Friday, June 20, 2014

Tench Tilghman's Historic Swords

With just over six months to go before the Old Senate Chamber reopens, many pieces in the state collection are undergoing conservation to ensure that everything will be ready and looking its best for years to come. Some people may not realize that this group of valuable relics consists not only of paintings, but also artifacts, like the very sword worn by Tench Tilghman in Charles Willson Peale's Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown! Tench Tilghman’s swords, gifted to the state in 1997, have become some of our most treasured pieces, representative of one famous Marylander’s role in the Revolutionary cause.

Long officer's sword, owned by Tench Tilghman and seen in Peale's Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 4873.
Short sword, supposedly passed down to Tilghman by his great-great grandfather. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 4873.

The eldest son of a prominent (and mostly Loyalist) Maryland family, Tench Tilghman’s passion for the Patriot cause inspired him to become the first in his family to ally with the Continental Army. In 1776, he joined Washington’s staff as an aide-de-camp and secretary, serving without pay until 1781. Tilghman secured a spot in history at Yorktown when he was granted the honor of delivering the papers detailing General Cornwallis’ surrender to Congress.

When Tilghman died five years later in 1786 at the age of 41, Washington expressed his grief in a letter to Tilghman’s father. The former Commander-in-Chief wrote, “None could have felt his death with more regret than I did, because no one entertained a higher opinion of his worth or had imbibed sentiments of greater friendship for him than I had done….amidst all your grief, there is this consolation to be drawn, that while living, no man could be more esteemed—and since dead, none more lamented than Colo. Tilghman.”[1]

Both of Tilghman’s swords are unquestionably some of the most valuable objects in the state collection, in part because of the individual stories that they tell. The long sword, pictured above, is perhaps the most famous of the two as the one featured in Peale’s painting. Because of this portrait, this sword can definitively be identified as Tilghman’s officer's sword that he carried with him as George Washington’s aide-de-camp throughout the Revolutionary War.

The second sword, however, also carries with it a fascinating history. The older short sword was, according to family legend, passed down to Tench Tilghman from his great-great grandfather, Michael Turbutt. The point of this sword is chipped off, and there remains evidence on the blade that shows that the sword had definitely been used in battle!

Deatil of Tilghman's sword in Peale's Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown, MSA SC 1545-1120. This painting is currently under conservation and will return to the State House in December 2014, as part of the Old Senate Chamber restoration.

In December 1997, Mrs. Judith Goldsborough Oates, a direct descendent of Tench Tilghman, left the state of Maryland the two swords in her will, with the wish that they would always be displayed near Peale’s Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman. In accordance with her wishes, the state was honored to accept the bequeathment, and has kept them in the collection ever since, and displayed them in the Old Senate Chamber until the closing of the room for construction.

Currently, Tilghman’s swords are being conserved as part of the Old Senate Chamber restoration, and will return to the State House in December of this year. We are especially pleased to say that they will continue to be displayed alongside Peale’s famous portrait, for visitors to better compare Peale’s depiction to the actual weapon. Be sure to pay your respects to these historic swords when the Old Senate Chamber reopens!

[1] George Washington to James Tilghman, 5 June 1786. Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 4,2 April 1786 – 31 January 1787, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995, pp. 96–99.

No comments:

Post a Comment