J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Braddock Sash on Display

As I quoted yesterday, in 1894 Bettie Taylor Dandridge rediscovered Gen. Edward Braddock’s military sash amid her father’s old things. Her father was Zachary Taylor, President in 1849-50, and Dandridge was remembered for serving as his White House hostess.

There was another part of Dandridge’s life that she didn’t celebrate, but which shows up in the public record. After Reconstruction she petitioned Congress for financial support on the grounds that her father and first husband had given the U.S. of A. valuable military service, that in the Civil War she had lost a lot of property (probably slaves), and that she was in need—or at least in more need than the daughter of a President was supposed to be.

In 1880 Congress granted Dandridge and her daughter a pension. In 1890 they asked for more. And four years later, she found herself in possession of a historical relic which a famous British general had stained with his blood before bequeathing it to George Washington.

Given all that context, I suspect that the mention of two museums in the initial newspaper story reporting her find was Dandridge’s way of signaling that she was open to reasonable financial offers for her unique property.

They didn’t come, at least at the level Dandridge was looking for. In 1909, T. K. Cartmell wrote in Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants:

The sash, which was large and of perfect weave, carefully preserved as one of the many relics of this disastrous war, was presented to Genl. Zachary Taylor in 1846, when he was engaged in the Mexican War, with the understanding that he should present it to the bravest man in the army. The General, however, never understood it that way, and deemed it best to retain and endeavor to preserve it. At this writing it is in the possession of his daughter Mrs. Bettie Dandridge (formerly Mrs. Maj. Bliss). The Author has seen it; and feels safe in pronouncing it the sash used on the occasion mentioned [i.e., after Braddock’s death].
Later that year, on 25 July, Dandridge died.

In 1926 Katherine Glass Greene published Winchester, Virginia, and Its Beginnings, 1743-1814, which gives a confused history of the sash, which I’ll analyze tomorrow. That book says that “London newspapers became clamorous” about the artifact. Members of Braddock’s regiment, the Coldstream Guards, reportedly offered to buy it from Dandridge for $3,000, and she had turned them down. Given that she herself had raised the prospect of “disposing of” it to a British military museum in 1894, I have to wonder if the offer wasn’t high enough.

Greene’s book also describes how a “General Codrington” reacted to seeing the sash when he attended a ceremony dedicating a monument to Braddock. The 16 Oct 1913 Gazette Times of Pittsburgh confirms that Lt. Gen. Sir Alfred E. Codrington led the British delegation at that dedication ceremony.

By 1926, Greene stated, the Braddock sash was “on perpetual loan” from Taylor’s descendants to Mount Vernon. Her book showed the photograph above of the sash draped over six little girls “at George Washington’s Office Museum,” a site in Winchester. How that information squares with the statement on Mount Vernon’s website that it bought the Braddock sash in 1918 with Japanese money I can’t say. Perhaps the sash came back to Washington’s home that year but the transaction wasn’t finalized till later.

Or did it come back? None of the stories I’ve quoted about the Braddock sash explained how it went from Gen. Washington to the “gentleman at New Orleans” who had it sent off to Gen. Taylor.

TOMORROW: The last twists in the thread.


Joe Kresse said...

This series has been quite enjoyable and informative. I have always found Braddocks March and defeat a fascinating prelude to the F&I War as well as the American Rebellion. This incident helped to define the Washington that created the Virginia Regiment as well as the man that would one day be General and President to a new Nation.
Had just a few events been different the shape of the American landscape would be very different today. I always thought the Braddock Campaign would make a great film.

J. L. Bell said...

As a film, the Braddock campaign would have a quite unhappy ending for the British-Americans. We like to remember the event for its effect on young Washington, which offers a happier, if distant, ending. The bloody sash symbolizes that legacy.