[WASHINGTON, George]. A silver epaulette star from Washington's uniform, corresponding to the style prescribed for general officers of the United States in the period 1796-1800, one of a set of six ordered for the former President by Secretary of War James McHenry in June 1799, later presented by Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis ("Nelly"), his step-granddaughter, to Miss Elizabeth Mifflin (in 1823), accompanied by a small autograph note of presentation reading "Star from Epaulette of Genl. Washington, presented to Miss Elizabeth Mifflin by Mrs. E.P. Lewis, June 30, 1823."
One eight-pointed epaulette star of silver bullion wire and silver sequins, sewn in the form of an eight-pointed star with large central rosette or boss of overlapping silver sequins, 1½ in (36mm.) in diameter, 3/16 thick, the points slightly curving and sewn with radiating lengths of spun-silver wire, sewn on linen backing. Matted and framed with the accompanying note (a small oblong) and an engraved portrait.
A SILVER "STAR FROM EPAULETTE OF GENL. WASHINGTON": THE LEWIS - MIFFLIN EPAULETTE STAR
A very interesting relic of the military apparel of the former President, who had been named Lt. General and Commander-in-Chief of the Army in 1798 when it appeared war with France might ensue. It is accompanied with excellent documentation concerning its origin and subsequent ownership by Washington's beloved step-granddaughter "Nelly" Custis Lewis (a beneficiary under Washington's will, and noted for making gifts of relics associated with her illustrious relation). From an early date, Washington and other ranking American officers of the Continental Army adopted many French style insignia of rank, including bullion stars on their epaulettes. Washington alone, as Commander-in-Chief, was authorized to apply three stars to the strap of each epaulette. Washington clearly had several uniforms and wore several sets of epaulettes, some of which were plain, without stars, as in the 1791 miniature by Ramage, sold at Christie's 19 January and those of Edward Savage (1789), John Trumbull (1790, 1791) and Walter Robertson (1794). But the well-known 1787 portrait by Charles Peale depicts Washington with epaulettes bearing three stars. Three original epaulettes of Washington survive: a pair in the National Museum of American History, a pair presented to Washington by David Humphreys, his aide and biographer, now in the Massachusetts Historical Society, plus a recently discovered single epaulette (sold Christie's, 19 May 2000, lot 142, $72,850, now in private ownership). These surviving examples are all without stars, but are of earlier vintage, before the Army's 1798 specifications for uniforms, which specifically required starred epaulettes, in 1798.
The elegantly worked star apparently belonged to a set of six made for the former President, who placed an order for a complete new uniform, in accordance with the new regulations, with his Philadelphia tailor, James McAlpine, through James McHenry, Secretary of War. The new uniform, which was to correspond to newly adopted specifications for officers' uniforms, was to be delivered by 22 February 1799. But McAlpine found it extremely difficult to locate sufficient gold wire braid to complete the uniform. On May 12, Washington expressed mild impatience at the delay and reminded McAlpine that he had promised to "complete and send on my Uniform suit, so soon as the Gold Thread...should have arrived" (Writings, 37:206). But on June 7--concerned that he be properly attired for the approaching Independence Day celebrations in Alexandria--he complained to McHenry that "of course the stars for my Epaulets have stood suspended, and I would thank you for sending them to me." But McHenry too evidently found gold trimmings unobtainable, and on 24 June he informed the General that he had found a substitute: six silver stars, which he was having made, and would send as soon as completed. The next day, the silver stars were delivered and forwarded by McHenry with a receipt from the vendors, Michael Roberts and Thomas Levering, recording that McHenry had paid a dollar each for them on Washington's behalf. On the 30th Washington expressed his gratitude: "For the Stars, enclosed in the letter, I thank you. Six dollars is herein remitted" (37:254).
The star is the subject of a detailed report "Preliminary Findings on the 'Lewis-Mifflin' Star," by James L. Kochan, a copy of which accompanies the lot.
1. Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis ("Nelly") step-granddaughter to Washington, who was bequethed one part of twenty-three from his residual estate "real & personal." Although no uniforms appear on the inventory made at the time Washington's will was probated, the Custis family clearly inherited a number of articles of Washington's clothing. Mrs. Lewis is known to have presented relics and mementos of her illustrious relative to friends.
2. Elizabeth Mifflin (1797-1885), gift of the preceding. Elizabeth was the niece of a Elizabeth Bordley Gibson, a close friend of Nelly's.
3. The present owner.