Revolutionary War Historical Article

Revolutionary War Presentation Swords

by Donald N. Moran

From the Bronze Age, when the first swords are known to have been created, to today the sword has a very special place in our military traditions. From the beginning they were a treasured possession. It then followed that they would become a valued gift, hence the presentation sword.

During the Revolutionary War era, military medals were just being created, but they were large, 4 1/2 inches in diameter and made of precious metals. They were not worn, but used as a table decoration. A promotion or a presentation of a sword were the more common rewards for victory or exceptional gallantry.

The American colonies did not have any professional sword makers, although some of our silver and gold smiths were able to hand make a few beautiful examples. Most swords came from Europe. In fact, many officers possessed two swords - a dress or as it was called small sword, and a saber which they carried into battle. When captured, these swords were often presented by senior officers to officers serving under them. Although we know of several instances where swords were presented, we will concentrate on those our government, Congress, presented. They kept records on the fifteen presentation swords they authorized. Typical of governments, they would authorize the presentation of a sword, with flowery language, and then not have the sword to give.

Ten of the fifteen presentation swords were purchased by Congress in 1786, three years after the war and as long as eleven years after being authorized. Colonel David Humphrey, one time Aide-de-Camp to General Washington, brought the ten swords back from France where they were purchased. Nine of these ten swords are known to exist. We have indicated these swords with a "C".

By resolution of Congress, 12 December 1775 a sword to be of value of one hundred dollars to be presented to Captain Henry B. Livingston in testimony of his service to his country, Journal of the Continental Congress Volume III, p-424. This sword has not been found.

By resolution of Congress, 19 November 1776 a sword of the value of one hundred dollars to be presented to Major Walter Stewart of Pennsylvania for his having brought late intelligence from General Gates, is recommended as a deserving officer and is promoted to Brevet Lt. Colonel. Journal of the Continental Congress Volume VI, p-966. The location of this sword is unknown.

By resolution of Congress, 25 July 1777 an elegant sword to be presented to Lt. Colonel William Barton of Rhode Island for his capturing British General Richard Prescott and Major William Barrington, his Aide-de-Camp. Journal of the Continental Congress Volume VIII, p-580. This sword is now owned by the Rhode Island Historical Society.

By resolution of Congress, 25 July 1777 an elegant sword C to be presented to Lt. Colonel Return J. Meigs, of Connecticut for his distinguished prudence, activity, enterprise and valor in the expedition to Long Island. Journal of the Continental Congress Volume VIII, p-579. This sword is on display at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

By resolution of Congress, 7 November 1781 an elegant sword C to be presented to Col. David Humphreys, for his fidelity and ability. On November 3rd, 1781 he presented Congress with the twenty-four British Regimental flags captured at Yorktown. Journal of the Continental Congress Volume XXI, pp-1099. This sword is in the collection of the American Society of Arms Collectors.

By resolution of Congress, 4 October 1777 an elegant sword C to be presented to Lt. Col. Marinus Willett of New York for his distinguished merit for repeated instances of his bravery and conduct in the sally on the enemy investing [enveloping] Fort Schuyler [Fort Stanwix]. Journal of the Continental Congress Volume XXI p-771. This sword is now in the possession of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

By resolution of Congress, 4 November 1777 an elegant sword C to be presented to Colonel Christopher Greene of Rhode Island for his gallant defense of the fort at Red Bank on the Delaware River. Journal of the Continental Congress Volume IX, p-862. This sword is now owned by Mr. Francis V. Greene, a great. great.great. grandson. It had to have been presented to a family member as Colonel Greene had been killed in action on May 14th, 1781, before the sword was purchased.

By resolution of Congress, 4 November 1777 an elegant sword C to be presented to Commodore John Hazelwood of Pennsylvania for his gallant defense against a British Fleet in the Delaware River. Journal of the Continental Congress Volume IX, p-862. This sword is on display at the Naval Museum, Washington, D.C.

By resolution of Congress, 21 October 1778 an elegant sword with proper devices for his zeal, courage and abilities on many signal occasions in the Service of the United States to be presented to Major General the Marquis de LaFayette. Journal of the Continental Congress Volume XII p-1035. This sword has not been found.

By resolution of Congress, 9 March 1781 a sword C to be presented to Colonel Andrew Pickens of South Carolina for his spirited conduct in the Battle of Cowpens, 17 January 1781, Journal of the Continental Congress Volume XIX p-247. This sword is displayed at Anderson House, Washington, D.C. the Headquarters and Museum of the Society of the Cincinnati.

By resolution of Congress, 29 October 1781 a sword to be presented to Captain William Pierce of Virginia for his particular activity and good conduct during the Battle of Eutaw Springs, South Carolina, 8 September 1781. (Captain Pierce was the Aide-de-Camp to General Nathaniel Greene and carried the word to Congress regarding the victory at Eutaw Springs.) Journal of the Continental Congress Volume XXI, p-1085. This Sword has not been found.

By resolution of Congress, 29 October 1781 a sword to be presented to Colonel Otho Holland Williams of Maryland for his great military skill and uncommon exertions during the battle of Eutaw Springs, 8 September 1781. Journal of the Continental Congress Volume XXI, p-1085. This sword has not been found. There is reason to believe that Colonel Williams never received it.

By resolution of Congress, 7 November 1781 an elegant sword C to be presented to Colonel David Humphreys, for his fidelity and ability. On November 3rd, 1781 he presented Congress with the twenty-four British Regimental flags captured at Yorktown. Journal of the Continental Congress Volume XXI, p-1099. This sword is in the collection of an American Society of Arms collector, who wishes to remain anonymous. It was on display last year at the William B. Ruger Gallery of the National Firearms Museum. We have encountered reports that Colonel Humphrey¹s congressional sword is on display at the museum of the New Haven Colonial Society, however, that particular sword is the saber that was presented to Colonel Humphrey by the Society of the Cincinnati.

By resolution of Congress, 15 April 1784 a gold hilted sword to be presented to Major General Frederick William Augustus, Baron de [von]Steuben, for his great zeal and abilities as Inspector General of the Army of the United States. Colonel Christopher Greene of Rhode Island for his gallant defense of the fort at Red Bank on the Delaware River. Journal of the Continental Congress Volume XXVI, p-227. The whereabouts of this sword is unknown

Back to Index of Articles on Revolutionary War Places & Things

Back to Historical Archives

link to aboutus