Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Sold Flags



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

Available: Sold
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 then that the Revolutionary War hero and noble friend of America made his final visit to the U.S. 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, to current President James Monroe. The latter of these 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 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, despite the level of importance.

Printed on cotton, the mulberry red color 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. The earliest, which seem to appear between 1814 and 1815, commemorate 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 printed in blue and sepia, in addition to red (mulberry), by way of 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 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 has 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 rendition, Lafayette himself appears to be standing out in the harbor upon the stern of a small craft, tethered to the shoreline of the island, to the lower left of Castle Garden. 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 style of kerchief survives that commemorates Lafayette's visit. Produced by Germantown Print Works in Germantown, Pennsylvania (a section of Philadelphia), approximately five examples of it are known. Measuring 13" square, it is far smaller and less visual than Gillespie's version and all of the known Germantown examples were printed in sepia, now faded to tan, on a neutral ground. 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.

Because other types of kerchiefs made by Germantown Print Works exist in a trio of colors, including the same mulberry red, and a deep indigo blue, it is likely that other colors were made in the Lafayette version, but none seem to have survived. The same trio of colors was probably offered in all Gillespie kerchiefs, but this is the only example of the Gillespie Lafayette kerchief that has yet to surface.

Mounting: The textile has been hand-stitched to a background of 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness. The mount was placed in a deep, cove-shaped molding with a very dark brown surface, nearly black, and a rope-style inner lip, to which a gilded molding with a rippled profile was added as a liner. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas). Feel free to contact us for more details.

Condition: The original, saffron yellow color is absent from all save the outer edges of the textile. There are vertical splits in the fabric and small tears in the left and right-hand borders, accompanied by minor stains. The largest split occurs along the left-hand border, where the textile was once folded when framed by a previous owner. There is a small split along the top, above the printing, in the upper, left-hand corner. There are a few tiny holes and tiny stains in the printed region, the largest concentration of which is on and adjacent to Castle Garden. There is minor soiling in the printed region, in limited areas. The extreme rarity of this textile, which survives in remarkable condition for the period, well-warrants the state of preservation.
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type:
Star Count:
Earliest Date of Origin: 1824
Latest Date of Origin: 1825
State/Affiliation: New York
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: SOLD
 

Views: 168