Document signed. Certificate of Membership in the Society of the Cincinnati

George WASHINGTON   |   Henry KNOX

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Document signed. Certificate of Membership in the Society of the Cincinnati
Document signed. Certificate of Membership in the Society of the Cincinnati


WASHINGTON, George; KNOX, Henry. Document signed. Certificate of Membership in the Society of Cincinnati. Be it known that Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn… is a Member of the Society of the Cincinnati. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: circa 1797. Original engraved certificate on vellum (measures 14-1/4 by 20 inches) accomplished in manuscript, signed on the recto, inscribed on the verso, framed, entire piece measures 25 by 20 inches.

Rare original ornately engraved vellum Society of Cincinnati membership certificate, boldly signed by George Washington, the Society’s first president, and Henry Knox, Revolutionary War General and Secretary of War, founder of the Society, issued in 1833 to Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn, the first hereditary member to serve as President General. This example has an exceptionally dark and bold signature of Washington, which is most unusual.

The Society of Cincinnati itself was founded at the urging of Revolutionary General Henry Knox. As the Revolutionary War drew to a close, General Knox looked for some form of insignia which would identify veterans of the Revolutionary War, and which could be passed on to their heirs as a memory of their service to their country. He conceived of the Society of the Cincinnati, and with the encouragement of George Washington, drafted the principles upon which the society is based. In December 1783, George Washington was elected the first president of the Society and served in this capacity until 1799, when he was succeeded by Alexander Hamilton. This rare Society of Cincinnati membership certificate is signed by George Washington as the Society's first president, and by one of Washington's greatest generals (and one of the founders of the Society), Henry Knox. This membership certificate is also very significant in that it was issued to first hereditary member to serve as the Society's President-General—Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn, the son of Revolutionary War General Henry Dearborn.

Henry A.S Dearborn himself has filled in the certificate, as it was issued to him many years after the deaths of both Washington and Knox. Washington and Knox signed all of the engraved Society of Cincinnati certificates when they were still blank and undated, leaving the engrossment to the various state societies that oversaw membership. So, Dearborn filled in the pertinent information in 1842, when he was presented the certificate (even though he was admitted as a member in 1833), which he details in a note on the verso: "I was admitted as a member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, July 4, 1833, & this diploma was presented to me, July 4, 1842, which I filled up, as a valuable autograph of Washington [signed] HAS Dearborn." Dearborn has filled in the date he presumes the document was originally signed (1797), the place (Pennsylvania) and his name. When Dearborn engrossed the document, he had apparently guessed at an exact date of signing but later chose to scratch it out, leaving two light abrasions on the document.

Henry A.S. Dearborn was inducted into the Society in 1833, four years after the death of his father, and in 1848 became the first President-General who was a descendant of a Continental officer rather than a veteran. By that time most of the Society's original members had died, leading some surviving members to call for the Society's dissolution. Dearborn resisted, but warned that unless the Society made a concerted effort to attract more hereditary members, the Society would "cease to exist within a third of a century." Dearborn's warning was taken seriously by his successor, Hamilton Fish, who was elected President-General in 1854. The "Rule of 1854," first proposed by Dearborn, subsequently allowed membership to any descendant of a Continental Army officer, whether an original member of the Society or not. This critical measure helped perpetuate the esteemed Society through the turbulent years of the Civil War through the 1876 Centennial, when renewed popular interest in the Revolution led to a steady increase in membership. He also served as Collector of the Port of Boston, a brigadier general in the War of 1812, a member of the State Constitutional Convention in 1820 and a member of the State House of Representatives in 1829.

With ornate vignettes at top and botton, elaborately engraved by Jean-Jacques-Andre Le Veau after Augustin-Louis Le Belle's drawing, based on Pierre Charles L'Enfant's original design.

Text clear and dark, one small open hole not affecting text, faint foldlines, trace of label removal to verso. A rare about-fine document with a beautiful and bold Washington signature, one of the finest we have seen.

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