On this Veterans Day, it seems fitting to highlight a new addition to our Metalwork Gallery that celebrates bravery, valor, and patriotism. A quick glance will tell you that this sword was not one intended for battle, but its grandeur and design tell a rich story about American history. The sword was presented to Lieutenant Henry E. Ballard (1786–1855) by the state of Maryland as a celebration and show of appreciation for Ballard’s naval triumphs and contributions to his country during the War of 1812.
The etched blade, made by William Rose and etched by John Meer, depicts one of Ballard’s greatest wartime engagements with three ships that are labeled “Constitution, Cyane & Levant.” Serving under Captain Charles Stewart on the USS Constitution, Ballard was part of the crew that singlehandedly captured the Cyane and Levant, two British warships, on the evening of February 20, 1815. Ballard was then charged with commanding the Levant for the journey home. Unfortunately, Ballard was forced to surrender the Levant soon after at Porta Praya off the coast of Portugal, when the neutral port turned against him and British Captain Sir George Collier pursued him with three ships in his command. The USS Constitution and the Cyane escaped the British pursuit. Despite the recapture, Ballard’s valor was deemed worthy of recognition.
In fact, Maryland’s governor commissioned Thomas Fletcher and Sidney Gardiner of Philadelphia, the nation’s premier silver and jewelry firm, to make the sword and scabbard for Ballard. American designed and made, the elaborate gold hilt features four eagles, a declaration of the young nation’s pride. This sword likely traveled abroad with Ballard, who probably wore it at his belt on his mission to France in 1833 when he accompanied Ambassador Edward Livingston to meet Louis-Philippe, king of France.
The sword was certainly suited for an officer to wear on a diplomatic visit and would have been quite a statement of Ballard’s accomplishments. In addition to the ships etched into the blade of the sword, it includes images of a cannon and ammunition, bands of classical borders, and a central image of the federal eagle and a banner with the motto “E Pluribus Unum.” The date of the capture of the Cyane and Levant also appears on the sword: “FEBRUARY 20, 1815.”
The opposite side of the blade is etched with an American flag on a pole with a drum and trophy of arms along with a classical border and the inscription: “PRESENTED BY THE STATE OF MARYLAND TO/ Lieut\t. Henry E. Ballard. MARCH 1828. As the / reward of Patriotism and Valor.”
This sword is one of four known to be made by Fletcher and Gardiner. All four swords have a similar design, but each is customized to celebrate the accomplishments of its recipient. The gold-hilted sword features a bald eagle pommel with a slightly open beak. The grip features an oval relief image on each side: one side with Hercules leaning on his club and the other with Neptune with his trident.
The imagery used to decorate this grand sword celebrates the service of the recipient and speaks to the time and the nation’s developing iconography as well. The image of the ships on the blade was quite likely based on a print made after a painting by Thomas Birch, which became the inspiration for many objects depicting this nautical triumph. In fact, the Winterthur collection includes many objects showing the USS Constitution capturing the Cyane and the Levant. Among them are the English-made jug and handkerchief shown below.
See this spectacular sword in our Metalwork Gallery. To learn more about all of these objects, visit Winterthur’s Digital Collections Database on winterthur.org.
Post by Kim Collison, Department of Museum Affairs