DescriptionGeorge Washington and British General Edward Braddock: A Remarkable Leopard-skin Saddle Pad Owned and Used by Both Historic Figures. Items which belonged to Washington appear on the market rarely. In 2011 Heritage Auctions sold a brass compass used by a young Washington as a surveyor for $59,750. In 2016 a lock of his hair fetched $32,500 and in 2011 a pair of his glass decanters brought $20,315. However, these objects pale in comparison to the unique relic here.
On September 24, 1754, Major General Edward Braddock of the Coldstream Guards was named "Generalissimo of All His Majesty's Troops in North America." This was the time of the French and Indian War, and it fell to Braddock to mount a campaign to win over or subdue hostile Indians and oust the French from what would later be the Northwest Territories. His immediate target was Fort Duquesne, later known as Fort Pitt, which stood at the strategic location where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers joined to form the Ohio. In order to do so, Braddock marshaled a force of over 2,000 British troops and Colonial militias and literally blazed a road across the middle of the armies, through largely uncharted territory, dragging massive cannons across mountains and valleys. The cannons were inserted to dislodge the French from the series of forts they had constructed in a line stretching from Montreal down through what is now western Pennsylvania. It was the first major British military force ever deployed to North America, and it was destined to suffer one of the most humiliating defeats in British military history.
On May 29, 1755, his army of 1350 British regulars, over 500 militia men from the colonies, and other support troops set out from Fort Cumberland in Maryland. The largest colonial contingent was from Virginia and commanded by 23-year-old George Washington, who had already amassed substantial experience skirmishing with French and Indian forces and scouting the territory into which the army would move. Braddock would come to rely heavily on Washington as an adviser. Benjamin Franklin had been instrumental in obtaining wagons and provisions for the expedition, which included wagoneers named Daniel Boone, and future Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan, as well as important future generals Thomas Gage and Horatio Gates.
Progress was slow, because Braddock insisted on building a road as he went, to be used to resupply the outposts he expected to establish after what looked to be an easy victory over the overmatched French forces. Their garrison at Fort Duquesne numbered by 250 regular French troops and militia. However, most significantly, there were also over 600 Indian allies, well-armed, camped outside the fort. In order to move more quickly, he divided his force, leading ahead a "flying column" of 1350 men, to be followed by the remaining 800 men with most of the wagons and baggage. By July 10th Braddock's force drew itself up less than ten miles from Fort Duquesne, with a colorful show of strength expected to inspire a French withdrawal or surrender.
However, 100 Frenchmen, under the command of Captain Daniel Liénard de Beaujeu led the Indian allies in a surprise attack. De Beaujeu was killed early on, and the British cannons initially sent the attackers fleeing. However, they rallied and resumed the assault using natural cover such as ravines and fallen trees as cover to fight guerilla-style. This was a manner of fighting which the regimented British force had never before faced. They fought valiantly, but their return fire was largely ineffective, and their exposed, tightly grouped force presented an easy target. Casualties mounted and discipline broke down.
The colonized militiamen did their best to counter the attacker's strategy. Washington beseeched Braddock to post men behind trees, but the General refused. To his credit, Braddock fought courageously and had two horses shot out from under him as he traversed the field of battle trying vainly to rally his troops. Eventually he suffered what would be a mortal wound and was carried from the field. A defeat became a rout.
When the smoke cleared, it is estimated that the British and Americans suffered 465 killed and 421 wounded. Of 89 commissioned officers, 63 were killed or wounded. The Virginians suffered severely; Washington would estimate that of the three participating companies not more than 30 survived. In terms both of absolute numbers and percentages, the losses were greater than those suffered in the famous Charge of the Light Brigade in Crimea a century later.
Braddock himself expired on July 13th. He was buried in the middle of the road he had constructed, and soldiers marched over the gravesite, followed by their wagons, so that marauding Indians would not be able to dig up the body and desecrate it. Washington would later write that he officiated at the funeral ceremony.
Before he died, Braddock gave his surviving war horse to Washington, as well as the services of his cook Bishop, who for many years would serve as Washington's major domo at Mount Vernon. In his 2011 book Braddock's March, respected historian Thomas E. Crocker writes: "Either before or after Braddon's death, Washington also obtained the general's sash, leopard skin saddle pad, and one or both of his pistols." On page 237 of his book, a copy of which is being sold as part of this lot, Crocker pictures one of the pistols, now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, and Braddock's distinctive saddle pad which he notes "is now part of the American Heritage Library and Museum, Sons of the Revolution, Glendale, California." The saddle pad is pictured just as it is now displayed for sale in this auction. Crocker refers to this important artifact no fewer than five times in his book (pp. 25, 209, 235, 237 & 280).
Washington must have valued this piece greatly as it presently exhibits years of honest wear. By tradition he eventually returned it to the Braddock family, although our research has failed to uncover any details. In a well-known 1856 portrait of Washington astride a white stallion, called "Taking the Salute at Trenton," by John Faed, his saddle is depicted over a skin saddle pad. The color of that pad are more vivid than those of the present artifact, and the shape of the pad is somewhat different. However, inasmuch as Faed's work was painted over a half-century after Washington's death, it seems likely that this may be attributed to artistic license; Faed doubtless based his depiction simply on a period description. But the fact that Washington was known to still be using his leopard skin saddle pad gives testimony to his fondness for this remembrance of his former commander.
Since 1927 the leopard skin pad has been preserved and displayed by the Society of the Sons of the Revolution, until the decision of the organization's trustees to offer it at this auction. It must surely rank among the most fascinating and important Washington relics ever made available for private ownership. The saddle pad itself measures 36" x 20", including the knotted fringe. It is housed in a shadowbox frame, as displayed by the Sons of the Revolution for decades. It shows even, honest wear from long use, but is undamaged and in very good condition overall.
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