Lot 179
  • 179

Washington, George, as First President

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Letter signed ("Go: Washington"), text in a neat clerical hand, 1 page (10 x 7 3/4 in.; 253  x 198 mm) on a bifolium, New York, 25 March 1790, to General Anthony Wayne, postscript on verso, docketed lower left by Wayne's son Isaac: "Dr. Mean of Phila. last summer had a view of this Medal for the purpose of describing it in his catalogue of American Medals, a description can be obtained from him. March, 1817"; lower two-thirds of integral blank replaced with period paper, masterfully silked closing horizontal fold separations. Housed in a half blue morocco folding-case gilt, with a nineteenth-century medal (cleaned) struck by the U.S. Mint from copy dies.


cf. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, ed. Twohig, 5:277–79; cf. Adams & Bentley, Comitia Americana and Related Medals (2007), pp. 67–76

Catalogue Note

George Washington's letter of transmittal for Anthony Wayne's congressional gold medal, one of just fourteen medals authorized by Congress during the Revolution for presentation to specific individuals "to signalize and commemorate certain interesting events and Conspicuous Characters" (Journals of the Continental Congress 33: 422).

"You will receive with this, a Medal struck by order of the late Congress in commemoration of your much approved conduct in the Assault of Stoney Point—and presented to you as a mark of the high sense which your Country entertains of your services on that occasion.

"This Medal was put into my hands by Mr. Jefferson; and it is with singular pleasure that I now transmit it to you. In the postscript, Washington acknowledges "the receipt of your letter of the 1st February, which reached my hands a few days since."

Anthony Wayne's capture of the British garrison at Stony Point, New York, was one of the pivotal actions of the American Revolution. In late May 1779, British forces under General Henry Clinton began moving up the Hudson, hoping to draw George Washington into battle and possibly even to reach West Point, the "key to the American continent."

On the first of June Clinton's troops occupied small Continental garrisons at Stony Point, on the west side of the Hudson, and at Verplanks Point, which stood opposite on the east side of the river. These occupations disrupted ferry service and Washington's ability to maintain lines of communication across the Hudson. On 1 July 1779 Washington wrote to Wayne from New Windsor, sending him "private and confidential" instructions for making a reconnaissance of the two fortifications. Two days later, Wayne sent his report, including sketch maps, to the Commander in Chief, suggesting that Washington view the fields for himself. On 6 July Washington did join Wayne for to personally reconnoiter the grounds. Although the British fortifications at Stony Point appeared formidable, a deserter informed Washington that "there was a sandy beach on the South side running along the flank of the works and only obstructed by a slight abbatis which might afford an easy and safe approach to a body of troops."

The adventurous Wayne, whose audacious exploits earned him the nickname of "Mad" Anthony, readily agreed to undertake the mission. Washington wrote him with further details on 10 July. "My ideas for the enterprise in contemplation are these. That it should be attempted by the light Infantry only, which should march under cover of Night and with the utmost secrecy to the enemys lines. ... Between one and two hundred chosen men and Officers I conceive fully sufficient for the surprise. ... They are to advance (the whole of them) with fixed Bayonets and Muskets unloaded. ... If success should attend the enterprize, measures should be instantly taken to prevent if practicable the retreat of the garrison by Water or to annoy them as much as possible as they attempt it, and the Guns should be immediately turned against the Shipping and Verplanks point and covered if possible from the enemys fire. Secrecy is so much more essential to these kinds of enterprizes than numbers, that I should not think it advisable to employ any other than the light Troops. If a surprise takes place, they are fully competent to the business, if it does not, numbers will avail little."

On the evening of 15 July 1779, Wayne carried out the attack as described by Washington, although he took a significantly larger force—some 1,200 men—than Washington envisioned. Aided by poor weather, the Americans caught the British completely unawares and easily retook the garrison. The British reported 20 men killed, 74 wounded, 58 missing, and 472 captured. Wayne sustained fewer than one hundred casualties, including 15 dead, and the discipline he exercised over his troops prevented many of the British prisoners from being massacred. As dawn broke on 16 July, Wayne sent a brief dispatch to Washington: "The fort and garrison, with Col. Johnson, are ours. The men behaved like men determined to be free."

Washington inspected the battlefield the next day and forwarded the news of Wayne's success to Congress. Washington was generous in his praise of Wayne, telling John Jay, then President of Congress, that "his conduct, throughout the whole of this arduous enterprise, merits the warmest approbation of Congress. He improved upon the plan recommended by me and executed it in a manner that does signal honor to his judgment and to his bravery. In a critical moment of the assault he received a flesh wound in the head with a musket-ball; but continued leading on his men with unshaken firmness."

On 26 July, Congress voted for a resolution of thanks to Washington and Wayne for the capture of Stony Point, a copy of which was sent to Wayne the following day with a personal letter of thanks: "Your late glorious achievements have merited and now receive the Approbation & Thanks of your Country. They are contained in the enclosed Act of Congress which I have the honor to transmit. This brilliant Action has added fresh luster to our Arms, and will teach the Enemy to respect our Power, if not to imitate our Humanity. You have nobly reaped laurels in the cause of your Country, & in fields of danger and death. May these prove the earnest of more, and may victory every bear your Standard, and Providence be your Shield."

Congress also awarded a gold  medal to General Wayne and silver medals to François-Louis Teissèdre, marquis de Fleury, and John Stewart, the two officers who led the specially chosen detachments to cut away the abbatis in front of the British works at Stony Point. The delivery of Wayne's medal, however, took much longer than did the resolution of gratitude from Congress.

During the course of the Revolution, Congress authorized the presentation of just eleven other gold and silver medals to specific individuals. The very first military medals awarded by the United States were given to John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart for the capture of Benedict Arnold's spymaster, Major John André; these three medals were American-made, likely by a silversmith. The other eight medals were part of the same "Comitia Americana" series as the Stony Point awards and give to George Washington, for the siege of Boston; Horatio Gates, for his victory over Burgoyne at Saratoga; Henry Lee, for the capture of Paulus Hook; Daniel Morgan, John Eager Howard, and William Washington, for their exploits at the Battle of Cowpens; Nathanael Greene, for his victory at Eutaw Springs; and John Paul Jones, for his capture of the Serapis.

In addition to the medals commemorating the capture of André, only one other was actually awarded during the war: François de Fleury's medal for Stony Point was made in Paris under the direction of Benjamin Franklin and presented to him there. The pressing business of the War itself prevented any attempt to procure the others, but after the Peace was signed, Robert Morris, as superintendent of finance, wrote to David Humphreys, secretary to the American peace commissioners, asking that he commission the medals from European artisans.

When Humphreys left Paris in November 1785, he turned the project over to Thomas Jefferson, who managed to see all of the outstanding medals through to completion except those for John Paul Jones and Henry Lee. The medals for Gates and Greene were completed and sent to Congress, in July 1787. Jefferson carried the six other completed medals with him when he returned to the United States in March 1790. Jefferson presented all of them to President George Washington, who accepted his and took responsibility for distributing the others.

Each medal had a unique design. The dies for Wayne's medal were cut Nicolas-Marie Gatteaux in Paris. The obverse depicts the figure of America, in the guise of a female Indian, presenting a laurel wreath and crown to Wayne. The inscription around reads: antonio wayne duci exercitus—comitia americana [To Anthony Wayne, general of the army, the American Congress].  The reverse shows a column of troops marching toward a fortress on a hill, which flies the British colors; eight ships ply the Hudson; the foreground with cannon trained on the fortress (inaccurate of the actual battle).  The inscription around reads: stoney-point expugnatum—xv jul.mdcclxxix [Stoney Point captured, 15 July 1779].  Both obverse and reverse dies signed: gatteaux.

The medal remained in the Wayne family until 1978, when it was consigned for sale to Sotheby Parke Bernet; it was sold (15 June 1978, lot 519) for $51,000 (then a world record for any medal) to the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution, which placed it on exhibition at the United States Mint, Philadelphia, shortly thereafter.

The original dies for the medal appear to have been lost at a relatively early date, and few off-metal strikes from these dies are known.  In the 1840's electrotype copies were made from the original, but it was not until 1886 that United States Mint engraver Charles Barber cut copy dies.  The first medals from these dies are  recorded as having been struck in Philadelphia 1888/89, with a total of 47 pieces apparently produced. The medal that accompanies the letter is from these dies.