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Author Topic:   George Washington
ahwt

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Registered: Mar 2003

iconnumber posted 12-14-2004 11:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ahwt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Stanley Weintraub’s book “General Washington’s Christmas Farewell” tells the story of Geroge Washington’s trip from West Point through New York City to Mt. Vernon in late 1783. Among the interesting anecdotes told, one relates to General Washington’s purchase of silver. Major Pierre-Charles L’Enfant, on his trip back to France, carried a letter from General Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette requesting “many pieces” of Parisian silverplate for Mt. Vernon. The General explained in his letter to Lafayette that he was not inclined to purchase items from England if he could get the goods “upon tolerable terms elsewhere”. The list included a large Tea-Urn, two tea pots with stands, a coffeepot and stand, a cream pot, a tea chest, two large trays, two small trays, two bread baskets, a set of coasters, “a Cross or Stand for the centre of the Dining table”, twelve “salts”, eight Bottle sliders,” six large goblets, twelve candlesticks, three pairs of candle snuffers, and “and anything else which may be deemed necessary in any way”. Washington obviously respected the ability of Lafayette, not only in battle, but in the selection of silver.

Upon reaching New York City, Washington found to his surprise and delight that silver could be purchased there at bargain prices. It seems that many of the exiled citizens of New York City, that were returning to England, were not able to take their silver with them. This produced a temporary surplus of silver and Washington quickly brought his silver “upon tolerable terms elsewhere” and dispatched a letter to Lafayette canceling his order. Sadly, this initial delight was not to last. When General Washington reached Baltimore he found the Parisian silver waiting for him and a bill for ₤129. The efficient Lafayette was perhaps for once too efficient. Nevertheless, Washington promptly paid the bill and stored the silver with Thomas Jefferson in Annapolis until a wagon from Mount Vernon could deliver the silver.

It would be interesting to know what Washington said to Martha about the extra silver and even more interesting to know where the silver is now.

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swarter
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iconnumber posted 12-15-2004 11:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You bring up an interesting footnote to American history.

The correspondence you refer to between Washington and Lafayette is detailed in Kathryn Buehler's 1957 Mount Vernon Silver, but the French silver is referred to as "plated-ware" in the letters. There is no further mention of the French silver that I could find in a quick review of the book, but a number of pieces of "Sheffield Plate" are illustrated. There is also mention of a change in Washington's attitude toward British silver, and English Sterling pieces are illustrated (ordered from England both before and after the Revolution), as well as a good number of American ones presumably of coin silver by Brasher and others. Included are pieces of Martha's Custis family silver. There are 40 photographs of one to several silver objects each, that are preserved at Mount Vernon.

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ahwt

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iconnumber posted 12-16-2004 06:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ahwt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Weitraub states, without any attribution, that “Silverplate, produced by a new alloy process, was available at bargain prices, as many of its wealthiest citizens had to dispose of excess goods before they boarded vessels taking them into exile.” I assumed that the reference to a new alloy process was a mistake and that Washington was not buying plated silver, but silver, either coin or sterling, that those returning to England chose to leave behind. I do not know if there was a new alloy process in 1783, but perhaps Washington actually ordered silverplate from France.

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swarter
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iconnumber posted 12-16-2004 01:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There are numerous references in the book both to "plate" (the old name for solid silver)and "plated-ware in inventories and in correspondence, sometimes together in the same sentence, indicating that there was a distinction. there is also a quote from a letter from Washington to an agent (in England?) complaining that a plated lamp was not of the same quality as the "plated-ware obtained earlier by Lafayette." This is accoompanied by an illustration of a Sheffield-plate lamp. While we commonly refer to mixed metals as alloys, and not bonded metals, could the source you are quoting have considered Sheffield plate as a form of "alloy"?

[This message has been edited by swarter (edited 12-16-2004).]

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ahwt

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iconnumber posted 12-19-2004 10:03 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ahwt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It could well be that silver prices dropped at this time for two reasons. The sale of silver, of whatever kind, by those leaving New York, and the addition of Sheffield-plate to goods offered for sale. Weitraub does not give his source for this information and he may well of used "alloy" to mean Sheffield-plate.

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