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EXTRAORDINARY KERCHIEF COMMEMORATING THE RETURN OF LAYFAYETTE TO THE UNITED STATES IN 1824, PRESENTLY ONE-OF-A-KIND AMONG KNOWN EXAMPLES, ATTRIBUTED TO SCOTTISH-AMERICAN TEXTILE MANUFACTURER COLIN GILLESPIE

Web ID: ker-192
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): 35.25" x 40"
Flag Size (H x L): 25.25" x 29.75"
 
Description:
This extraordinary kerchief, which presently survives as the only documented example, was made to celebrate the final visit of General Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette in 1824 -1825. It was at this time that this noble friend of America and Revolutionary War hero made his final visit to the United States. Lafayette's arrival at Staten Island in New York was followed by a national tour in which he visited all 24 states. Heralded as the "National Guest," he was greeted by thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children along his journey, shaking hands with everyone from commoners, to military veterans, to former presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and current President James Monroe, the latter of which he spent extended time with in Virginia, Boston, and Washington. He also paid his final respects at the grave of his close friend, George Washington.

Likely printed in Scotland for the American market by dual citizenship textile merchant Colin Gillespie, the textile illustrates a view of New York Harbor. This centers upon an round architectural structure, located at the tip of lower Manhattan, that has been known by several names, among them Castle Garden, Fort Clinton, and Castle Clinton. The latter of these was bestowed in dedication to former New York City Mayor, New York State Governor, and Senator DeWitt Clinton. Castle Garden was initially a military arsenal serving as the "West [Artillery] Battery," protecting the harbor in conjunction with Castle Williams as the "East Battery," and other strategic garrisons.

In 1821, military use of Castle Garden ceased and it was leased to the city for use as a place of public entertainment and esplanade.

When Lafayette arrived on the American frigate Cadmus on Sunday, August 15th, he retired to the home of the nation's Vice President, Daniel Thompkins on Staten Island. The following day he was escorted to the harbor for the official welcome and accompanying celebratory fanfare depicted on this kerchief. The event would have actually occurred the previous day, but for the fact that it was the Sabbath and no such activities were held on a Sunday in early 19th century America, in spite of their level of importance.

Printed on cotton, the mulberry red ground and the general style of the engraving is similar to other textiles identified to Gillespie, who emigrated to the United States from Scotland in 1793 and became a citizen in 1798. He traveled back-and-forth between his home countries as the head of the Collin Gillespie & Company merchant faction. His brother, Robert Gillespie took control of the cotton spinning and textile printing factories in 1808 or 1809.

Examples of patriotic Gillespie textiles are known to have been imported in 1821 and distributed up and down the eastern seaboard. Earlier examples that I also suspect to have been produced by Gillespie seem to have become available sometime between 1814 and 1815. These commemorated events surrounding American victories in the War of 1812 (1812-1815) and the Second Barbary Wars (1815), as well as various Napoleonic themes. All were very likely executed in red (mulberry), blue, and sepia pigments from copperplate engravings.

The scene depicted here is similar to that illustrated by New York engraver Samuel Maverick (b. 1749, d. 1845) in "Landing of Gen. Lafayette," which was reproduced on historical china and other mediums. The work shows part of the host of steamships, dressed with signal flags and national colors, that were present as part of the hero's welcome extended by the city. These are complemented by a variety of skiffs and other craft, loaded with onlookers. Every available space on every boat and along the shoreline is filled with men and women eager for a glimpse of the famous Frenchman. The seaside extravaganza was followed by what has been recorded as the grandest parade ever held, to date, on American soil.

Gillespie's image is far from an exact copy of Maverick's, but many of the elements within it are notably familiar. As a resident of both New York and Scotland, one may speculate that Gillespie may have been present at the actual event. While he may have, of course, rendered his own view, it seems more likely that Gillespie's engraver worked from Maverick's design, while extrapolating details from either first or second-hand accounts. The position of the boats is similar, as are the flags that are being flown. Two examples of the Stars & Stripes adorn the largest vessel in the foreground. One of these clearly shows 15 stars, though the canton of the other is mottled and both show innumerable stripes. This same ship flies a flag with a plain field and a double-headed eagle, while the boat to the left of it flies the same colors. The fact that the birds are double-headed may simply be a matter of the artist's familiarity with Eastern European representations of eagles. In actuality, it is more likely that these were federal devices with the sort of turkey-headed eagles typical of the American Federal period.

The large vessel to the left of the garrison appears to be a warship in the Maverick print, flying both the Stars & Stripes and a jack (a [presumably] blue flag with just stars, used while at port or anchor), as well as a commissioning pennant. Behind it are two more ships, at least one of which is both paddle and sail-driven. In the Gillespie kerchief, there are just two large ships to the left of center, one of which lhas no wheelhouse, but does not appear to be U.S. Navy. It flies a forked swallowtail version of the Stars & Stripes, no jack, and no commissioning pennant. The paddle wheel boat behind it flies a Stars & Stripes off two of its three masts. Three more American national flags fly from the masts of large, unidentified ships to the right of and behind the fort. The flag above Castle Garden bears its name.

In the Gillespie textile, Lafayette himself appears to be standing out in the harbor upon the stern of a small craft, tethered to the shoreline of the island. Unlike those around him, his figure is white. To his right are a somewhat prominent man and woman, probably Daniel and Hannah Tompkins.

The imagery on the kerchief is both attractive and extremely detailed. The title of the textile appears in a billowing streamer along the top. This reads "A View of the Landing of General Lafayette at New York. Augc. 1924." All of this is set within a decorative border that consists of intertwined garlands of oak leaves and an unidentified variety of flora, punctuated at each intersection by laurel branches and fans of leaves that appears to be elm. In the open, elliptical spaces created by the braid are Liberty poles and caps, referencing the American Revolution and independence. Like many early kerchiefs, this example is large in scale compared to many of its later counterparts. At approximately 25" x 30", the dimensions make for a bold display.

It is of interest to note that the backgrounds of Gillespie textiles were actually buff, a golden yellow color common across both British and American military flags of the Colonial era through the late 19th century. Early yellow dyes used in cotton production were notably unstable, however, and most of the surviving examples that I would attribute to Gillespie appear today as if the fabric on which they were printed had always been white. This was difficult to surmise until I discovered two examples with the original color throughout, and two retaining some of that hue, preserved because the textiles had long been folded. That is the case with this Lafayette kerchief, which displays the original buff yellow at the outer edges to the left and right. What was astonishing and misleading with some of the previously discovered examples is that the red, blue, or sepia might be saturated and extremely vivid, suggesting that little to no fading of any kind had occurred.

Just one other variety of kerchief survives that commemorates Layfayette's visit. Measuring approximately 13" square, it is extremely small among its counterparts of the period. Produced by Germantown Print Works in Germantown, Pennsylvania (a section of Philadelphia), approximately 5 examples of this textile are known. One of these is in the collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society in Ohio and is documented in “Threads of History: Americana Recorded on Cloth, 1775 to the Present” by Herbert Ridgeway Collins (1979, Smithsonian Press), item 63, p. 75. One is at Winterthur Museum, home to the largest collection of pre-1840 printed textiles in America, and two are in the collection of the New York Historical Society. The last is in private hands.

Unlike the colorful Gillespie example, the Germantown examples are sepia on a neutral ground, all of them having faded to a golden tan. Because similar Germantown kerchiefs exist in other styles in a trio of colors, including the same mulberry red hue and a deep indigo blue, it is likely that other colors were made, but as of now none seem to have survived. The same is true of Gillespie kerchiefs, some of which are known in blue and sepia as well a s mulberry, but as of today this is the only example of the Layfayette version that has yet to surface.
   
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
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Earliest Date of Origin: 1824
Latest Date of Origin: 1825
State/Affiliation: New York
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281
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