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tline3open  Help with Monogram and Advice on Returning Looted Coinware

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Author Topic:   Help with Monogram and Advice on Returning Looted Coinware

Posts: 8
Registered: Jul 2023

iconnumber posted 07-22-2023 11:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for brackman1066     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
TL;DR: I humbly seek advice or suggestions from this group about deciphering a monogram and locating descendants of the original owners of coin silver.

Here follows a tale:

My mom’s family had a legend that one of their ancestors, who fought in the Civil War, finally gave in to temptation as the rest of his fellows were looting their way along during Sherman’s march to the sea and took a set of silver forks. One item in the collection of random pieces of flatware, was, I was assured, genuine Civil War loot. I nodded politely, but you know how family stories are, and my family is hardly lacking in…fabulists, shall we say? I didn’t really believe it.

When I sat and went through all the bags of silver that had been lying in drawers, sure enough there was a fork with a note accompanying it that it had been taken by an ancestor (not the one I remember being told had done it, but that maybe my own poor memory as they were both named Andrew, just different lines of descent) during Sherman’s March.

I did some quick googling on the maker’s mark:

. . . and whoops, A. H. DeWitt (De Witt?) was indeed a silversmith making flatware in Columbus, GA in the 1840 and 1850s. And seeing that, my jaw (and my heart) sank.

It’s true. This is looted. I have a piece of stolen property.

This bothers me. A lot.

It may be a fool’s attempt, but I’d like to see if I can find out which family this was stolen from, and try to somehow return it to any living descendants or (failing that) to some historical society or museum, ideally in the area from which it was taken. The fork is monogrammed, thank goodness:

But I’m not great at deciphering that kind of lettering. AEB? Can someone help with this?

I would think that it might be possible, if I can confirm that my ancestor was with Sherman (I’m pretty sure my guy was from Nebraska, and regiments were formed by state so that should be doable). I can’t imagine scholarship on the March to the Sea is thin on the ground, if I know anything about Civil War historiography. Perhaps I could find a list of southern families with whom his armies were known to have come into contact? I’m not without resources, fortunately, as I know a few Civil War historians and there is a museum near me with a focus on 19th-century America.

Have any of you ever done this, or know of someone doing it? Are there lists or resources that silver historians can point me to that would speed up the process? Any tips on places I could find information? I have searched the forums and found a fascinating thread about coin silver where people talked about the looting (and noted that much of it wasn’t done by the soldiers, but by the “bummers” who swarmed along in the army’s wake), but didn’t see anything that addressed this specifically.


Just to save us all some time, let me address some of the following comments which I have gotten from the few people IRL whom I’ve told about this:

"This was so long ago; you shouldn’t worry about it!" It was looted. Period. Museums and collectors are increasingly aware of their obligations in regard to stolen artifacts, and as someone who works in a historical field (I’m a medievalist), this is important to me.

"It’s not like what he did was wrong—everyone in that army was looting! It was how things were back then." No. Sherman issued an order that, while allowing his army to forage food and supplies (an accepted war-time practice), forbade them from entering homes and taking things that weren’t needed for the army. Now, he didn’t exactly go out of his way to enforce this, but it was still understood that looting of non-combatants’ possessions was wrong and what we would now call a war crime. Even if everyone knew that the generals were winking at it, this act was wrong.

"If it bothers you, why don’t you just sell the fork?" And then what, someone else is in possession of stolen property? Not exactly solving the problem.

"So donate the money to a charity, then." See previous response. Also, I doubt it would bring that much, and the value isn’t really the point here, is it?

"Look, he took it from slave owners—they were evil!" I bow to no one in condemning the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade, but that does not change the fact that the fork’s owners were non-combatants. That’s what matters here, not my opinion of their ethics.

"You know you’re going to fail, right?" Look, all I know is that I have to at least try.

Sorry this is so very long. If anyone made it all the way through, thanks for reading.

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Posts: 1648
Registered: Mar 2003

iconnumber posted 07-24-2023 10:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kimo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I applaud your wish to return this looted silver to the owners but I think it would be difficult and some luck would be needed to figure out the family to whom it belonged. I agree that the monogram is AEB but finding a person, most likely a woman, with those initials would be a difficult task. By the way, the point that some may make that looting from slave owners is not a problem does not take into account that while many living in George at that time were slave owners, the majority of people were not. Unless one can determine the exact owner and check as to whether they did own slaves it would be unfair to automatically assume they did.

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Posts: 8
Registered: Jul 2023

iconnumber posted 07-25-2023 07:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for brackman1066     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for your thoughts on the monogram. Of course in my mind the looting was from plantations, but it wouldn't all have been, would it? I'll see what resources my Civil War historian pals can suggest.

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Posts: 2365
Registered: Mar 2003

iconnumber posted 07-27-2023 05:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ahwt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This would be a longshot, but you could write the Historical Society of Columbus, Georgia and see if they have any records or directories of those living there in the 1850s. The population of Columbus, Georgia was still fairly low at that time and with three initials you may luck out.
It possible that this was not a stolen item, but one that just passed through many hands legitimately.

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iconnumber posted 07-28-2023 07:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for brackman1066     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Interesting point. Here's a question for you all: how far afield would a silver smith sell his wares? If De Witt was in Columbus, does that mean that the fork's original owners would also have been in that area?

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Posts: 1648
Registered: Mar 2003

iconnumber posted 07-28-2023 07:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kimo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think it would be more likely than not that the silversmith would have sold most of their work locally, but not necessarily as there were many traveling sales people. Also stores in other cities and towns would buy from those who had the nicest quality at the best prices for them to make a good profit and shipping things was not difficult. It would depend on how enterprising the smith was and whether the local demand was strong enough to buy up everything he made leaving no need to go to the effort of selling in other places.

[This message has been edited by Kimo (edited 07-28-2023).]

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Posts: 4127
Registered: Apr 99

iconnumber posted 07-28-2023 09:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
MESDA records one set of plain fiddleback spoons by DeWitt. They are engraved “R A S” for Robert A. Sanders of Johnston County, North Carolina. That is a considerable distance from Columbus GA, but there is no way to be sure where they were actually purchased or when.

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June Martin
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Posts: 1339
Registered: Apr 93

iconnumber posted 07-28-2023 10:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for June Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I love the fact that you are trying to return a thing of value to it's original owner. That is part of the charm of silver. It all has a history, some of which can be traced back. In your case, it does seem a bit of a challenge but how wonderful if you succeed! One thing that came to mind as you told your story is how family lore can be quite embellished. For example, we had a friend who pulled out the silver when we met and told us the story of a treasured piece from her grandmother. In reality, it was a silverplate creamer that grandma had clearly stolen from a hotel. So, take family history with a grain of salt.
Keep us posted on your search and thanks for sharing.

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iconnumber posted 07-28-2023 11:34 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for brackman1066     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Oh, no doubt! I didn't even believe it for a long time, but confronted with a GA smith's mark, I think it may be true in general. I'm not going to assume the details are true, though! For instance, the "Sherman's March" part--he could have been in another general's army and been in an entirely different part of the state!

I wish I could figure out where he enlisted from to help with that; I know he was in Nebraska by the 1880s because there are letters from him to my great-great-grandmother (his daughter). Was that where he was in the 1860s? Because if so, the "March to the Sea" bit is highly implausible, as the 1st Nebraska never went to GA, they only fought in Chattanooga, TN (on the border with GA) and then were sent west.

You know, as I'm getting feedback from you all (thanks so much, this is really helping me think through what I need to do) I'm wondering if genealogical research isn't where I should start, so I can identify his regiment. Gulp. That's a big can of worms....

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Posts: 8
Registered: Jul 2023

iconnumber posted 07-28-2023 11:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for brackman1066     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That sent me to a forum search and then google to figure out what MESDA was. What a cool site and amazing databases! Thanks for the information.

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