The Medallic History of the United States of America 1776-1876

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member of the new-york historical society.

knight commander of st. stanislaus of russia.
knight of the first class of the crown and of frederick of württemberg.
knight of the legion of honor of france.


published by
New Milford, Connecticut, U.S.A.


Library of Congress Catalog Card No 67-28353

Printed & Bound in Norwalk, Connecticut
by T. O’Toole & Sons, Inc.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the publisher.

New Milford, Connecticut, U.S.A.

to the

late envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary
of the united states of america to france.

My Dear Sir:

Permit me to dedicate to you this work on our National Medals, as a slight testimonial for your distinguished services during your long official residence in Paris, and especially during the siege of that city in 1870-1871, when you had under your protection the subjects of fourteen governments besides your own, and yet so discharged your delicate and responsible duties as to win universal approbation.

Yours sincerely,
J. F. Loubat.
New-York, Union Club, May, 1878.


Medals, by means of the engraver’s art, perpetuate in a durable form and within a small compass which the eye can embrace at a glance, not only the features of eminent persons, but the dates, brief accounts, and representations (direct or emblematical) of events; they rank, therefore, among the most valuable records of the past, especially when they recall men, deeds, or circumstances which have influenced the life of nations. How much light has been furnished for the study of history by the concise and faithful testimony of these silent witnesses! The importance of medals is now universally acknowledged, and in almost every country they are preserved with reverent care, and made the subject of costly publications, illustrated by elaborate engravings, with carefully prepared letter-press descriptions and notes. Up to the present time no thorough work devoted to the medals of the United States of America has been published. When I entered upon the task, several years ago, of investigating their history for the period embracing the first century of the Republic, I had little conception of the difficulties to be encountered. The search involved a very considerable expenditure of time and labor, but at last I have the satisfaction of offering to the public the result of my investigations, completed according to the original plan.

Although our political history measures but a hundred years, it records so many memorable deeds, and the names of so many illustrious citizens, that our medals form, even now, an historically valuable collection, to say nothing of the great artistic merit of some of them. During the War of Independence alone, how many exploits, how many heroes do we find worthy of being thus honored! How numerous would have been our medals if Congress had not been imbued with the conviction that only the very highest achievements are entitled to such a distinction, and that the value of a reward is enhanced by its rarity! In voting those struck after the War of 1812-’15 with Great Britain, and after that of 1846-’47 with Mexico, the same discretion was shown. There was still greater necessity for reserve during the late Civil War, and only two were presented during that painful period: one to Ulysses S. Grant, then a major-general, for victories, and another to Cornelius Vanderbilt, in acknowledgment of his free gift of the steamship which bore his name.

Similar national rewards have been earned also by deeds which interest humanity, science, or commerce; as, for instance, the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable, the expedition of Doctor Kane to the Arctic Seas, and the beneficence of George Peabody. If to these are added the Indian peace medals, bearing the effigies of our successive Presidents, the various elements which compose the official medals of the United States of America will have been enumerated.

As neither titles of nobility nor orders of knighthood exist in our country, Congress can bestow no higher distinction on an American citizen than to offer him the thanks of the nation, and to order that a medal be struck in his honor. I cannot do better than to quote here the words of General Winfield Scott, when he received from President Monroe the medal voted to him for the battles of Chippewa and Niagara:

“With a deep sense of the additional obligation now contracted, I accept at the hands of the venerable Chief Magistrate of the Union the classic token of the highest reward a free man can receive: the recorded approbation of his country.”

Our medals number eighty-six in all, most of which were struck by order of Congress in honor of citizens of the United States. Seventeen belong to the period of the Revolution, twenty-seven to the War of 1812-’15, four to the Mexican War, and two to the Civil War. Only five were voted to foreigners: one, in 1779, to Lieutenant-Colonel de Fleury, a French gentleman in the Continental Army, for gallant conduct at Stony Point; another, in 1858, to Dr. Frederick Rose, an assistant-surgeon in the British Navy for kindness and humanity to sick seamen on one of our men-of-war; and the others, in 1866, to three foreign merchant captains, Messrs. Creighton, Low, and Stouffer, who, in December, 1853, went to the aid of the steamer San Francisco, thereby “rescuing about five hundred Americans.”

Seven of the eighty-six medals do not owe their origin to a congressional vote: two which were struck in the United Netherlands (1782), one to commemorate their acknowledgment of the United States of America, and the other the treaty of amity and commerce between the two countries; that known as Libertas Americana (1783); the two in honor of Franklin (1784-1786); the Diplomatic medal (1790); and lastly that struck in memory of the conclusion of the treaty of commerce between the United States and France (1822). Although these cannot properly be classed as official medals, their historic importance and value as works of art entitle them to a place in our national collection.

Nearly all of the early medals were executed by French engravers, whose names alone are a warrant for the artistic merit of their work. We are indebted to Augustin Dupré, who has been called the “great Dupré” for the Daniel Morgan, the Nathaniel Greene, the John Paul Jones, the Libertas Americana, the two Franklin, and the Diplomatic medals; to Pierre Simon Duvivier for those of George Washington, de Fleury, William Augustine Washington, and John Eager Howard; to Nicolas Marie Gatteaux for those of Horatio Gates, Anthony Wayne, and John Stewart; and to Bertrand Andrieu and Raymond Gayrard for the one in commemoration of the signature of the treaty of commerce between France and the United States.

Congress had not yet proclaimed the independence of the thirteen United Colonies when, on March 25, 1776, it ordered that a gold medal be struck and presented to “His Excellency, General Washington,” for his “wise and spirited conduct in the siege and acquisition of Boston.” But this, although the first one voted, was not engraved until after the de Fleury and the Libertas Americana pieces, both of which were executed in Paris under the direction of Benjamin Franklin. The following letter gives the date of the de Fleury medal:

To His Excellency
Mr. Huntington,
President of Congress.
Passy, March 4, 1780.

Sir: Agreeably to the order of Congress, I have employed one of the best artists here in cutting the dies for the medal intended for M. de Fleury. The price of such work is beyond my expectation, being a thousand livres for each die. I shall try if it is not possible to have the others done cheaper.


With great respect I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant,

B. Franklin.

This medal was shown in the exhibition of the Royal Academy in Paris in 1781. The Libertas Americana piece was struck in 1783.

Six of the earliest of the series were designed under the supervision of Colonel David Humphreys, namely, those for Generals Washington, Gates, Greene, and Morgan, and Lieutenant-Colonels Washington and Howard. To insure a due observance of the laws of numismatics, and that they might bear comparison with the best specimens of modern times, Colonel Humphreys asked the aid of the French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres in the composition of the designs. He explained his action in this respect to the President of Congress in the following letter:

To His Excellency
The President of Congress.
Paris, March 18, 1785.

Sir: Before I left America, I made application to the Superintendent of Finances for the sword which Congress had been pleased to order, by their resolution of the 17th of November, 1781, to be presented to me, in consequence of which Mr. Morris informed me verbally that he would take the necessary arrangements for procuring all the honourary presents which had been directed to be given to different officers during the late war, and requested that I would undertake to have them executed in Europe. Some time after my arrival here, I received the inclosed letter[1] from him, accompanied with a list of medals, etc., and a description of those intended for General Morgan and Colonels Washington and Howard.

Upon the receipt of these documents I did not delay to make the proper inquiries from the characters who were the best skilled in subjects of this nature, and after having spoken to some of the first artists, I was advised to apply to the Abbé Barthélémy, member of the academies of London, Madrid, Cortona, and Hesse-Cassel, and actual keeper of the King’s Cabinet of Medals and Antiquities, at whose instance I wrote a letter to the Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, of which a copy is inclosed. Being informed at the same time that the description of medals for General Morgan, etc., was not in the style and manner such medals were usually executed, I took the liberty of suspending the execution of them, until I could learn whether it is the pleasure of Congress to have them performed exactly in the manner prescribed—which shall be done accordingly, in case I should not be honoured with further instructions on the subject before their approaching recess.

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