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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Saturday, June 08, 2013

“The missing sash of Gen. Braddock”

Yesterday I quoted Wills De Hass’s 1851 account of how Gen. Edward Braddock’s sash passed through George Washington’s hands into the possession of Gen. Zachary Taylor in 1846. Taylor took the sash to the White House when he was elected President in the wake of the Mexican-American War. And suddenly he died in 1850.

De Hass’s remarks about the Braddock sash were repeated in various nineteenth-century histories, but no one added new information. But in 1894 a report appeared in the Winchester (Virginia) News, picked up in the 31 May Baltimore Sun. After a dramatic description of Braddock’s death (which I haven’t tried to confirm), the article said:

This red silk sash, stained and stiffened with his blood, was carried by General Washington to Mount Vernon, and by him given to Major-General Gaines. It was given by Maj.-Gen. Zachariah Taylor in 1848 [?] by Major-General Gaines after the Mexican War. It was only the other day, after great search, found by his only surviving daughter, the estimable Mrs. Betty Taylor Dandridge, of Winchester, who as Mrs. Bliss was so well known whilst presiding over the White House in the short year her father was President.

The history of the sash seems to be that on General Taylor’s sudden and unlooked-for death all of his personal effects were placed in his army chest and remained there until at the death of his widow they were sent to this city, the home of Mrs. Dandridge, his only surviving daughter then. There was no memoranda or inventory and no especial thought given it. The civil war coming on they were forgotten, and it was only the other day, her attention being called to the subject, that search was had and it was found, carefully wrapped up in linen and labeled “Braddock’s sash,” together with her father’s two military sashes. It is of very dark red, soft silk, some 13 feet long by 4 in width. At either extremity, near the heavy silk tassels, wove into a horizontal band, is the date of 1709, and near the center are three dark black stains as large as a man’s hand, the marks of his life blood.
The article notes that the sash was discussed in De Hass’s book and in the history of Braddock’s retreat by Winthrop Sargent (misspelled). The article doesn’t mention the New Orleans gentleman who De Hass said gave the sash to Gen. Edmund P. Gaines (shown above), however. It concludes:
The sash being of no value to the lady other than as a relic of the French and Indian war of 1740 [sic], will be in all probability disposed of by her either to the United Service Museum, Horse Guards, London, or to the Braddock Museum in Pittsburg.
The item doesn’t state what or who had prompted Dandridge to look for the sash among her father’s possessions. One possibility is an inquiry from that London military institution—why else would she have named it as a possible recipient?

That news from Virginia was retold in various American papers and in the September 1894 issue of The United Service: A Monthly Review of Military and Naval Affairs. Curiously, a year and a half later the 20 Oct 1895 Knoxville Journal ran an article citing the Washington Post that said:
A private letter from Winchester, Va., mentions the interesting fact that Mrs. Bettie Taylor Dandridge…has just discovered, after long search, the missing sash of Gen. Braddock, which was long supposed to have been lost.
Had the Knoxville paper just gotten the news? Or was Dandridge publicizing the story again? That article also went on to cite the “Ed Journal” in saying:
The sash in which the British General Braddock was carried from the field of his defeat and death, was presented to Gen. Gaines after his brilliant victory at Fort Erie, in 1814. In this battle the American forces, under our East Tennessee General, Gaines, killed and wounded more Englishmen than were killed and wounded in the war of 1812-15, except under Jackson, at New Orleans.
Obviously, that statement highlighting Gaines’s career came out of east Tennessee. This article didn’t even say anything about Washington and his ownership of the Braddock sash. I don’t think this report is reliable; it conflicts with what De Hass wrote in 1851, apparently based on speaking with someone personally involved in delivering the sash from Gaines to Taylor, and De Hass said Gaines were merely a conduit for the New Orleans gentleman. So that 1895 news story confirms how little solid information was still attached to the sash.

It also indicates that the sash, though “being of no value” to Dandridge, was still in her hands.

TOMORROW: Bringing the story full circle?


John L Smith Jr said...

This story is starting to remind me of the Shroud of Turin!

J. L. Bell said...

As a long cloth stained with blood, the Braddock sash certainly has similarities with the Shroud of Turin. And of course people spoke of it as a military relic.