George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Quincy Adams, 12 September 1796


Philadelphia 12th Sepr 1796

Dear Sir,

To open a correspondence with you on so trifling a subject as that which gives birth to this letter, would hardly be Justified, were it not for the singularity of the case. This singularity will, I hope, apologize for the Act.

Sometime ago—perhaps two or three months—I read in some Gazette, but was so little impressed with it at the time (conceiving it to be one of those things which get into News papers no body knows how, or why) that I cannot now recollect whether the Gazette was of American, or foreign production, announcing, that a celebrated Artist had presented, or was about to present to the President of the United States, a Sword of Masterly workmanship, as an evidence of his veneration &ca &ca.

I thought no more of the matter afterwards, until a Gentleman with whom I have no acquaintance; coming from, and going to I know not where; at a Tavern, I never could get information of; came across this sword (for it is presumed to be the same) pawned for thirty dollars which he paid—left it in Alexandria (nine miles from my house in Virginia), with a person who refunded him the money, and sent the Sword to me.

This is all I have been able to learn of this curious affair. The blade is highly wrought, and decorated with many military emblems; it has my name engraved thereon, and the following Inscription (translated from the Dutch) "Condemner of Despotism, Preserver of Liberty, glorious man, take from my Sons hands, this Sword I beg you" a Sollingen. The hilt is either gold, or richly plated with that metal; and the whole carries with it the form of a horsemans Sword, or long Sabre.

The matter, as far as it appears at present, is a perfect enigma—How it shd have come into this country without a letter or an accompanying message; how, afterwards, it should have got into such loose hands; and whither the person having it in his possession was steering his course, remains, as yet to be explained; some of them, probably can only be explained by the Maker and the Maker no otherwise to be discovered than by the Inscription and name "a Sollingen" who, from the impression which dwells on my mind, is of Amsterdam.

If Sir, with this clue you can develope the history of this Sword; the value of it; the character of the maker, and his probable object in sending it—it would oblige me, and by relating these facts to him, might obviate doubts which otherwise might be entertained by him of its fate, or of its reception. With great esteem & regard I am—Dear Sir Your Obedient Servt

Go: Washington

MHi: Adams Papers.

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