Scarf mourning Alexander Hamilton’s death goes under the hammer

Scarf mourning the death of Alexander Hamilton, ca. 1804. Photo courtesy Heritage Auctions.

An exceedingly rare cotton printed scarf mourning the death of Alexander Hamilton in 1804 will be coming up for auction on May 15th. The scarf is unusually large – 24″ x 20 1/2″ framed to 30 1/2″ x 27″ — and features two portraits of the Founding Father, one in portrait miniature style at the top in his Revolutionary War uniform, and one marble bust in Roman style in the central roundel. The bust is perched atop his tomb (a fantasy version, not his actual tomb) where women weep for the fallen hero. To their left is a small hut with palm trees, symbolizing Hamilton’s birth and childhood in Nevis. To the right is a tree with a cut limb, symbolizing his life cut short.

The portrait miniature hangs from the center of a ribbon held by an eagle on the left and cherubs on the right. Written on the banner is “IN MEMORY OF THE LAMENTED HAMILTON.” In the bottom left is a women with three children sitting under a tree, likely a representation of his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, and family, as the panegyric extolls him as “honourably united in marriage” and laments that “he has left behind him a numerous family to deplore the loss of his protecting arm and directive talents.” In the bottom right, a Black woman mourns at an effigied tomb or bier.

Among the text on the scarf is an encomium (middle left) that studiously avoids the words “duel,” “Aaron” or “Burr” even as it praises his life and recounts its loss.

Endowed with many noble qualities, high in rank as an Officer; enlightened and ardent as a Statesman; preeminent as a Lawyer; rever’d as a Citizen; beloved as a friend; affectionate as a Husband and Father. To the regret of all the great and good, this distinguished Character fell, in an unhappy rencounter, July 11th, 1804; in the 48th year of his AGE.

On the right side is an appeal to legislators to take action against the deadly practice of dueling. Again, the word “duel” does not appear.

Health and Honour to the Senator who shall devise the most effectual means of abolishing that fatal practice which deprived AMERICA prematurely of the talents and virtues of her much lamented HAMILTON!

The scarf has intersecting diagonal lines of stitching that indicate it was once incorporated into a quilt or bedspread. That only adds to its character as the sewing is discrete and does not interfere with the print which is in excellent condition. The only other known example of this scarf, now part of the collection of the Hamilton Grange National Memorial in Manhattan, has no stitching, but it has suffered significant fading and staining.

The pre-sale estimate is $20,000, but Hamilton memorabilia is insanely desirable due to the explosion of interest in the wake of the musical about his life. The Alexander Hamilton powder horn which bears his name and family iconography but is otherwise entirely devoid of any proven connection to the man himself, sold at auction in January 2016 for $115,620, including buyer’s premium.

I can’t let mention of the Hamilton Grange National Memorial pass without paying homage to the amazing feat of conservatorial skill that has saved and revitalized it. When Alexander Hamilton had his handsome Federal-style home built in 1802, it was on 32 bucolic acres in upper Manhattan. They didn’t remain bucolic, needless to say, and in 1889 the house was slated for demolition because it jutted into the street and was in the way of the development of the Manhattan’s street grid. Its neighbor, the Episcopal Church of St. Luke in the Fields bought the house and moved it two blocks away where it no longer impeded the grid.

It became a museum in 1933 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960, but, hemmed in by an apartment building on one side and St. Luke’s on the other, many features of the home were obscured and it was in dire need of major restoration. So they moved it again. They jacked the whole house up, building Jenga-like wood block cribbing underneath it as it rose to sustain its weight. On June 7th, 2008, the Grange was moved at a snail’s pace one block east and one block south to its new location on St. Nicholas Park where it was once again in bucolic surroundings.

It was a much-covered event and I watched it in real time, but the blog was in its dormant phase before I would resurrect it in December of that year, so there was no post about the great move of the only house Alexander Hamilton ever owned. Now I right that wrong.

Here is a time-lapse video of Hamilton Grange 30 feet in the air being moved from its tight quarters between the apartments and church onto the street:

The six-hour move in 39 seconds:

Its installation on new foundations at St. Nicholas Park:

6 thoughts on “Scarf mourning Alexander Hamilton’s death goes under the hammer

  1. Someone from our village also took part in the US Revolutionary War, and he must have been an interesting character. Born as a peasant’s son in 1721, Johann Kalb joined the French Army, and I presume he did that in the “Volontaires de Saxe” under Moritz of Saxony (likewise interesting), otherwise known as “Maurice de Saxe”, Marshal General of France.

    However, they later all seem to have been fighting in the Low Countries during the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War (Saxe died in 1750), and Kalb was elevated to the nobility with the title of baron in 1763. In 1764 M. de Fontleroy was sent to North America to check on the alienating British colonists from the mother country.

    Then, Étienne-François de Choiseul sent a new agent, this time Kalb: “M. de Kalb will repair to Amsterdam and there direct his particular attention to the rumors in circulation about the English colonies. Should they appear to be well founded, he will immediately make preparations for a journey to America [where he landed January 12th, 1768]”.

    in December 1776, Ben Franklin and Arthur Lee arrived in Paris with orders from Congress as the diplomatic delegation to France, and a number of people were recruited for the cause, including Lafayette, Kalb, Conway, Pulaski, and von Steuben. In 1777, however, Kalb returned to America with his protégé Lafayette, and joined the Continental Army.

    Unfortunately, Kalb was killed at the age of 59 in 1780 in the Battle of Camden. Notably, it seems as if they had been all active in Freemasonry, so that might have helped to “inofficially” organize themselves. Kalb wrote letters of introduction for John Adams to the French court. In a note from 1777–78 Kalb had written:

    “On the whole, I have annoyances to bear, of which you can hardly form a conception. One of them is the mutual jealousy of almost all the French officers, particularly against those of higher rank than the rest. These people think of nothing but their incessant intrigues and backbitings. They hate each other like the bitterest enemies, and endeavor to injure each other wherever an opportunity offers. I have given up their society, and very seldom see them. La Fayette is the sole exception; I always meet him with the same cordiality and the same pleasure. He is an excellent young man, and we are good friends. La Fayette is much liked, he is on the best of terms with Washington.”

  2. Somehow I missed the whole house moving event at the time it happened. Thanks for the info. Now I have a few hours of googling ahead of me! 😚

  3. BBC Radio 4’s “In Our Time” had a podcast last week on the Franco-American Alliance of 1778.

  4. Thanks, Charles :hattip:

    Here the link to that podcast from the BBC and -from there- that interesting episode (note that the mp3 file is about 50MB. If necessary, go the the episode’s page, then load the HTML source and search for ‘.mp3’ directly):

  5. You know that feeling you get when you see or touch something historical and you’re amazed that you can see or touch the same thing another human saw or touched hundreds or even thousands of years ago? Just got it, watching the videos. Thanks.

  6. Interesting on so many levels! I live about an hour from Camden, thanks to @dodi, I will need to go there once again and research it a bit. Nice little town, I usually go there to enjoy the architecture. Amazing that Hamilton’s house was moved so much. I can’t believe anyone would want to replace him from the $10 bill.

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