Houdon's Washington

The most valuable piece of marble in the United States is said to rest in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Va.

Jean-Antoine Houdon’s sculpture of George Washington, completed in the early 1790s, is insured for $50 million.

Carved from Carrara marble, it depicts a life-sized Washington. Standing 6-foot-2-1/2 inches, Washington’s right hand is on a cane while his left arm rests on a fasces, on which is slung his cape and sword. At Washington’s back is a plow.

He is shown wearing his military uniform; Washington wished to be depicted in contemporary attire, rather than that of antiquity popular in Neo-classical sculpture.

Chief Justice John Marshall, a contemporary of Washington, said of Houdon’s work, “Nothing in bronze or stone could be a more perfect image than this statue of the living Washington.”

The statue is so realistic that Washington’s uniform is shown missing a button toward the bottom of his waistcoat, just as his real-life uniform appeared at the time.

“Houdon’s statue alludes to the similarities between Washington and the ancient Roman General Cincinnatus who, when Rome no longer needed him, gave up his military power and returned to the simple life of a farmer,” according to the website of Virginia General Assembly. “The artist carefully balanced the military and civilian elements of Washington’s career: his sword is by his side, and he rests his left hand on a fasces (a bundle of rods, which was a Roman symbol of power), but he carries a civilian walking cane and stands next to a plow.

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John Jay Court

John Marshall became chief justice of the United States on this date in 1801. Marshall would sit on the high court until 1835, and his opinions laid the basis for American constitutional law and made the US Supreme Court a co-equal branch of government, along with the legislative and executive branches.

But what of Marshall’s predecessors?

The best known of the three men to lead the Supreme Court before Marshall was John Jay, who, among other things, helped write the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.

During Jay’s nearly six years as chief justice (1789-1795), the high court ruled on just four cases, rather remarkable considering today the court receives petitions to hear some 7,000 cases annually.

Jay resigned as chief justice in June 1795 after being elected governor of New York. President George Washington named John Rutledge of South Carolina, an original high court associate justice who had resigned in 1791 to become chief justice of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas and Sessions, to replace Jay.

Washington’s appointment took effect immediately as the US Senate was not in session.

However, Rutledge’s time on the court proved one of the shortest in the history of the nation. He was a vocal opponent to the Jay Treaty of 1794, which resolved issues remaining from the Revolutionary War but left many Americans unhappy.

His opposition cost him support in the administration and the senate. In addition, questions about his mental stability, driven at least partly by partisanship, were making the rounds.

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A rare collection featuring the signatures of all 56 men who signed the US Declaration of Independence will be put up for sale by a New England auction house tomorrow.

RR Auction of Amherst, NH, is auctioning off the Proctor-Sang-Newell Collection of Signers of the Declaration of Independence. RR Auction calls the collection one of the finest quality sets ever offered for sale.

“Most of the examples are substantial-length letters, many of which feature significant historical content by some of the nation’s most important Founding Fathers,” the company writes in promotional material.

The key signature in the Proctor-Sang-Newell Collection is said to be that of Georgia signer Button Gwinnett. There are just 51 examples of his autograph known to exist – and only 11 in private hands, according to RR Auction.

Individual examples of Gwinnett’s autograph have sold for as much as $150,000, making his signature by far the most valuable American autograph.

Gwinnett, born in 1735, had a relatively short public life, being elected to the Georgia Provincial Assembly in 1769 and serving briefly as the provisional president of Georgia in 1777 before being killed in a duel later that same year.

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A 223-year-old book containing George Washington’s copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights sold for nearly $10 million at an auction Friday evening in New York.

After an intense bidding war with an unidentified party, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, charged with the preservation of Washington’s residence just outside the US capital, purchased the book for $9.82 million, according to Agence France-Presse.

The sale price was $8.7 million; with the commission bringing the total to nearly $10 million, according to auction house Christie’s. Original estimates were that the work could fetch between $2 million and $3 million.

The manuscript, bound by Thomas Allen of New York in 1789, was one of a set of three. The other two copies went to future President Thomas Jefferson and John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

The 106-page book, bound in white leather, features Washington’s signature on the document’s first page. The documents contain notes in Washington’s handwriting, including notations of the responsibilities of the president.

“It’s an exciting day. We are thrilled to be able to bring this extraordinary book back to Mount Vernon where it belongs,” said Ann Bookout, a spokeswoman for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

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George Washington’s 223-year-old copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the latter of which includes 12 amendments, not the 10 that were eventually ratified, could fetch up to $3 million when it goes up for auction next week.

The documents, to be offered by Christie’s auction house June 22 in New York, are bound in a book that contains notes in Washington’s handwriting, including notations of the responsibilities of the president, according to The Associated Press.

The copy of the Constitution, bound by Thomas Allen of New York in 1789, was one of a set of three. The other two copies went to Thomas Jefferson and John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, according to the wire service.

Thomas Lecky, head of Christie’s books and manuscripts department, said Washington’s documents will rate among the more notable items sold by the elite auction house, ranking with one of Shakespeare’s first folios, Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 victory speech, and three copies of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America.”

The book is in exceptional condition because of its high-quality paper and the care that its previous owners had shown for it, Christie’s senior specialist for books and manuscripts Chris Coover said.

“The paper hosting the articles that serve as a foundation for the country’s laws were thick and largely unmarked, save for Washington’s own notes, scribbled in pencil in the margins,” according to The Associated Press. “Most of the notes showed sections bracketed off and marked ‘president,’ indicating the duties and responsibilities Washington saw as his own.”

The book is roughly three-quarters of an inch thick with a bright brown calfskin cover. It not only features Washington’s signature but also personal notes, written in the margins of the text, and Washington’s personal bookplate displaying his family crest, according to the Washington Examiner.

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In August 1776 Continental troops fought off British forces at the Battle of Long Island in one of the first major actions of the American Revolution. 

More than 250 colonial soldiers were killed during the battle and their bodies dumped near the Gowanus Canal. To this day, their exact burial site remains a mystery. 

The Battle of Long Island, also known as the Battle of Brooklyn or the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, was significant for a number of reasons.

Fought on Aug. 27, 1776, it was the first major battle in the Revolutionary War following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the largest battle of the entire conflict and the first battle in which an army of the United States engaged, having declared itself a nation only the month before.

Now, Brooklyn civic groups are leading a charge to discover the location of these patriots, according to the New York Post

“These are the men who allowed America to come into existence — it’s a question that needs to be resolved,” said Marlene Donnelly, a member of the Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, which is working with archeologists to re-examine the region and urge action.

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The oldest-known signature of James Monroe, a Revolutionary War furlough signed by the future president while he was serving at Valley Forge, has been acquired by the museum that honors the Virginia native.

Monroe issued the pass, acquired by the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library in Fredericksburg, Va., to 2nd Lt. John Wallace Jr. of the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment on Feb. 23, 1778, as Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army suffered through the traumatic winter at Valley Forge.

Negotiations for the document, which had been in the hands of the same collector for decades, took several weeks, said Scott Harris, director of the James Monroe Museum.

The furlough is believed to be the earliest-known official document bearing Monroe’s signature, according to the museum.

Support from the 180-member Friends of the James Monroe Museum was crucial for the institution, which is administered by the University of Mary Washington, to be able to purchase the furlough from a nationally recognized documents dealer, he told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

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A 1777 order by Gen. George Washington ordering the inoculation of the Continental Army against smallpox has gone on display at Mount Vernon.

The one-page letter was written by Alexander Hamilton, who was Washington’s aide-de camp, and then signed by the future president.

Tow years into the American Revolution, the disease was spreading fast. Washington worried it would weaken the army, according to The Associated Press.

The order demands that one of Washington’s regimental colonels gather all troops and divide them into two groups: those who had been inoculated against smallpox or who had survived the disease, and those who had not been inoculated, according to the publication Mount Vernon Patch.

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It’s doubtful that one in a 100 Americans recognizes the geographic locale of Jumonville Glen, but 255 years ago this week it was the site of a small but crucial event that helped lead to the creation of the United States of America.

On May 28, 1754, George Washington, then a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia militia, was on his way through the Pennsylvania frontier to reinforce a British fort when he learned that a French force had been spotted in the area.

He and about 40 men went on a reconnaissance mission and came upon the sleeping French camp shortly after dawn. What happened next is still mired in controversy: The French maintained that their diplomatic party had been ambushed, while Washington reported that he had been fired on first.

When the smoke cleared, the entire French force appeared to have been killed, wounded or captured. The dead included the French commander, the Ensign Jumonville, who had been slain by Half King, an Indian ally of the British.

Called the Battle of Jumonville Glen, the event was the opening battle of the French and Indian War. The conflict not only ultimately gave Great Britain control of Canada and much of North America, but it laid the groundwork for the American Revolution.

“The goal was for the British to remove the French from North America , which they did,” Thomas Markwadt, public relations director at Fort Necessity, told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in May 2008. “It left the British with a large empire, which created the need for more revenue, which resulted in higher taxes for the colonists.”

As the colonists took on more of a role in their own defense, they began to assert their own identity.

“Because the colonists were no longer threatened by the French, the colonists no longer needed British protection,” Markwadt said. “They wanted to handle their own affairs. It set the stage for the American Revolution.”

Washington was just 22 years old at the time of Jumonville Glen and the battle marked his first test under fire. Although the Battle of Jumonville Glen was a victory for Washington, he lost the campaign when his troops were surrounded by French and Indian enemies a month later.


A team of historians, curators and forensic anthropologists believe that Martha Washington - imagined by Americans for more than 200 years to be a dowdy, double-chinned and dowager-capped matron – may have actually been a very attractive woman, according to a story in The Guardian.

A computerised age-regression portrait was commissioned to peel away the age and wrinkles and reveal the slim and lively brown-haired woman in her 20s who captivated a future revolutionary hero and president, the paper reported.

“He was clearly sexually excited by her,” Patricia Brady, the pioneer in the revisionist history of Martha told The Washington Post. “When Martha decided to marry George, she didn’t marry him just to be a kind stepfather to her two children. He was a hunk, and I think she decided to make herself happy. People are just starting to see her as a real person.”

Would you have expected anything less from one of the greatest men in history?