walk through Portsmouth’s charming Olde Towne neighborhood, pause at the Richard Dale monument. You will be viewing a piece of fine allegorical sculpture by an artist from Norfolk, and paying homage to a local man who served his country in its historical infancy and led the early Gosport Shipyard which has become the Navy’s oldest and largest shipyard installation. The sculpted bronze and stone monument is also a testament to the urge to memorialize great citizens and teach future generations about them in moments of national crisis, like the First World War which was raging when the monument was placed.
Above: Close-up of the monument’s high relief bronze plaque.