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Important War of 1812 Presentation Sword awarded to Lieutenant John Tayloe IV by Virginia Legislature, circa 1812

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Whitney Bounty
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Published: 22 October 2014

Important War of 1812 Presentation Sword to be offered in American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts Auction

An important War of 1812 Presentation Sword awarded to Lieutenant John Tayloe IV by Virginia Legislature circa 1812 will be offered at Freeman's 13 November 2014 American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts auction. The eagle head pommel retaining original gilt sword knot above an ivory grip and a shell guard having seventeen stars enclosing an eagle and anchor, are all typical of the Philadelphia style; the blade, elaborately etched on both sides and bears the inscription, "In Testimony of the intrepidity and valor of Midshipman John Tayloe of the United States Frigate Constitution in action and capture of the British Frigate Guerriere, 19 August 12." Accompanying the sword is a leather covered wood scabbard with cast gilt nautical and classical mounts.

Born in Annapolis, Maryland, John Tayloe IV (1793-1824) enlisted in the Navy in 1809 as a Midshipman. Serving as an officer aboard the USS Constitution and the USS Constellation in the War of 1812, Tayloe distinguished himself in battle, especially in the actions with the  HMS Cyane,Important War of 1812 Presentation Sword awarded to Lieutenant John Tayloe IV by Virginia Legislature, circa 1812 HMS Levant, and most notably, the HMS Guerriere.

The valiancy Tayloe showed in this significant and pivotal battle was recognized and suitably rewarded: according to "Some Notes Relative to Gifts to Distinguished Citizens, Principally Virginians, Authorized by the General Assembly, or Council of Virginia, 1780 to 1860," William and Mary Quarterly, Second Series, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Apr. 1922), pg 97, on Jan 2, 1813, the Resolution of General Assembly proclaimed that "an appropriate sword" be presented to Midshipman John Tayloe "'for his gallant conduct in the action between the United States frigate Constitution and his Brittanic Majestie's frigate Guerriere.'"

In a letter to Virginia Governor James Barbour, Tayloe wrote, "I only yesterday received your favor of the tenth instant via Boston enclosing the resolutions of both houses of the legislature and believe me, Sir, my heart dictates to me, as an American, the abundant gratitude that is due my country for her praise, but more particularly to my native state which has so generously proffered me so noble a testimony of her esteem... P.S. You will please forward the sword to the care of Colonel John Tayloe of Washington City."

Shortly after receiving his sword, Tayloe was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant; however, injuries he sustained during the War of 1812 soon after necessitated his retirement from the Navy. He married Maria Forrest (1799-1869) on November 13, 1817 and with her had two children: John Tayloe V (1818-1873) and George Plater Forest Tayloe, who died at a young age. Unfortunately, Tayloe never recovered from the aforementioned wounds, and consequently died in 1824.

A portrait of Lieutenant John Tayloe IV with his sword is currently in the Octagon House in Washington, DC--home of Tayloe's father, Colonel John Tayloe III (1770-1828). In 1814, subsequent to the British's burning of the White House, Colonel Tayloe opened his home to President James Madison and his wife, Dolley, and it is there that Madison signed the Treaty of Ghent, thereby ending the War of 1812.

A nearly identical sword presented by the State of Virginia to Midshipman William Taylor, is illustrated and discussed in E. Andrew Mowbray's  "The American Eagle Pommel Sword-The Early Years 1793-1830."

This piece sold for $50,000 in the 13 November 2014 auction of American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts.

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