|NYSNYS NEWS: Rare Revolutionary War medal from the Society of the Cincinnati goes on display at Fort Ticonderoga. Video included.|
By Kyle Hughes
TICONDEROGA, NY (July 7) -- One of rarest objects from the earliest days of the United States has gone on public display for the first time ever at Fort Ticonderoga, the 260-year-old colonial fortress overlooking Lake Champlain.
The Society of the Cincinnati gold eagle medal is "one of foremost of its kind in the world and this is one of the rarest," curator Matthew Keagle said last week, the day after the medal was put on display on July 4. "There were as many as 140 made, and there are as few as two that are known to survive. This happens to be one of those."
The medals were forged in Paris in 1783 for sale to officers of the Continental Army as the Revolutionary War was nearing its end. The Society's first president was George Washington, and it is considered both the oldest patriotic and veterans organization in the U.S. It still exists, with members descended from the eldest sons of the officers.
The medal in on loan from the private Robert Nittolo Collection of military artifacts. "I don't believe this has ever been on display before," Fort Ticonderoga President and CEO Beth Hill said. "It will be on display through the end of October in our Mars exhibition space."
The medal was commissioned by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who designed the street plan of Washington, D.C. He sold them to military officers beginning in 1784, a few months after the last British troops withdrew from New York City.
Keagle said the medal "is a rare and significant piece in its own right, but it also connects us to the founding moment of the United States and the end of the Revolutionary War. The Order of the Cincinnati is the oldest and most prestigious patriotic society of its kind."
The society is named for a Roman military leader and patrician, and was founded in Newburgh by Henry Knox, the secretary of war. Knox led an expedition to Fort Ticonderoga in December 1775 to get artillery and cannons captured from the British. Using sleds, Knox transported the weapons over 300 miles east to the Boston siege camps.
"Many of the members went on to very important roles in American society," Keagle said. "Many of them served at the Constitutional Convention and in high positions in the American government. The portraiture from the late 18th and the early 19th century shows that it is easy to spot the members of the Society of the Cincinnati because of the blue and white ribbon and the eagle medal that they often wore in their lapel. That's what we have on display here from Robert Nittolo's collection."
The medal at Ticonderoga belonged to Captain Richard Douglass of New London, CT.
"Douglass actually served almost from the beginning of the Revolutionary War," Keagle said. "Connecticut being close to Massachusetts, he received word late in the day of April 19, 1775 of the battles that had been fought at Lexington and Concord. Within the following days, hundreds of Connecticut men marched north to join the army that was forming outside of Boston and Douglass was one of them."
He fought in the battle for New York City the following year, and for the rest of the war including the battle in Valley Forge and the decisive siege of Yorktown that ended with Lord Cornwallis's surrender of British forces.
Unlike most American soldiers who fought intermittently, Douglass was in military service for the entire eight year duration of the war, as were other Society of the Cincinnati members. "In any other country in the world at this time, if you were an officer you were a nobleman," Keagle said. "This was a way of establishing themselves in this new American society."