From Henry Hill
Philad[elphi]a May 7th 1790
I have the honor as one of the Executors of the late Doctor Franklin to present you by the hands of Major Clarkson a token left by him in the following words—“My fine Crab tree walking stick with a gold head curiously wrought in the form of the cap of Liberty I give to my friend & the friend of Mankind General Washington—If it were a sceptre, he has merited it, & would become it.”1 I am with best Compliments to Mrs Washington, & all sincere respect and affection Sir Your most obedt hble sert
1. The walking stick was a gift to Franklin from Marianne Cammasse Deux-Ponts, comtesse de Forbach, one of his many French admirers (see Chevalier de Keralie to Franklin, 20 July 1783, PPAmP: Franklin Papers; see also Lopez, Mon Cher Papa, description begins Claude-Anne Lopez. Mon Cher Papa: Franklin and the Ladies of Paris. New Haven, and London, 1966. description ends 191–92). The bequest to GW was part of the codicil to Franklin’s 23 June 1789 will (Smyth, Writings of Benjamin Franklin, description begins Albert Henry Smyth, ed. The Writings of Benjamin Franklin. 10 vols. New York, 1905–7. description ends 10:501–10). Franklin’s will adds: “It was a present to me from that excellent woman, Madame de Forbach, the dowager Duchess of Deux-Ponts, connected with some verses which should go with it.” The poem was entitled “A Mr. Franklin, En lui présentant, de la part de Madame la Comtesse Douairière de Deux Ponts, un bâton d’épine surmonté d’une pomme d’or, figurant le chapeau de la liberté”:
Dans les plaines de Marathon,
Où l’insolence Musulmane
A d’éternels affronts condamne
La postérité de Solon;
Parmi la ronce et les épines
Qui couvrent ces bords malheureux,
Et cachent les cendres divines
Des sages, des héros fameux,
La Liberté, votre déesse,
Avant d’abandonner la Grece,
Arracha ce bâton noueux:
Ou le vit aux Alpes Pennines,
Pour terrasser l’Autrichien,
Briller entre les javelines
Du valeureux Helvétien;
Elle en fit depuis une lance,
Lorsque dans les champs de Trenton
Elle dirigeoit la vaillance
Et l’audace de Washington.
Ce symbole de la victoire
Qu’orne aujourd’hui le chapeau du grand Tell,
Ce ferme appui que votre gloire
Rendra désormais immortel,
Assurera vos pas au Temple de Mémoire.
Franklin had the poem printed by the Paris printer Didot the Elder in 1783 (copies of this printing are in the collections of the Library of Congress and the University of Pennsylvania). It is not known whether a copy of the poem was delivered to GW as Franklin instructed; no such enclosure to Hill’s letter has been found. GW bequeathed the walking stick to his brother Charles, who died in 1799. The walking stick passed at GW’s death to Charles’s son, Samuel Washington, who gave it to his son, Samuel T. Washington. The latter presented it to Congress, along with one of GW’s swords, in January 1843 (Ford, Wills of George Washington, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. Wills of George Washington and His Immediate Ancestors. Brooklyn, 1891. description ends 101). The walking stick is now (1994) in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
GW acknowledged receipt of the bequest in a letter to Hill of 3 June 1790: “The severe indisposition from which I am just recovering will excuse this late acknowledgement of your letter of the 7th instant, which accompanied the cane left me by the great and invaluable Dr Franklin.
“As a token of remembrance and a mark of friendship, I receive this legacy with pleasing sensations and a grateful heart, and the words in which it was conveyed were highly flattering, as coming from a man, of whom the world justly entertained an exalted opinion, and whose favorable sentiments could not fail of being grateful to the person upon whom they were bestowed.
“To you, Sir, my best acknowledgments are due for the polite manner in which you have executed your trust” (LB, DLC:GW).