Diplomatic Reception Rooms

United States of America flag

Web Property of the U.S. Department of State

Object Details

Maker
Designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant (French, 1753-1825), cast by Claude-Jean Autral Duval (French, active 18th/19th centuries), and embellished by Nicolas-Jean Francastel (French, active 1784-1786)
Date
1784
Geography
France: Paris
Culture
French
Medium
metal; gold with polychrome enamels, silk ribbon (reattached)
Dimensions
Overall: 3/16 in x 1 1/5 in; .47625 cm x 3.81 cm
Provenance
Timothy Pickering (1745-1829) by unknown descent; Northeast Auction, August 20-21, 1994, lot 477; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase.
Inscriptions
"VIRT__AEM- SOCI- CIN- RUM- INST A.D. 1783"; on reverse "OMNIA- RELINQT- SERVARE- REMPB"
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mr. and Mrs. Richard A. Milburn
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1994.0013

Related Objects

Chinese Export Porcelain Plate from George Washington's Society of the Cincinnati Service

Chinese Export Porcelain Plate from George Washington's Society of the Cincinnati Service

Unknown
ca. 1784-1785; and later
ceramic; porcelain with underglaze blue and overglaze polychrome enamels

Object Essay

In 1783 Generals Henry Knox and Frederich Wilhelm von 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” among 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 Quinctius Cincinnatus,” the epitome of the citizen soldier (see Acc. No. 72.27).1Francis S. Drake, Memorials of the Society of the Cincinnati of Massachusetts (Boston: Society of the Cincinnati of Massachusetts, 1873), 8.

The society’s founding document, its 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.”2Drake, Society of the Cincinnati, 11–12. Society member Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed the medal in the shape of the eagle, which had been utilized in 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 Paris by the medalist and engraver Claude-Jean Duval 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 a simplified version of the one requested with fewer figures and attributes than originally stipulated.3Martha 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.

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, including secretary of state (1795–97; see Acc. No. 94.14). 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.4Drake, 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.

Barbara McLean Ward

Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.