- Artist/MakerL'Enfant, Pierre Charles (1753-1825); Belle, Augustin-Louis (1757-1841); Leveau, Jean Jacques (1729-1785)
- Date MadeApril 2, 1788
- Place MadeFrance: Paris
- MaterialsPaper; Line engraving on laid paper
- Measurements2'3" l. x 1'9" h.
- Gift of Mr. and Mrs. R.Y. Mottahedah
- Accession #1966.0027
Society of the Cincinnati Membership Diploma
In May of 1784 the Society of the Cincinnati adopted Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s design for its membership diploma. The copperplate was prepared in Paris by the engraver Jean Jacques Leveau after a drawing by August le Belle and sent to America and where the wording was added by an unknown American engraver. The French members, in particular, were anxious to have some written evidence of their connection with the American conflict, but it took many years before they received their diplomas. This example was signed by the president general, George Washington, and the secretary general Henry Knox and sent to France in 1788.
The medallions at each side of the certificate display the attributes of the Society’s medal as described in the Society’s founding document, the Institution. The obverse, depicted at left, shows Cincinnatus receiving the accoutrements of war from three generals while his wife huddles next to their home. An armor-clad warrior holds an American flag with the Great Seal of the United States (adopted 1782) in the center (replacing the customary stars), and his foot rests on the flags of the British Empire. At his side, an eagle discharges lightning bolts, forcing Britannia, her crown askew, and a puppy-like British lion to make a hasty retreat in a fragile rowboat. On the right, the medallion’s reverse shows Cincinnatus being crowned by fame, with the sun rising over a city with open gates and vessels entering the port. The medallion hangs from a chain fastened to the sash of an angel who heralds the arrival of the French fleet and American victory. The membership badge (see C6) worn by the Society’s members, in the form of an eagle, illuminates the scene from the heavens.
The Society of the Cincinnati was established as a fraternal order to perpetuate the friendship between officers of the Continental Army and their French allies. Membership was to be open to all Continental Army officers who served three years or more as well as French ministers, admirals, and commanders of the French army and navy. This certificate, signed by George Washington in 1788, was issued to Claude-Gabriel, Marquis de Choisy (1723–1799), who as Brigadier General of Infantry commanded a detachment at the Siege of Yorktown under the Comte de Rochambeau. Following the surrender the marquis was promoted to the rank of Maréschal de Camp, the title on this certificate, and set sail for France with Rochambeau from Annapolis in January 1783. Louis XVI recognized the French Society in January 1784 and was patron of the order. Dissolved during the Reign of Terror in 1792, it was reorganized in the twentieth century and officially recognized by the General Society in 1925.
Barbara McLean Ward
1. E. McSherry Fowble, Two Centuries of Prints in America, 1680–1880 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia for the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1987), 267; General Edward Erskine Hume “The Diplomas of the Society of the Cincinnati,” Americana 29, no. 1 (January 1935): 19–20, 41–43. I wish to thank Emily Schultz of the Museum of The Society of the Cincinnati Headquarters, Anderson House, Washington, D.C., for making this source available to me.
2. Francis S. Drake, Memorials of the Society of the Cincinnati of Massachusetts (Boston: for the Society, 1873), 11–12.
3. Drake, Society of the Cincinnati, 8–13.
4. M. Prevost and Roman D’Amat, eds., Dictionnaire de Biographie Français (Paris: Librarie Letouzey et Ane, 1959), 8:1226–27; Asa Nird Gardiner, The Order of the Cincinnati in France, Its Organization and History (N.p.: Rhode Island State Society of the Cincinnati, 1905), 78. I wish to thank Emily Schultz for making this latter source available to me.