- Artist/MakerDesigned by Pierre Charles L'Enfant; cast by Claude-Jean Duval; embellished by Nicholas-Jean Francastel
- Date Made1784
- Place MadeFrance: Paris
- MaterialsMetals; Gold; Polychrome Enamels; Textiles; Silk Ribbon
- Measurements6"l with ribbon; 3/16 x 1 ½ x 15/16 in.; 7 dwt.
- Funds donated by Mr. and Mrs. Richard L. Milburn
- RoomThe John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room
- Accession #1994.0013
Society of the Cincinnati Badge and Ribbon owned by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering
In 1783, General Henry Knox and Baron de Steuben led the effort to establish the Society of the Cincinnati, a hereditary fraternal order designed to perpetuate the “friendships which have been formed under the pressure of common danger” between officers of the Continental Army and their French allies. The name was chosen because of the American officers’ “high veneration for the character of that illustrious Roman Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus,” the epitome of the citizen soldier (see also cat. No. 50).
The Society’s Institution describes the “Order by which its members shall be known and distinguished” as a gold medal “suspended by a deep blue ribbon . . . edged with white, descriptive of the union of France and America.” Cincinnatus was to be shown with “Three senators presenting him with a sword and other military ensigns on a field . . . his wife standing at the door of their cottage; near it a plough and instruments of husbandry.” Society member Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed the medal in the shape of the eagle, which had been adopted as the Great Seal of the United States, with the Society’s medallion on its breast. Pickering’s medal was one of the original forty-one badges cast in France by the medallist and engraver Duval in Paris and decorated by the goldsmith Nicholas-Jean Francastel. It is gold with details in white, red, green, and blue enamel. The medallion on the eagle’s breast is simplified from the description in the Institution, with fewer figures and attributes than originally stipulated.
Although some officers questioned whether a hereditary society was in keeping with republican principles, it is unlikely that the owner of this medal, Timothy Pickering (1745–1829), would have shared their doubts. A native of Salem, Massachusetts, Pickering served the Continental Army as adjutant general (1777), a member of the Board of War (1777–80), and quartermaster general (1780–85), and was one of the original members of the Society and signers of the Institution. Under President Washington he held several important posts (see A49), including Secretary of State (1795–97). Pickering continued as Secretary of State under President John Adams but was dismissed in 1800 for openly opposing Adams’s efforts to avoid war with France.
Barbara McLean Ward
1. Francis S. Drake, Memorials of the Society of the Cincinnati of Massachusetts (Boston: for the Society, 1873), 8.
2. Drake, Society of the Cincinnati, 11–12.
3. Martha Gandy Fales, Jewelry in America, 1600–1900 (Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1995), 132–34. The French officers presented George Washington with a unique example of the badge set with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, which is now owned by the Museum of Society of the Cincinnati, Anderson House, Washington, D.C.
4. Drake, Society of the Cincinnati; American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), s.v. “Timothy Pickering”; and information supplied by Emily Schultz of the Museum of The Society of the Cincinnati.