Benjamin Franklin Papers

A Sword for the Marquis de Lafayette: Four Documents, [before 24 August–c. 24 August 1779]

A Sword for the Marquis de Lafayette: Four Documents

(I) D: American Philosophical Society; (II) ADS: American Philosophical Society; (III) AL: American Philosophical Society; (IV) D:8 National Archives; D (draft): American Philosophical Society

On October 21, 1778, Congress granted Lafayette leave to return to France. They thanked him for the “disinterested zeal” that had brought him to America and directed Franklin to present him “an elegant sword, with proper devices.”9 It was suggested that this ceremonial sword represent the military actions in which Lafayette had most distinguished himself. The Marquis desired that his own cutler in Paris, Liger,1 make the item, and the craftsman consulted Franklin about it (I).2 The sword was ready by August 24, on which day Liger signed a receipt for payment in full (II). In a brief note to Temple, Franklin requested that the sword be shown to Madame Brillon (III). And it was Temple who was entrusted with bearing the sword to Le Havre to present to Lafayette personally.

Before sending the sword to Lafayette, Franklin composed a description of the splendid object (IV), probably for the purpose of publicizing Congress’ gift. This piece appeared in the French press, the Gazette de Leyde, and English newspapers.3 At least one French writer mocked the lavish manner in which the sword was described, comparing it to Homer’s rendering of Achilles’ shield. The marquis’ grandfather-in-law, the duc de Noailles, is said to have called it “plus poétique que ruineux.” Franklin apparently responded: “cela prouve que chacun a sa façon de voir.”4

On August 29, below, Lafayette thanked Franklin for the “Noble present.” While the marquis was in Austrian captivity during the French Revolution, his wife buried the sword for safekeeping. Although the blade rusted, the handle and mounting survived and were smuggled to him by his son.5


[before August 24, 1779]

Liger fourbisseur bijoutier De Mr Le Marquis De Lafayette rue Coquillerre au coin De celle Des vieux augustins pour la legende wich you was to send him for the sword of the Marquis.


a paris ce 24. aoust 1779

Je reconois avoir Receu de Monsieur De franclin La Somme de quatre mil huit cent livres pour payement Dune Epéé Dor a Bataille en Bas Relief Dont quittance


Bon pour quittance de: 4800 l.t.

Endorsed: Liger, Sword Cutler, Receipt. Aug 24 1779 £4800 l.t.


[c. August 24, 1779]

Madame Brillon is desirous to see the Sword. Be so good as to send it by my Servant.

Addressed: A Monsr Mons Franklin


[c. August 24, 1779]

Description of the Sword given by Congress to the Marquis de la Fayette.

On one Side of the Pommel are the Marquis’s Arms, and on the other the Device of a new Moon reflecting Rays of Light on a Country partly cover’d with wood & partly cultivated. Symbol of the Republick of the United States; with this Motto, Crescam ut prosim.6 By this it was intended modestly to express

1. Her present Mediocrity of Strength, as the Light of the Moon tho’ considerable, is weaker than that of the Sun.

2. Her Expectation of becoming more Powerful as she increases, and thereby rendering herself more useful to Mankind7

3. The Gratitude with which she remembers, that the Light she spreads is principally owing to the kind Aid of a greater Luminary8 in another Hemisphere.

On the Bow, is this Legend: From the American Congress to the Marquis de la Fayette 1779.

The Handle is ornamented with two Medallions. In One America represented by a Woman, presenting a Branch of Laurel to a Frenchman. In the Other a Frenchman is treading on a Lyon.

On the Guard are Seperately represented, in fine Relieve,

The affair at Gloucester

The Retreat off Rhode Island

The Battle of Monmouth

And the Retreat at Barren Hill.9

The Hilt is of Massive Gold. & the Blade two edged.—

Cost 200 Louis.1

Made by Liger, Sword Cutler, Rue Coquillierre

Notation: Description of the sword given by Congress to the Marqs de la Fayette

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8In WTF’s hand, and enclosed in BF to Jay, Oct. 4, below, along with the illustrations of the sword. The draft is also in WTF’s hand, with revisions and interlineations by BF that have been incorporated into the fair copy. An outline of the opening paragraph, in BF’s hand, is at the APS.

9JCC, XII, 1035. For our first discussion of the sword see XXVII, 619n.

1XXVII, 666; Almanach des marchands, p. 383.

2This is one of two brief notes probably left when Liger or his assistant came to call in BF’s absence. The second one, a simple calling card from “Liger fourbisseur &c jeweller” and in the same hand, is at the APS.

3A French translation by Dumas is at the Library of Congress, and a partial translation, in an unknown hand, at the APS. Dumas’ appeared in the Sept. 3 issue of the Gaz. de Leyde along with his translation of BF’s Aug. 24 letter to Lafayette. Both items also appeared (retranslated into English from the French) in the Sept. 13 supplement of the General Advertiser, and Morning Intelligencer. A detailed description and sketches of the sword are in Jules Cloquet, Souvenirs sur la vie privée du Général Lafayette (Paris, 1836), pp. 214–23.

4Métra, Correspondance secrète, VIII, 335–6.

5Cloquet, Souvenirs, pp. 213–14.

6“May I grow in order to be useful.”

7Two separate articles in the draft: “2. Her expectation of becoming More Powerful as she increases 3. Her desire of becoming more useful to Mankind.”

8Footnote in text: “The king of France; whose Symbol is the Sun.”

9Lafayette’s role in these actions is detailed in Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette Joins the American Army (Chicago, 1937), pp. 80–2, 186–93, 218–28, 265–6.

1Or, 4,800 l.t. A critic of the French government claimed it had secretly reimbursed BF 1,000 l.t. for the sword: Métra, Correspondance secrète, VIII, 413. On Oct. 13 BF paid Liger 216 l.t. for two drawings of the sword: Accounts VI and XXIII (XXIII, 21, and XXIX, 3).

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