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[AC] Mead Art Museum at Amherst College; [HC] Hampshire College Art Gallery;
[HD] Historic Deerfield; [MH] Mount Holyoke College Art Museum; [MH SK] The Joseph Allen Skinner Museum at Mount Holyoke College; [SC] Smith College Museum of Art; [UM] University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMASS Amherst

 


Culture:French and American
Title:certificate: Society of the Cincinnati
Date Made:ca. 1784
Type:Book/Manuscript/Document; Ceremonial
Materials:parchment, ink, wax, wood, glass
Place Made:France; Paris and United States; Pennsylvania; Philadelphia
Measurements:Frame: 17 1/2 x 24 x 1 5/16 in; 44.4 x 61 x 3.3 cm; Sheet: 15 1/8 x 21 1/2 in; 38.4 x 54.6 cm; Plate: 14 5/16 x 20.5625 in; 36.4 cm
Accession Number:  HD 56.105A
1956-105At.jpg

Description:
Framed diploma or certificate granting David Townsend (1753-1829) membership into the Society of the Cincinnati, signed by George Washington (1732-1799), 1st President of the United States and President of the Society of Cincinnati, and countersigned by Major General Henry Knox (1750-1806) as Secretary of the Society, Philadelphia, May 5, 1784. It reads: "Be it known that David Townsend is a Member of the Society of the Cincinnati; instituted by the Officers of the American Army, at the Period of its Dissolution, as well to commemorate the great Event which gave Independence to North America, as for the laudable Purpose of inculcating the Duty of laying down in Peace Arms for public Defence, and of uniting in Acts of brotherly Affection, and Bonds of perpetual Friendships the Members constituting the same. IN TESTIMONY whereof I, The President of the said Society, have hereunto set my Hand at Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania, this FIFTH Day of MAY in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty Four and in the EIGHTH Year of the Independence of the United States." The idea of the Society of the Cincinnati is credited to Henry Knox who was Washington's first Secretary of War (1785-94). The Society was founded in May, 1783, at the Verplank house, Fishkill, New York, by Continental Army officers who fought in the American Revolution, which was before the signing of the Peace Treaty and the British evacuating New York. As senior officer, the Honorable Major General Baron von Steuben presided at the organizational meetings; within 12 months, Constituent Societies were established in the 13 original states and in France under the auspices of the General Society of the Cincinnati, with about 2150 of the 5500 eligible officers joining. Washington was elected its first president in December 1783, serving until his death in 1799; he was succeeded by Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804). David Townsend a charter member of the Society, and Secretary of the Massachusetts State Society of the Cincinnati in 1807 and its President in 1825. The Society is named for Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus, a 5th-century B.C. Roman famer who, like Washington, was called from his fields to lead his country's army in battle; he returned a triumphant leader, declined honors, and went back to his farm. The Society's motto is: "He gave up everything to serve the republic." The Society still continues, with its membership limited to the oldest living male lineal descendent of the original members. Both the diploma and Eagle badge were designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant (1754-1825) in June 1783. He left for Paris in November 1783 with his original sketch of the diploma where Augustin-Louis La Belle (1757-1841) redrew it so that it could be accurately rendered as a copper-plate engraving; the engraving was done by Jean-Jacques Le Veau (1729-1786). This certifcate is inscribed on the botton, "Aug. L. Belle, Del." and "J.J.. Le Venu, Sculp." L'Enfant presented the finished copperplate and gold and enamel Eagle badge to the Society's first General Meeting held in Philadelphia in May 1784. However, the French-engraved plate did not include the printed text which was then written out by a Thomas W. Collins in an elegant hand and copied by the engraver, Robert Scot (1744?-1823), who later became engraver to the newly established United States MInt. The first batch ot 100 diplomas were printed on parchment in November 1784, the entire process overseen by George Turner (c.1750-1843). The printed blanks were normally signed by Washington and Knox and then delivered to the state secretaries to be inscribed to the individual members. See HD 2003.51.1 for Hugh Maxwell's diploma, also signed May 5, 1784.

Tags:
allegory; fame

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