NSN, 58 cal., 9 inch round bbl., blue/bright finish, walnut stock. These pistols are universally recognized as being among the most historically significant weapons known to exist. Few firearms owned and used by founding fathers during the American Revolutionary War survive, and none that we know of (other than this pair) remain in private hands. Only two founders, Washington and Hamilton served in the Continental Army with distinction.
These and other artifacts were maintained by the Hamilton family for nearly one hundred and fifty years until the 1940s when they were sold by his great-great-grandson Schuyler Hamilton III. Although historians, collectors and owners of various historical arms may attempt to compare these weapons to others, the Founding Father War Pistols presented in this lot are the only pistols known with family documentation in the form of notarized affidavits. They have a documented, unbroken chain of ownership from the time of their original sale out of the Hamilton Grange mansion (now a US National Park): Alexander Hamilton National Memorial, to present.
A matched pair, the pistols have smoothbore, multi-stage barrels with light scroll engraving, "*/EN" maker’s marks and London proofs on the upper left, and “LONDON” signed on the tops. The early “banana” profile locks are convex and signed “ED/NICHOLSON” and have floral scroll engraving and non-bridled pans. The furniture is all brass. The side plates have pierced centers and light floral engraving. The trigger guards have acorn finials and snowflake style designs on the bows. The pommel caps have floral blooms. The wrist escutcheons have the significant initials “A H” inscribed for Alexander Hamilton and border engraving. The stocks have raised shell carving around the upper tangs. In the ramrod channel near the for-end tip the second pistol has "I-DAVIS" and "IIII." They are in fine condition and remain fully functional.
These fabulously important pistols were sold by Schuyler Hamilton III in 1942 to respected antique and firearms dealer Robert Abels. In an included original notarized letter of provenance addressed to Robert Abels dated August 4, 1942 and on his own letterhead stationary from Croton-on-the-Hudson, Schuyler Hamilton III describes these pistols as, “the property of my Great-Great Grandfather, Alexander Hamilton”. He further states that “these pistols were presented to Hamilton following the historic Battle of Saratoga by General Philip Schuyler”, Hamilton's father-in-law. He points out that the pistols were passed down to John C. Hamilton, then to Major General Schuyler Hamilton, then to Schuyler Hamilton Jr., and finally to himself. He then additionally describes the pistols at length, and finally notes that the pistols were housed at Hamilton Grange in New York, Alexander Hamilton's historic home, which is now a museum and national memorial. Lastly, an original sales receipt on Robert Abels paperwork is signed and dated by Schuyler Hamilton and accompanies the aforementioned letter.
The pistols were featured on the cover of Mr. Abels' Catalog No. 22 in 1943 (original copy included with lot), and that entry lists much of the same information from the letter, while adding that the pistols were determined to have been manufactured c.1760, restocked in American walnut c.1770 and used by Hamilton as Lt. Colonel of Artillery (photo copy of the cover and relevant page included). A copy of the magazine “Antiques" April, 1945 issue with an article featuring the pistols provides the same information based on Mr. Abels catalog description, and is included with our documentation.
An included 1979 letter from Mr. Ables to Clark V. Cail provides further information and indicates W. Keith Neal was the expert who examined the pistols in 1942 and "pronounced the wood Virginia walnut, and the fittings authentic Ed Nicholson, London, an early fine gunsmith, and the escutcheon plate bearing the initial 'A.H.' to be authentic." Mr. Ables indicates to Cail that he also purchased the gold and enamel-hilted Mexican War Presentation sword of Schuyler Hamilton, Alexanders grandson, who served as Aide-de-Campe to General Winfield Scott during the Mexican War, and sold it to historic sword collector Philip Medicus.
An included 1983 letter from noted antique arms historian Merrill K. Lindsay of the Whitney Armory and Eli Whitney Museum to arms dealer Greg Martin again describes the pistols and notes that they were gifted to the museum on February 26, 1981, by Mr. Donald Tuttle (a nationally known collector) along with a brief description that matches those previously mentioned.
A final letter requested by the current consignor from Michael E. Simens completes the chain of ownership of both the pistols and Epaulettes, with his reported sale of the pistols by Greg Martin to former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, William E. Simon under the Nixon and Ford Administrations, then to his son William E. Simon Jr. and finally to our consignor. Hamilton family genealogy information and bibliographic information concerning Hamilton are also included with the documents.
The Hamilton epaulettes were purchased by a collector at auction in North Carolina in 1999 and subsequently purchased at a later date by the current consignor.
The epaulettes are mounted in a maple frame along with a second Hamilton sworn affidavit dated November 18, 1942, that states “The Field Service Epaulettes herewith were worn by Col. Alexander Hamilton while serving with General George Washington during the Revolution” and indicates they were passed down from Hamilton to his son John C. Hamilton, then to his son Major General Schuyler Hamilton, and finally to Schuyler Hamilton III who signed the notarized statement. They measure 5 ½ inches in length, not including the fringe and have large button holes for mounting to a uniform.
The original owner of the pistols as we know it was Major General Philip Schuyler (1733-1804), Hamilton's father-in-law. Given their approximate date of manufacture, it is logical that Schuyler possibly purchased the pair during his visit to England in 1761-1762, or acquired them soon after in the Colonies. He likely carried them as an officer during the late stages of French & Indian War and during his service as a General in the American Revolution, adding more to their illustrious history. Given command of the New York Department by George Washington in 1775, General Schuyler planned the Invasion of Canada. He also organized the American defenses during the Saratoga Campaign after the Canadian invasion failed and the British under General John Burgoyne took the offensive by invading New York from Canada. He was replaced with General Horatio Gates before the Battle of Saratoga as a result of the British capture of Fort Ticonderoga, and then worked with Gates in planning for the next battle. At the Battle of Freeman’s Farm on September 19, the British claimed victory, but suffered heavy losses including many British officers thanks to Daniel Morgan’s riflemen. These losses, as well as the strong American defenses at Saratoga stalled Burgoyne, forcing him to wait for reinforcements. At the Battle of Bemis Heights (Second Battle of Saratoga) on October 7, the British attack was routed and the American counter attack succeeded in capturing the British redoubts. Burgoyne retreated and was eventually surrounded, ultimately surrendering to General Gates on October 17. After the surrender, Burgoyne stayed at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany as a "guest.” The American victory at Saratoga was a major turning point in the war. Potential supporters in Europe, especially the French, now had reason to supply weapons and military assistance in support of the American Revolution, and did so in splendid fashion leading to the ultimate American victory in the war.
Hamilton was born the illegitimate child of a Scottish nobleman and a woman married to another man on the Island of Nevis reportedly in 1775, abandoned by his father, and left orphaned as a young boy. While a young teen, he worked at the trade firm of Beekman and Cruger in St. Croix, where Hamilton, laboring diligently as a young clerk, absorbed the principles of international trade, credit and foreign exchange.
After a hurricane wiped out much of Christiansted, Hamilton came to the northern colonies in 1772 as an intelligent but obscure young man and was studying at King’s College (now Columbia University) when New York City fell to the British. He joined the New York militia in a unit that became known as the Hearts of Oak along with several of his fellow students and led a successful raid on the British battery in what is now Battery Park. He then organized and served as captain of the New York Provincial Company of Artillery in 1776. At the Battle of Trenton, he and his company are credited with holding off Lord Cornwallis and his army at the Raritan River and thus preventing him from attacking Washington and the Continental Army. At the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777, his artillery helped capture the British soldiers that had fled to the relative protection of Nassau Hall. These early actions did not propel him to immediate fame, but they did demonstrate to other American military leaders that he was a capable and intelligent officer. He declined initial invitations to become an aid to multiple generals, opting in stead for the possibility of garnering glory on the field of battle.
When General George Washington asked Hamilton to be an aide-de-camp on his staff in February 1777, Hamilton accepted and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He became one of Washington's most trusted aides over the course of four years on his staff, wrote many of Washington’s letters, composed reports, and worked on reforming the Continental Army. He also became a personal friend of the Marquis de Lafayette. Thanks to Hamilton’s fluency in French, he was particularly influential in coordinating the actions of the Franco-American alliance. Thus, by 1780, when Elizabeth Schuyler came to Morristown, New Jersey, Hamilton was no longer an obscure upstart. Instead, he was an accomplished military officer serving on the staff of the most influential American military leader of the era. Her father had recently resigned from the Continental Army and also came to Morristown in the same year as a representative in the Continental Congress.
Alexander Hamilton met Schuyler's daughter Elizabeth in Morristown in the winter of 1779-1780. General Schuyler gave his blessing to the couple in April 1780. They married on December 14, 1780, at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York. It is likely the pistols were presented to Hamilton around that time, possibly as a wedding gift. After returning from his wedding and brief honeymoon, Hamilton again wanted to take a more active role in the war and secure glory on the battlefield. These pistols were likely riding in his pommel holsters on his horse as he returned to the Continental Army. Hamilton left Washington's staff in March of 1781 and pressured Washington for a field command. The war was coming to a conclusion with the help of the French and Spanish, and his opportunities for a grand victory of his own were fading. Thanks to his perseverance and influence with Washington, he was given the command of a light infantry battalion in the Marquis de Lafayette's division in July.
At the Siege of Yorktown (September 28 to October 19, 1781), Hamilton led three battalions in the assault on Redoubt 10 while the French under General Baron de Viomenil assaulted Redoubt 9 on the night of October 14th. These two redoubts were critical to getting American and French artillery within range of the main British positions. Initially, Hamilton was not assigned a command. However after Hamilton protested, Washington personally intervened to ensure Hamilton was in command of the Americans during the assault rather than a French officer that had been given the honor by Lafayette. Hamilton’s men approached the redoubts in silence with unloaded muskets under the cover of darkness to surprise the British and compel their surrender at bayonet point. Hamilton’s force captured their objective within just ten minutes with only light casualties and lost just nine killed out of 400 men. One or both of these pistols were likely carried by Hamilton into the battle! Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis, under threat from land and sea and deprived of reinforcements thanks to the French and Spanish fleets, was forced to request a ceasefire three days later and surrendered on the 19th, ending major hostilities in North America and laying open the path for peace and international recognition of American independence. Hamilton’s role in the Siege of Yorktown further propelled him to the national stage and enduring fame. His report on the assault was printed across the young nation, and Lafayette's reports also praised him for his bravery and leadership. Shortly thereafter, Hamilton resigned and returned to Albany to his wife and pursued a career in law.
Hamilton’s role in the American Revolution was of course, far from the last of Hamilton’s considerable contributions to our country’s history, and he is most often remembered for his influence on our political foundations. He has consistently been ranked among the top ten Founding Fathers. His military career was not over with the end of Revolution. During the Quasi-War with France, he was a major general and inspector general of the U.S. Army. Had the Quasi-War erupted into a full-fledged conflict, Hamilton would have been one of the most influential military leaders in the conflict. He went on to serve as a representative under the Articles of Confederation, was a key figure in the drive for the Constitutional Convention and signer of the Constitution as a representative for New York, was a staunch supporter of the ratification of the Constitution, shaped our financial and economic systems as the first Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington, and was a central figure in American politics up to his untimely death in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. "The Federalist Papers," largely written by Hamilton, remain key founding documents and provide immense insight into the thoughts of Hamilton, Madison, and John Jay as well as others involved in the writing and adoption of the United States Constitution. Of particular interest to firearm owners and collectors, Hamilton clearly supported individual ownership of arms and recognized that an armed populace served to protect liberty. He and many of the Founders were far more concerned with the risks of a disarmed or poorly armed and trained populace, than they were with an armed populace. Hamilton was a proponent of maintaining an army and a navy unlike many of the founders, but he wrote in Federalist No, 28: "an army of any magnitude . . . can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist."
While Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington, the government essentially mandated the civilian ownership of military grade firearms by the bulk of the free male populace through the Militia Acts. The Militia Acts of 1792, for example, required each male citizen 18-45 to be enrolled in the militia and to own a musket and bayonet (the standard military arms of the day) or a suitable rifle as well as ammunition and accouterments.
Alexander Hamilton was a significant figure in the American Revolution and one of the most influential minds in the formation of the American system of governance. Theodore Roosevelt wrote that “Hamilton, the most brilliant American statesman who ever lived, possessing the loftiest and keenest intellect of his time, was of course easily the foremost champion in the ranks of the New York Federalists.”
Hamilton was an important and unwavering force in the political revolution that produced the United States of America, ensuring that the ideals he had fought for would endure. He and his contemporaries, at the greatest peril to themselves, fought for and created a new system of self-rule that although not perfect, left its citizens a tool in the form of a perpetual document, The Constitution, as a guide for their new nation. This form of self-governance, the greatest political accomplishment in history, has proven their collective brilliance for over 230 years. Even when it appears to lack luster, this exquisite document allows its citizens to continually refine it, perpetuating its lifework to eventually provide each and every individual under its rule, the opportunity to reach their best human potentials.
Hamilton’s family recognized the significance of Hamilton, his accomplishments, and his personal belongings. They treasured them, passing them down through multiple generations. These incredibly precious artifacts from our national founding may never again be publicly available, and would be core additions to any private or public collection. They will unquestionably remain among the finest and most valuable firearms that survive from our Revolution or any other period of American or World History. To produce an estimate of their value to patriotic institutions, collectors and other interested parties could easily be considered as great an exercise in futility, as someone trying to convince the world in 1776 that a ragtag band of 13 colonies with no standing army and no navy could become independent from the greatest military power on the face of the earth.
In 2017, a trove of manuscripts, personal letters and other documents from Hamilton’s desk sold for a total of $2.6 million in New York, with two, individually selling for nearly a quarter million dollars each at Sotheby’s in New York.
We believe it to be a worthy exercise to consider a few records for other “genre specific” collecting. When one considers that in the last few years, a bottle of rare whiskey sold for $1.9 million, a baseball card for $5.2 million, a pocket watch for $31 million, a 1963 Ferrari for $70 million and a modern sculpture of a rabbit for $91 million dollars, it is obvious that high quality historic arms have not even begun to reach their full potential.
Perhaps the best place to find inspiration is with the sale of the Revolutionary War Battle Standard of the 2nd Regiment of Connecticut Light Dragoons, commanded by Col. Elisha Sheldon and taken by British Cavalry Colonel Banister Tarleton at Pound Ridge, New York in 1779. Preserved in England by Tarleton’s family for over 225 years, this patriotic standard bearing 13 stripes representing our colonies during the Revolution sold at Sotheby’s, New York on flag day, June 14, 2006 for a staggering $12,300,000. It would therefore not surprise us if these fabulous pistols, tactile objects that can be admired in hand, easily exceed our estimate as listed.
It is our fervent hope that some astute, patriotic collector or philanthropic benefactor with proven abilities to accurately assess their importance, preserve them in their own private collection or place them in a national institution that they choose to champion, such as The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. or The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.
With great pride and pleasure, we offer these National Treasures
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