Presented by the Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington during the American Revolution, these pistols stand as a supreme testament to the enduring friendship between America's most revered historical figures and their struggle for American Independence. After just a quarter century following Washington's death, the pistols were recognized as important icons of the New Republic and in 1824 were given to Andrew Jackson in support of his quest for the presidency. Not only did the pistols pay homage to the battlefield successes of America's first and seventh presidents, but they also provided a symbolic link between military prowess and political leadership. With the return of the pistols to the Lafayette family in the mid-nineteenth century, the pair came to symbolize Franco-American ties and the mutual quest for liberty. Today, the pistols stand as one of the most important pair extant and the story of their illustrious ownership speaks to the ideals and aspirations of America's founders.
GEORGE WASHINGTON AND THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE
The life-long friendship between George Washington and Lafayette began in August 1777 at a dinner party in Philadelphia.1 Just two months earlier, Lafayette had arrived in South Carolina, a twenty-year old French aristocrat intent on fighting for the American cause. He later recalled,
The moment I heard of America, I lov'd her. The Moment I knew she was fighting for freedom I burnt with a desire of bleeding for her--and the moment I schall be able of serving her in any time or any part of the world, will be among the happiest in my life.
--The Marquis de Lafayette to Henry Laurens, President of Congress, October 1778.2
In 1757, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, was born into the highest rank of French nobility. Orphaned by the age of twelve, he joined the Royal Army in 1771 and two years later married Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles, a relative of King Louis XVI. From 1775 to 1776, he was stationed in Metz, a town located just fifty miles to the west of Saarbruck, then under French control and home to the pistols' maker, Jacob Walster. It is most likely that he purchased the pistols during this period and interestingly, it was during the same time that he met England's Duke of Gloucester who first introduced the young Marquis to the idea of fighting for the American cause. Soon after this auspicious meeting, Lafayette made plans to travel to America and set sail the following year.3
Just before meeting Washington, he was appointed Major General for the patriot forces. The two quickly developed a close father-son relationship that was cemented by their experiences of war. Together they suffered defeat at the Battle of Brandywine, where Lafayette proved his mettle by sustaining a gunshot wound to the leg.4 After recovering from his injuries, Lafayette accompanied Washington to Valley Forge, the site of Washington's headquarters from December 1777 to June 1778. There, the rebel troops endured enormous hardships--lacking adequate clothing, food and supplies--made worse by a freezing winter. Washington's difficulties at Valley Forge were further intensified by an attempt to overthrow his leadership by General Thomas Conway (known as the "Conway Cabal") and, under Lafayette's command, an abandoned attempt to invade Canada. Through these trials, Lafayette remained intensely loyal to Washington, an act greatly appreciated by the Commander-in-Chief as indicated by his words of gratitude penned in his letters to the French General.5 By June 1778, the British forces evacuated Philadelphia and Washington, along with Lafayette, pursued their enemy to New Jersey where the armies met at the Battle of Monmouth. For his numerous acts of bravery, Lafayette not only garnered the friendship of Washington, but the esteem of Congress and upon his application to return to France in October 1778, was immediately granted a reprieve.
While in France in 1779, Lafayette did not forget the American struggle for Independence. Spending almost $200,000 of his own money, he arranged for financial support, French soldiers and much-needed supplies to be sent to America.6 His admiration and deep affection for Washington, however, was no more strongly evidenced than by his naming his son, George Washington Lafayette, who was born in 1779. The following year, Lafayette returned to America. He helped turn the tide against the British in Newport and with Baron von Steuben confronted Cornwallis in Yorktown in October 1781. With the British surrender, Lafayette once again sought permission to return to France. With the following words, Washington granted him his wish:
I owe it to your friendship and to my affectionate regard for you, my dear Marquis, not to let you leave this country without carrying with you fresh marks of my attachment to you, and new expressions of the high sense I entertain of your military conduct and other important services in the course of the last campaign.7
The Commander-in-Chief had reason to be grateful to Lafayette. Besides his individual acts of bravery and key role at Yorktown, Lafayette was instrumental in securing French support for the American cause--support that was essential to victory.
In response to Washington's farewell, Lafayette wrote:
Adieu, my dear General; I know your heart so well that I am sure that no distance can alter your attachment to me. With the same candour I assure that my love, respect, my gratitude for you, are above expression; that, at the moment of leaving you, I felt more than ever the strength of those friendly ties that forever bind me to you.8
With the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, Washington and Lafayette never fought side by side again; however, their "friendly ties" remained strong until Washington's demise in 1799. Their last meeting was in 1784 when Lafayette visited America upon Washington's invitation.9 At Mount Vernon, Washington proudly hung Lafayette's portrait alongside his own. Though painted seven years apart, the portraits by Charles Willson Peale depict the two heroes in almost identical poses (figs. 2, 3). Painted before the Revolution, Peale's portrait of Washington shows him in his British uniform and, commissioned by Washington, the portrait of Lafayette portrays the French Marquis soon after his fateful year with Washington in 1778.10 In 1795, while Lafayette was imprisoned by the Austrians, his wife sent their son, George Washington Lafayette, to America for safety, accompanied by his tutor and initially living in seclusion with American benefactors. When Washington retired from the Presidency in March 1797, young Lafayette accompanied him to Mount Vernon to live as a family member until returning to France in October, when he rejoined his family.11
THE DESCENT OF THE PISTOLS TO WILLIAM ROBINSON
After the death of Washington in 1799, the pistols passed to William Robinson (1782-1857). Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia in 1782, Robinson lived on an estate there known as "Bunker Hill," located not far from "Wakefield," originally the home of George Washington's late half-brother, Augustine (1720-1762) and then the home of Washington's beloved nephew, William Augustine (1757-1810), and his family. William Robinson was also a distant cousin of the Westmoreland Washingtons, descending from John Washington of Chotank (1671-1721) and socialization between the two families was probably both common and close. In 1800, Robinson married Anne Aylett Washington (1783-1804), the third child of William Augustine Washington.
In all likelihood, William Augustine Washington received the pistols as part of his share in the division of the first President's estate and subsequently gave them to his son-in-law. In his will, George Washington provided "bequests...not made for the intrinsic value of them, but as mementoes of my esteem and regard" to various family members and friends. To each of his five nephews, Washington left "one of the Swords of Cutteaux of which I may die possessed, and they are to chuse in the order they are named"--William Augustine being the first listed, another sign of Washington's regard for this particular nephew. After providing such outright gifts and also the disposition of his Mount Vernon and City of Washington properties, Washington divided his remaining property and goods into 23 equal parts of value to be divided among his heirs, one part of which was to be given to William Augustine Washington. It is also remotely possible that Martha Washington may have presented the pistols to either William Augustine or William Robinson as mementoes of the late General during his short life remaining, as she seems to have done with other items considered part of the Washington estate.12
THE PRESENTATION OF THE PISTOLS TO ANDREW JACKSON
Washington, LaFayette and Jackson---Brandywine, Yorktown and New Orleans. --Slogan for political campaign for Andrew Jackson.13
With the presentation of the pistols to Andrew Jackson in 1824, evidence linking the pistols to their historic origins is first documented. The exhaustive research of Robert and Carol Simpson uncovered the paper trail of the pistols' ownership from 1824 to 1983 and the following quotes from various manuscript material comes from their articles, "Andrew Jackson's Historic Pistols, Part I" and "A Pair of Pistols 'Of French Origin,' Part II," The Gun Report (January and February 1985).
The first time this pair of pistols are known to have been mentioned in print was in an article published in the National Intelligencer (Washington, DC) issue of 10 January 1824, reporting on the events occurring in that city two days earlier in celebration of the ninth anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. The hero of that famous War of 1812 engagement, Major General Andrew Jackson, was a newly-elected Senator from Tennessee and was the guest of honor at a ball in the nation's capitol that evening, hosted by Secretary of State and Mrs. John Quincy Adams. However, a more singular event took place earlier in the day, when Jackson was visited in his quarters by two members of the U.S. House of Representatives: Colonel Charles Fenton Mercer of Virginia and General Stephen Van Rennselaer of New York. Already on hand to witness what followed was Jackson's close friend and political ally, Senator John Henry Eaton of Tennessee. Congressman Fenton presented him with the pair of George Washington's pistols while delivering the following address:
General: Allow me to fulfill the request of a friend and constituent, Mr. William Robinson of Sudley, one of the legatees of General George Washington, by delivering to you, the arms that he [Washington] wore, during the many vicissitudes of that Revolution, which conducted him to the summit of renown, and our country to independence.
They were the gift of his distinguished pupil, Lafayette, and associate the name of the steadiest friend of Liberty in the Old, with the memory of her most brilliant and extraordinary champion in the New World.
Another interest will be imparted to these arms. In becoming yours, on this day, they are destined to multiply the memorials of the most brilliant and extraordinary achievement in the military annals of this eventful age.14
Jackson's published response was equally gracious:
Colonel: The present tendered to me, at the request of your friend, Mr. Robinson, is most acceptable. No man living entertains a higher veneration for the character, the virtues, and disinterested patriotism of the Father of American Liberty, than I do; and no present, I assure you, could be more acceptable to me, or better prized, than that which once was his. But it possesses additional value; it was the gift of LaFayette to our illustrious Chieftain; a man who lives, as he merits to live, in the hearts and affections of the people of this country....I accept it, Sir, and shall, while I live, retain it with the greatest satisfaction. That it should be presented on this day too, inspires me with additional feeling. It was a day, when I, the humble instrument of a superintending Providence, was enabled, through the valor and firmness of the brave yeomanry of my country, to ward off a blow which might, if successful, have greatly endangered our peace, prosperity, and happiness. To those brave and suffering men, mine, and the thanks of our country are due. I pray you accept my thanks, and tender them, if you please, to your friend.15
Accompanying the pistols was the note of conveyance from William Robinson, to which Jackson graciously responded in writing:
Sudley, Va. Jan. 8, 1824
Sir: Be pleased to accept the pistols which were presented by the Marquis de LaFayette to General George Washington, and worn by him in the service of his country. It fell to my lot to become, as one of the legatees of Gen. Washington, the proprietor of this interesting property, and I cannot better dispose of it, than by transferring it to the successor of Washington, in the Military character of America.
With perfect respect, I have the honor to be your fellow-citizen and most obedient servant,
Washington, 8th of Jan. 1824
Sir: The pistols, which you tendered me thro Colo. Mercer, have been this day rec'd, and I beg you to accept in return my sincere thanks. You could have offered me nothing more acceptable, as instruments, which in the hands of the father of his country, & of him who was his bosom asociate, contributed to the establishment of the independence we enjoy, they derive additional value, & merit to be considered sacred & holy relics. I shall keep them Sir, feelingly impressed with a remembrance of their peculiar history; and of the kindness of yourself expressed towards me in their presentation.
With sincere respect, I am, sir, your most obedient servant.
Andrew Jackson (see fig. 5)
The final word on the origin and Washington ownership of the pistols comes from the mouth of the Marquis de Lafayette himself. During his triumphant return visit to the United States during 1824-1825, Lafayette made a tour of the country and visited Jackson at his home, the Hermitage (a plantation just outside of Nashville, Tennessee) on 5 May 1825. While at the house, some of Jackson's friends requested the general to show Lafayette and themselves the "arms of honour that he had received after the late war [War of 1812]." Jackson had his two presentation swords and a pair of pistols brought out and placed on a table. According to Auguste Levasseur, Lafayette's personal secretary and eyewitness to the occasion:
...those[arms] to which Gen. Jackson wished to particularly direct our attention were the pistols; which he presented to Gen. Lafayette, and inquired if he recollected them. After examining them attentively for several minutes, he replied that he did in fact recollect them as those that were offered in 1778, to his paternal friend Washington, that he experienced great satisfaction in seeing them again, and that he rejoiced to see them in the hands of a man so worthy of such an inheritance. At these words the face of 'Old Hickory' was covered in a modest blush, and his eye flashed as in the day of victory. "Yes, I think myself worthy,--" pressing the pistols and Gen. Lafayette's hands together,--"if not for what I have done, it is for what I desire to do for my country." All present applauded this modest reply of the patriot hero, and agreed that the arms of Washington could not be placed in better hands than those of Jackson.17
THE DESCENT OF THE PISTOLS IN THE LAFAYETTE FAMILY
Jackson, in turn, chose to emulate Lafayette's generosity of 1778 by bequeathing the pistols to Lafayette's son and George Washington's namesake, George Washington Lafayette. Jackson's 1843 will gives the "pistols of Genl Lafayette which were presented by him to Genl. George Washington, and by Col Wm Robertson [sic--Robinson] presented to me...to George Washington Lafayette as a memento of the illustrious personages thro whose hands they have passed, his Father, and the Father of his country."18 Two years later, the venerable warrior and statesman died (8 June 1845) and his son subsequently carried out his wishes after a short lapse of time. On 11 February 1846 Andrew Jackson, Jr. prepared a letter of conveyance to George Washington Lafayette:
In accordance with the last will and testament of my venerated Father, Genl Andrew Jackson, I forward you a pair of Pistols which was presented to the Father of our Country, Genl. George Washington by the friend of Liberty--Genl LaFayette, who name is dear to every American heart, and who was greatly beloved by my deceased Father....I comply with his request and would be gratified to receive in return a line from you informing them of their safe arrival.19
This pistols were delivered to George Washington Lafayette via J.L. Martin, the Charge d'Affairs at the U.S. Legation in Paris and were accompanied by the presentation document included in the sale of the pistols and illustrated in figs. 8 and 9. Upon receiving the pistols, George Washington Lafayette wrote to J.L. Martin:
In receiving from you, Sir, yesterday the arms of French origin, worn by my father in America, in the cause of independence and of liberty; afterwards sanctified, if I may so express myself, by the hand of the great man, whose memory is the object of a nation's devotion; and which subsequently adorned the retirement of an illustrious General, I bowed down before the great and painful recollections at the same time that I was moved by the liveliest gratitude for the venerable soldier, who deigned to remember that the son of General Lafayette was also the god-son of Washington.20
George Washington Lafayette (1779-1849) was indeed the namesake and godson of George Washington. As mentioned above, he had lived with the Washingtons at Mount Vernon in 1797. He again returned to the United States during 1824-1825 in company with his 70-year old father and thus, had the occasion to meet Jackson and preview the pistols while they were still in Jackson's possession at the Hermitage. Thus, he was indeed uniquely suited for the bequest: Seed of the first owner, namesake of the second, and acquaintance of the third.21
PROPERTY OF A NEW YORK COLLECTOR
Post Lot Text
During the next century, the pistols passed down through three generations of the Lafayette family who in their wills and loans to exhibitions recognized the pistols' importance to the history of America. George Washington Lafayette gave the pistols to his son, Edmond de Lafayette (1818-1890). Like his father and grandfather, Edmond was an ardent supporter of American liberty. In 1865, he was one of a small group of Frenchmen who met with the artist Frederic Auguste Bartholdi to arrange the commission of a monument to celebrate the American-French pursuit of liberty. Erected in New York harbor nineteen years later, the Statue of Liberty was officially given to America by a deed of gift signed in France on July 4, 1884. As a representative of the Committee of the Franco-American Union, Edmond was one of the five signers of the document. He also visited America in 1881 to participate in the Yorktown Centennial Celebration, an event commemorating the decisive victory in which his grandfather had played such a central role.22
Edmond died in 1890 leaving no direct heirs and bequeathed the pistols to his nephew, Antonin de Beaumont (d. 1910). Edmond's will, which accompanies the sale of the pistols (figs. 10, 11), includes the following (translated from French):
I bequeath with all title to my Nephew Antonin de Beaumont, the pistols that belonged to Jackson the Defender of New Orleans. The pistols came from General Washington, which were then bequeathed by Jackson to my Father George de Lafayette. (see fig. 11)
Antonin left the pistols to his daughter Madame Edmond Hennocque (nee Marie de Beaumont) in his will of 27 December 1910. During her ownership of the pistols, she loaned them for temporary exhibitions on at least two occasions: "The United States and France during the 18th Century," mounted June-July 1929 at the Hotel Jean Charpentier in Paris; the second was for the 1934 Centennial Exhibition of "La Fayette, 1757-1834," held at the Musee de L'Orangerie. It was probably due to this public display that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt heard of their existence and referred to them during his speech, "Address on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Death of Lafayette" given on May 20, 1934. In 1958, Mme. Hennocque sold the pistols to Charles Marchal, a noted French antique arms dealer. He then sold them to a French private collector, Charles Dresser, in whose hands they remained until consigned back by his estate and sold by public auction at the Hotel Drouot, Paris, on 19 October 1983, at which time they again passed into private ownership.23
OTHER PISTOLS OWNED BY GEORGE WASHINGTON
The inventory of the contents of Mount Vernon conducted after Washington's death included four pairs of pistols. In the Study, there were "3 pr Pistols" with a combined value of $50 and another pair of "Steel Pistols" valued at $50. The latter pair of pistols may be the "finely wrought steel Pistols, taken from the enemy in the Revolutionary War" that Washington gave by bequest to the Marquis de Lafayette and which are reportedly still among the contents of La Grange, Lafayette's country estate in France, today.24 Besides the
Lafayette-Washington pistols offered here, there are at least three
other known pairs of pistols thought to have been owned by the first
President. Made by London gunsmiths Richard Wilson and John Hawkins in 1748, a pair was given in 1778 by Thomas Turner to Washington, who in
turn gave them to his personal secretary, Bartholomew Dandridge. After passing through several owners in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the pistols were presented in 1953 to the West Point Museum, where they remain today.25 The second pair is also thought to have been given by Lafayette to Washington, and presented at the close of the Revolutionary War. After descending through several hands of Washington Family descendants, and after the loss of one pistol, the remaining pistol was given to its current owner, the New York State Library in 1873.26 The third pair of pistols known to have been owned by Washington bear the mark of the London gunsmith Robert Wooley and are now in the collection of Mount Vernon.
1. For Lafayette's account of this meeting, see Michael de la Bedoyere, Lafayette: A Revolutionary Gentleman (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934), p. 39.
2. Cited in Idzerda, "Lafayette, Apostle of Liberty," Lafayette, Hero of Two Worlds (London, 1989), p. 15.
3. James Breck Perkins, France in the American Revolution (Williamstown, MA: Corner House Publishers, 1970), pp. 169-170, 173. Peter Bruckman, Lafayette (New York: Paddington Press, 1977), pp. 8-28.
4. Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington: A Biography, vol. 4 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951), pp. 471-482.
5. John B. B. Trussell, Jr., Birthplace of an Army: A Study of the Valley Forge Encampment (Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1976), passim. Louis Gottschalk, ed., The Letters of Lafayette to Washington 1777-1799 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1976), pp. 13-44.
6. Perkins, pp. 284-294.
7. Cited at http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/served/lafayette.html. See also, George Washington to Lafayette, November 15, 1781, The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress (available at: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/gwhtml/gwhome.html) and John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, vol. 23.
8. Cited at http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/served/lafayette.html.
9. Idzerda, pp.23-24.
10. See www.xenophongroup.com/mcjoynt/lafy-4.htm.
11. James L. Kochan, "The Washington-Jackson-Lafayette Pistols," (Unpublished mss., 2001), p. 13.
12. Kochan, pp. 6-7.
13. Cited in Robert and Carol Simpson, "Andrew Jackson's Historic Pistols, Part I," The Gun Report (January 1985), p. 16.
14. Ibid., p. 16
15. Ibid., p. 16.
16. Ibid., p. 16.
17. Cited in Simpson, p. 16; Auguste Levasseur, Lafayette in America, in 1824 and 1825 (New York: White, Gallaher & White, 1829), pp. 172-173. For accounts of visitors to the Hermitage who viewed the pistols, see Simpson, Part I, p. 17.
18. John Spencer Bassett, The Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, vol. 6 (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution, 1929-1933), p. 222. Cited in Simpson, Part I, p. 17.
19. Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Papers of President James K. Polk. Cited and illustrated in Simpson, Part I, p. 17, plate 2.
20. Cited in Simpson, Part I, p. 18.
21. Kochan, p. 13.
22: See www.geocities.com/pn3754/Statue_of_Liberty.htm; www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/hh/11/hh11i.htm; www.breeseusa.org/Bk_Monograph_part05.htm.
23: See Robert and Carol Simpson, "A Pair of Pistols 'Of French Origin,' Part II, The Gun Report (February 1985), pp. 16-20; Photostat of the will of Antonin de Beaumont, 27 December 1910; Les Etats-Unis & la France au XVIIIe Siecle (Paris, 1929), 65; Exposition du Centenaire de La Fayette 1757-1834 (Paris: Musee de l'Orangerie, 1934), 220; letter, Charles Marchal, 6 February 1984, re: purchase from the Hennocque family and subsequent history of the pistols. Kochan, p. 14. For Roosevelt's speech, see www.presidency.ucsb.edu/docs/pppus/rooseveltfd/1934/89.htm.
24. Kochan, pp. 7, 14.
25. See www.marsteller.org/philip_marsteller.htm.
26. See, Fifty-Sixth Annual Report of the Trustees of the New York State Library For the Year 1873 (Albany, 1874), pp. 140-141, 144.
END OF AFTERNOON SESSION