Notes on William Henry Dougal


Biographical notes on the artist and engraver William Henry Dougal (1822-1895).


William H. Dougal, 1868  (William Oland Bourne Papers, New-York Historical Society)


William Henry Dougal, born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1822, came to Washington as a young man, where he engraved plates for the Narrative of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, published between 1844 and 1874. He went to San Francisco during the gold rush in 1849, where he operated a grocery and livery store for one year before returning to Washington.

Dougal married Mary Virginia Adler, daughter of Morris Adler and Malvina Lutz Adler in 1851. Dougal’s father-in-law, who owned the land, built the house at 3259 R Street for the young couple. (See Mathilde Williams notes on the Dougal family, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library, and Morris Adler)

“Across High Street (Wisconsin Avenue), the house sitting high on the bank was for many years the home of Mr. William Dougal and his family of one son and four lovely daughters. His wife was Miss Adler, and this house was built on part of her father’s property.” (Grace Dunlop Ecker, A Portrait of Old George Town, p. 125)



“View of the Morris Adler House and Georgetown Heights”, William H. Dougal, circa 1850. (Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Charles. Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library.)


“Two paintings by the elder William Dougal hang at 3259 R Street (and black and white photographs of them are at the Peabody Room of the Georgetown Branch of the D.C. Public Library).”  Dougal House, 3259 R Street, Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia, Historic American Buildings Survey:

In 1959, Marion Oates Leiter (later Mrs. Robert H. Charles) purchased the Dougal house at 3259 R Street. It is possible that the two Dougal paintings may have been acquired along with the Dougal house.




William H. Dougal (1822-1895) apprenticed at 15 to New York engravers Sherman and Smith. By 1844, he was living in Washington, D.C. and working on his own. His first important commission was to produce illustrations for the reports on the Wilkes Expedition, which made the important discovery that Antarctica is a continent and mapped many islands in the South Pacific.

The artists who provided many of the images that Dougal engraved included Titian Ramsay Peale, the son of famed artist and naturalist Charles Wilson Peale. The reports were published in an initial run of only 100 copies, but Wilkes then purchased the rights to them and printed them an additional 13 times by 1858.

Shortly after his work on the Wilkes Expedition reports, Dougal moved west, and opened a grocery store in California. His west coast life was short-lived as he returned to Washington in 1850 where he soon married. Back in Washington, Dougal continued his engraving, often working on government publications, as well as for banks and publishers.

In 1949, Frank M. Stange published an important book on the life and work of Dougal, entitled Off to California: The Letters, Log and Sketches of William H. Dougal, Gold Rush Artist. The monograph contains Dougal’s 1849 diary he kept on his 1849 voyage from New York to San Francisco aboard the Galindo, as well as letters home to his family, and several sketches he made en route.

The artist’s proof book containing nearly 200 proof engravings in a large variety of sizes, types, and subjects, such as vignettes, book illustrations, bank and stock notes, and broadsides, and many incorporating patriotic symbols, American Indians, steamboats, locomotives, architecture, biological and horticultural studies, and portraits of famous Americans such as Daniel Webster. Also included are fine landscapes, some certainly intended to be sold as decorative prints, and others as book illustrations. One such print, executed to illustrate an edition of Longfellow’s poems, retains the original sketch on which the engraving is based. Most are tipped in a folio volume bound in quarter leather and marbled boards.

The second volume, also a folio in quarter leather and marbled boards, contains 14 pencil sketches by Dougal, most are titled and initialed. Included are sketches of the Potomac River and Rock Creek, some with chalk details, and some include figures and boats. Another fine sketch is of Grace Church in New York, and another is of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, one of America’s earliest spa resorts known for its mineral springs.

Accompanying the artist’s sketch and proof books are a pair of watercolor portraits of he and his wife, ca 1845. He is wearing a black suit, and she is wearing a black dress, trimmed in lace, as well as gold jewelry and a tortoise shell hair comb. In old, gold-painted frames; 11.25″ x 9″.





A 2005 auction of works by Washington, D.C. engraver William H. Dougal at Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. included an artist’s proofbook with 200 engravings, 14 pencil sketches relating to Washington, New York and West Virginia, 12 separate engravings from books, and two watercolor portraits of William H. and Mary Virginia Dougal, ca. 1850.

The Archive of William H. Dougal, Washington, D.C. engraver was purchased from Cowan’s Auctions by Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.







Carlton Fletcher

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