LOST GREAT SEAL OF THE CONFEDERACY NOT SO LOST
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  1. #1

    Dec 2004
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    LOST GREAT SEAL OF THE CONFEDERACY NOT SO LOST

    From the Museum’s Collections: The Great Seal of the Confederacy
    Guy R. Swanson
    Curator of Manuscripts and Archives


    One of the most important objects in the Museum’s collections is the Great Seal of the
    Confederacy, the symbol of the nation that Southerners created in 1861 and defended until 1865.
    After the Confederacy collapsed, the seal escaped capture by Federal authorities and remained
    hidden until 1912, when it was purchased by “three public spirited citizens of Richmond,”
    Virginia. In 1915, they loaned the seal to the Confederate Museum for display during the
    Veteran’s Reunion, and it remained there on view in the Solid South Room on the first floor.
    The great seal was formally presented to the organization in 1943.
    When creating a national seal, the Confederacy’s provisional and permanent governments
    faced a situation similar to that of the Founding Fathers. In 1782, they had considered designs
    based on Biblical scenes or European heraldry, before adopting the image of an eagle clutching
    arrows and an olive branch as the Great Seal of the United States. Nearly eighty years later, on 9
    February 1861, the Confederate Congress created the Committee on Flag and Seal, and for the
    next two years it considered alternatives that might serve as an appropriate great seal.
    The Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, indicates
    that there was considerable debate on seal designs and mottoes that might identify the new
    nation. One design the Hose of Representatives considered in 1863 had “in the foreground, a
    Confederate soldier in the position of charge bayonet” who was “surrounded by a wreath
    composed of the stalk of the sugar cane, the rice, the cotton, and tobacco plants,….” Another
    alternative was “an armed youth in classic costume…surrounded by a wreath composed of sugar
    cane, rice, cotton, tobacco plants….”
    During the same year, the Senate considered adopting the image of the equestrian statue
    of George Washington in Richmond’s Capitol Square for the seal. President Jefferson Davis had
    selected a spot at the foot of the statue to deliver his 1862 inaugural address. Leaders of the
    revolutionary generation, especially Washington, were identified as the founders of the United
    States and the Confederacy. The salutation of Davis’s address recalled this legacy:
    Fellow-Citizens. On this the birthday [22 February] of the man most identified with the
    establishment of American independence, and beneath the monument erected to
    commemorate his heroic virtues and those of his compatriots, we have assembled to
    usher into existence the Permanent Government of the Confederate States. Through this
    instrumentality, under the favor of Divine Providence, we hope to perpetuate the
    principles of our revolutionary fathers. The day, the memory, and purpose seem fitly
    associated.”
    Choices for the motto on the seal emerged with the various designs. Confederates
    believed that the motto associated with their cause should reflect their interpretation of the
    original Union as created in 1787, or a strong faith in blessings from God. Some of the mottoes
    under consideration were “Liberty and Independence,” “Glory to God in the Highest, on earth
    peace and good will toward men,” “Deo duce vincemus (With God as our leader we will
    conquer),” “Deo duce vincimus (With God as our leader we are conquering),” “Deo favente,
    animo fervente (With God favoring, and the soul raging),” “Deo vindice (With God as our
    defender),” and “Deo vindice majores aemulamur (With God as our defender we are emulating
    our ancestors),” What is clear from the debate over the seal’s design and motto is that
    Confederates wanted an identity for their nation, recognized instantly by Southerners and other
    nations.
    A mixture of compromise and politicking yielded the final design of the great seal
    as approved in Congressional Joint Resolution No. 4, and signed by President Davis on 30 April
    1863: “the seal of the Confederate States shall consist of a device representing an equestrian
    portrait of Washington…surrounded by a wreath composed of the principal agricultural products
    of the Confederacy,…with the following motto: “Deo Vindice.”
    In late May 1863, after Congress had approved the design particulars, Secretary of State
    Judah P. Benjamin sent explicit instructions for the seal’s manufacture to James M. Mason, the
    Confederacy’s diplomatic representative in England. Benjamin’s letter included a photograph of
    the Washington statue to serve as the model, with a circle drawn on the back of the picture in the
    desired size of the seal. The secretary of state also noted that, “In regard to the wreath and the
    motto, they must be placed in your taste and that of the artists.” He concluded, “Pray give your
    best attention to this, and let me know about what the cost will be and when I may expect the
    work to be finished.”
    Mason experienced delays with the artist that he initially contracted to engrave the seal,
    but Benjamin finally heard about significant progression 4 April 1864. Mason had scored a great
    success by arranging to have Joseph S. Wyon, Chief Engraver of Her Majesty’s Seals, craft the
    one for the Confederate government. Wyon executed the seal in silver, which was the element
    used to cast those used by the English government. Silver had the advantage of resisting rust,
    which threatened seals that were engraved in steel. The finished product was 3 5/8” in diameter,
    3/4" thick, and weighed three pounds (Troy). Included in the final transaction were an “ivory
    handle, box with spring lock and screw press, 3,000 wafers, 1,000 seal papers, 1,000 strips of
    parchment, 100 brass boxes, 100 cakes of wax, 100 silk cords, 1 perforator, 3 packing cases lined
    with tin,” and a detailed set of instructions for using the seal and its accouterments. Mason
    “Thought it better to have these supplies sent, in absence of the proper materials in the
    Confederacy.” The final cost was £122.10.0, which in mid-nineteenth century exchange was
    around $700.
    Mason also worried, however, about the possibility of the new seal being captured in its
    circuitous and dangerous journey from London to Richmond. He took the liberty of holding it
    until he heard Secretary of State Benjamin’s plan for transporting the seal. Mason was to have a
    trustworthy army or navy officer return it to the Confederacy, “with the most stringent directions
    for having it ready to be thrown into the sea, should the danger of capture become imminent.” In
    addition, an impression of the seal would remain in England, so that if the unthinkable occurred
    there would be little problem of having another cast.
    The matter was settled by 6 July 1864 when Mason entrusted Lieutenant Robert T.
    Chapman of the Confederate navy with delivery of the seal. The seal was placed in a small box
    that was carried in a leather satchel. Chapman, along with several officers from the former
    Confederate vessels Alabama and Georgia, left Liverpool on the Cunard liner Africa for Halifax,
    Nova Scotia. Since there were threats from the blockade he “made no secret of talking about his
    anxiety and his plans for throwing it overboard….” When the Africa reached Halifax, Chapman
    and some of the others boarded the steamer Alpha for St. George, Bermuda. While in Bermuda
    an anxious Chapman decided to go on to Wilmington, North Carolina, ahead of the seal’s press
    and other supplies. After four tries, and with the seal in his pocket, Chapman made it to
    Wilmington.
    The Great Seal of the Confederacy was presented to Secretary of State Benjamin in
    Richmond on 4 September 1864. Back in London, Mason was relieved to learn that the seal had
    arrived safely in the Confederate capital, but for the next several months he and Benjamin
    exchanged notes on the whereabouts of the press and supplies. Without its press, the great seal
    was probably never used in an official capacity, and the permanent government continued to use
    the seal of the provisional government. The provisional seal had a design of a scroll and the
    “word ‘Constitution’ above and ‘Liberty’ below.” After the Confederate government collapsed,
    Benjamin threw this first seal into the Savannah River as he fled the South for England.
    The seal press remained in Bermuda in the care of John Bourne, a Confederate
    commercial agent, who held it until his death in 1867. The press was then sold at auction and
    disappeared until 1888, when John S. Darrell purchased it as a piece of junk. Darrell had the
    press cleaned, found it in good condition, and then mounted it in a glass case. After unsuccessful
    attempts to obtain a silver replica of the great seal to use in the press, Darrell had one cast in
    brass. The press is now in the custody of Darrell’s descendants, the Cox family of Hamilton,
    Bermuda.
    The best starting point for tracing the post-bellum history of the great seal is April 1865.
    State Department clerk William J. Bromwell had previously moved three cartons of departmental
    records to a barn near Richmond, and he had also been ordered to transfer seven additional
    cartons of records to Danville Female College in Danville, Virginia. With the end of the
    Confederacy near, Secretary of State Benjamin then instructed Bromwell to take all of the
    records to Charlotte, North Carolina. The clerk arrived there on 1 April 1865, placing the ten
    containers—one of which held the great seal—in the courthouse in strongboxes. But the
    surrender at Appomattox, Davis’s flight and subsequent capture, and Benjamin’s escape to
    England seemingly made Bromwell the formal custodian of the records.
    Bromwell returned to Richmond to practice law, and then moved to Washington, D. C. in
    1866, where he was employed by John T. Pickett in his law firm. Bromwell made certain that
    the records followed him, and eventually he informed Pickett that he had custody of them.
    In 1868, the two agreed that Pickett would act as Bromwell’s agent, and Pickett
    approached the Federate government about purchasing the papers for $500,000. U. S. Secretary
    of State William Henry Seward was interested in purchasing them, but expressed concerns about
    their authenticity and the price. Negotiations broke down until the next year when the
    government indicated its willingness to purchase the papers for an undisclosed amount. Pickett
    must have been unimpressed for he broke off the talks, and later tried to sell the records to a
    group of Southerners for $25,000. It was not until 1871 that Congress appropriated $75,000 for
    the purchase, when Pickett (and Bromwell) accepted. Federal authorities were now interested in
    the papers because of damage claims being made against the United States by former
    Confederates; the records could help determine if the accusations were genuine.
    Seward then appointed Navy Lieutenant Thomas O. Selfridge as the State Department’s
    representative to inspect the papers. All along, from the start of the negotiations, Pickett claimed
    that the Confederate records were in Hamilton, Ontario, affording them protection from
    confiscation by the U. S. government. In reality the papers were still concealed in the
    Washington, D. C. area. In June 1872, Pickett and Selfridge traveled by railroad to the
    announced storage site, with the papers heading to the same destination on the same train! Once
    in Canada, Pickett carefully produced the papers. Selfridge made the inspection and determined
    the records were genuine. The pair returned to Washington with the papers once again following
    them on the train. After additional inspections by government officials, Pickett received the
    $75,000 payment on 3 July 1872, and the sum was divided with Bromwell.
    At some point during the trip, Pickett gave Selfridge the Great Seal of the Confederacy.
    The reasons why the exchange took place are unclear, and both men knew it had to remain a
    secret between them. In 1873, however, a third party gained knowledge of who possessed the
    seal.
    Pickett had arranged for Selfridge to lean him the seal in order to have 1,000 electrotype
    replicas manufactured and coated in gold, silver, and bronze. New York electrotyper Samuel H.
    Black completed the task for $778 and gave Pickett his Masonic oath that he would never
    divulge information about the seal’s owner. The two signed an agreement on 15 May 1873 that
    completed the transaction. The replicas were then placed on sale with all generated revenue
    gong to relieve Southern widows and orphans. The amount that Pickett raised is unknown. “
    ‘The understood,’ “ as Selfridge referred to the seal, arrived back in his custody on 21 May. By
    1885, he and Black were the only two who knew the truth about the great seal. Bromwell had
    died in 1875, and Pickett, in 1884.
    Pickett’s electrotypes and his correspondence with Selfridge left clues that would
    eventually reveal who owned the great seal. Questions arose about the authenticity of the item
    from which the copies were made, and Pickett sent an electrotype to London to the firm that had
    engraved the true seal. J. S. and A. B. Wyon confirmed that it was identical to the one produced
    in 1864. They added further that “we have no hesitation in asserting that as perfect an
    impression could not have been produced except from the original Seal. We have never made
    any duplicates of the Seal in question.”
    Ever so slowly, detective work by several individuals interested in the great seal, and
    working apart from one another, began to reveal who had custody. Miss L. T. Munford, of the
    Confederate Memorial Literary Society and its Confederate Museum in Richmond, contacted the
    War Department in 1905 seeking information about the seal’s location. Acting Secretary of War
    Robert Shaw Oliver informed her that the department had never held the seal and suggested that
    South Carolina was supposed to be the custodian. Miss Munford also received notification from
    the Smithsonian Institution that the United Daughters of the Confederacy held the seal.
    North Carolina Judge Walter A. Montgomery was also interested in the seal and came
    close to locating it. While researching the Confederate government at the Library of Congress in
    1910 and 1911, he, too, started wondering what had happened to the great seal. After carefully
    reading Pickett’s correspondence with Selfridge—the Library of Congress had only recently
    acquired the Pickett Papers—Montgomery concluded that Selfridge held the seal. In an October
    1911 article for the Richmond Times-Dispatch he reported his conclusions, hoping that Selfridge
    would release the seal. Nothing resulted from his efforts.
    Not until Gaillard Hunt, Chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress,
    began working to locate the seal was the mystery truly solved. After examining Pickett’s papers,
    Hunt concluded, just as Montgomery had, that Selfridge owned the seal. Hunt then took his
    efforts one step further and informed Selfridge that he intended to publish his findings unless he
    gave up the seal. Fearing a scandal over his acquisition and ownership of the seal, Selfridge
    agreed to Hunt’s demand, but only if he received $3,000. Hunt now faced a financial dilemma
    and enlisted the help of Lawrence Washington, descendant of the first president and a fellow
    employee at the Library of Congress. Washington quickly found three prominent residents of
    Richmond—Thomas P. Bryan, Eppa Hunton, Jr., and William H. White—who agreed to give
    $1,000 apiece for purchasing the seal. The buyers signed a preliminary agreement with Selfridge
    in May 1912 but had one important stipulation: the seal in question must receive authentication
    as the Greta Seal of the Confederacy.
    Bryan, Hunton, and White arranged for J. St. George Bryan and Granville Gray to travel
    to London to visit the Wyon studio to obtain the needed authentication. The firm was then
    headed by Allen G. Wyon, nephew of the original engraver, and after making a wax impression
    he confirmed that the seal was genuine. Wyon signed a document attesting to its authenticity
    and attached it to the seal.
    While Hunt was in the process of proving that Selfridge held the seal and raising the
    $3,000, he was also in touch with Miss Susan B. Harrison of the Confederate Memorial Literary
    Society. The two had met earlier when Miss Harrison had traveled to the Library of Congress to
    study the preservation of manuscripts. In April 1912, he told her in a confidential letter that he
    had located the great seal and added that he hoped a Southern institution would eventually
    become its custodian. In additional correspondence of the same month, he remarked that he
    hoped to receive some of the credit for helping the Museum obtain the seal and the “sole credit”
    for having located the item. Hunt assured Miss Harrison that “no one [would] have the Seal who
    does not promise to give it to a public institution in Virginia—preferably your Museum.” “If
    you restrain yourself for a couple of weeks,” he concluded, “you will see the drama closed.”
    Miss Harrison notified Hunt on 26 April 1912—Confederate Memorial Day in the Deep
    South—that, “Since reading your letter…I have been floating on pink clouds….” She said that if
    the seal were given to the Museum he would “be the Hero of the whole play,” and the “Society
    will give you a reception and crown you King of Kings, waving Confederate flags and singing
    Dixie—”. The matter, unfortunately, remained unsettled for three more years.
    In October 1913, Miss Sally Archer Anderson, President of the Confederate Memorial
    Literary Society, approached Eppa Hunton, Jr., about depositing the seal at the Museum. “I do
    not know if you and your associates have made up your minds,” she began, “as to the proper
    place in which to put as a gift The Confederate Seal, but I feel so intensely…that our Museum is
    the place for it, that I venture to impose on you this letter.” Miss Anderson recounted the special
    care that objects and manuscripts received when given to the Museum, and noted the special
    training that Miss Harrison received from Hunt at the Library of Congress. She added that the
    Museum owned fireproof cases for its documents and a fireproof safe for the most valuable items
    in the collections.
    Miss Anderson’s letter, and no doubt other efforts that followed, must have influenced
    Bryan, Hunton, and White. On 24 May 1915, Hunton presented Miss Harrison with the great
    seal and all the papers that certified its authenticity. The items were loaned to the Museum, and
    Hunton added, “It is a pleasure to be able to put the Seal with you….I know your organization
    will value and care for it as it deserves to be.”
    The seal remained on loan to the Museum until 1943 when the heirs of Bryan, Hunton,
    and White decided to give their interests to the Confederate Memorial Literary Society. With
    urging from Miss Anderson, the transfer took place in June and July of that year, and the
    descendants signed deeds of gift that formally completed the donation.
    In 1970, the seal was put in active use for the first time. The Confederate Memorial
    Literary Society established Literary Awards in that year to honor outstanding scholarship in
    Confederate history. The Jefferson Davis Award honors narratives and the Founders Award
    honors edited primary sources. Each prize winner receives a framed citation bearing an
    impression of the great seal in red wax.
    The history of the Great Seal of the Confederacy and its journey to the Museum is a story
    of mystery and luck, and the determination of Bryan, Hunton, and White to ensure the
    preservation of this unique object. That they perceived the Museum as the proper custodian for
    such a famous treasure, almost three-quarters of a century ago, is indicative of this institutions
    long-standing reputation as the principal center for the study of the Confederacy.

  2. #2

    May 2014
    1
    1 times
    All Types Of Treasure Hunting
    Quote Originally Posted by gldhntr View Post
    From the Museum’s Collections: The Great Seal of the Confederacy
    Guy R. Swanson
    Curator of Manuscripts and Archives
    MOC

    One of the most important objects in the Museum’s collections is the Great Seal of the
    Confederacy, the symbol of the nation that Southerners created in 1861 and defended until 1865.
    After the Confederacy collapsed, the seal escaped capture by Federal authorities and remained
    hidden until 1912, when it was purchased by “three public spirited citizens of Richmond,”
    Virginia. In 1915, they loaned the seal to the Confederate Museum for display during the
    Veteran’s Reunion, and it remained there on view in the Solid South Room on the first floor.
    The great seal was formally presented to the organization in 1943.
    When creating a national seal, the Confederacy’s provisional and permanent governments
    faced a situation similar to that of the Founding Fathers. In 1782, they had considered designs
    based on Biblical scenes or European heraldry, before adopting the image of an eagle clutching
    arrows and an olive branch as the Great Seal of the United States. Nearly eighty years later, on 9
    February 1861, the Confederate Congress created the Committee on Flag and Seal, and for the
    next two years it considered alternatives that might serve as an appropriate great seal.
    The Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, indicates
    that there was considerable debate on seal designs and mottoes that might identify the new
    nation. One design the Hose of Representatives considered in 1863 had “in the foreground, a
    Confederate soldier in the position of charge bayonet” who was “surrounded by a wreath
    composed of the stalk of the sugar cane, the rice, the cotton, and tobacco plants,….” Another
    alternative was “an armed youth in classic costume…surrounded by a wreath composed of sugar
    cane, rice, cotton, tobacco plants….”
    During the same year, the Senate considered adopting the image of the equestrian statue
    of George Washington in Richmond’s Capitol Square for the seal. President Jefferson Davis had
    selected a spot at the foot of the statue to deliver his 1862 inaugural address. Leaders of the
    revolutionary generation, especially Washington, were identified as the founders of the United
    States and the Confederacy. The salutation of Davis’s address recalled this legacy:
    Fellow-Citizens. On this the birthday [22 February] of the man most identified with the
    establishment of American independence, and beneath the monument erected to
    commemorate his heroic virtues and those of his compatriots, we have assembled to
    usher into existence the Permanent Government of the Confederate States. Through this
    instrumentality, under the favor of Divine Providence, we hope to perpetuate the
    principles of our revolutionary fathers. The day, the memory, and purpose seem fitly
    associated.”
    Choices for the motto on the seal emerged with the various designs. Confederates
    believed that the motto associated with their cause should reflect their interpretation of the
    original Union as created in 1787, or a strong faith in blessings from God. Some of the mottoes
    under consideration were “Liberty and Independence,” “Glory to God in the Highest, on earth
    peace and good will toward men,” “Deo duce vincemus (With God as our leader we will
    conquer),” “Deo duce vincimus (With God as our leader we are conquering),” “Deo favente,
    animo fervente (With God favoring, and the soul raging),” “Deo vindice (With God as our
    defender),” and “Deo vindice majores aemulamur (With God as our defender we are emulating
    our ancestors),” What is clear from the debate over the seal’s design and motto is that
    Confederates wanted an identity for their nation, recognized instantly by Southerners and other
    nations.
    A mixture of compromise and politicking yielded the final design of the great seal
    as approved in Congressional Joint Resolution No. 4, and signed by President Davis on 30 April
    1863: “the seal of the Confederate States shall consist of a device representing an equestrian
    portrait of Washington…surrounded by a wreath composed of the principal agricultural products
    of the Confederacy,…with the following motto: “Deo Vindice.”
    In late May 1863, after Congress had approved the design particulars, Secretary of State
    Judah P. Benjamin sent explicit instructions for the seal’s manufacture to James M. Mason, the
    Confederacy’s diplomatic representative in England. Benjamin’s letter included a photograph of
    the Washington statue to serve as the model, with a circle drawn on the back of the picture in the
    desired size of the seal. The secretary of state also noted that, “In regard to the wreath and the
    motto, they must be placed in your taste and that of the artists.” He concluded, “Pray give your
    best attention to this, and let me know about what the cost will be and when I may expect the
    work to be finished.”
    Mason experienced delays with the artist that he initially contracted to engrave the seal,
    but Benjamin finally heard about significant progression 4 April 1864. Mason had scored a great
    success by arranging to have Joseph S. Wyon, Chief Engraver of Her Majesty’s Seals, craft the
    one for the Confederate government. Wyon executed the seal in silver, which was the element
    used to cast those used by the English government. Silver had the advantage of resisting rust,
    which threatened seals that were engraved in steel. The finished product was 3 5/8” in diameter,
    3/4" thick, and weighed three pounds (Troy). Included in the final transaction were an “ivory
    handle, box with spring lock and screw press, 3,000 wafers, 1,000 seal papers, 1,000 strips of
    parchment, 100 brass boxes, 100 cakes of wax, 100 silk cords, 1 perforator, 3 packing cases lined
    with tin,” and a detailed set of instructions for using the seal and its accouterments. Mason
    “Thought it better to have these supplies sent, in absence of the proper materials in the
    Confederacy.” The final cost was £122.10.0, which in mid-nineteenth century exchange was
    around $700.
    Mason also worried, however, about the possibility of the new seal being captured in its
    circuitous and dangerous journey from London to Richmond. He took the liberty of holding it
    until he heard Secretary of State Benjamin’s plan for transporting the seal. Mason was to have a
    trustworthy army or navy officer return it to the Confederacy, “with the most stringent directions
    for having it ready to be thrown into the sea, should the danger of capture become imminent.” In
    addition, an impression of the seal would remain in England, so that if the unthinkable occurred
    there would be little problem of having another cast.
    The matter was settled by 6 July 1864 when Mason entrusted Lieutenant Robert T.
    Chapman of the Confederate navy with delivery of the seal. The seal was placed in a small box
    that was carried in a leather satchel. Chapman, along with several officers from the former
    Confederate vessels Alabama and Georgia, left Liverpool on the Cunard liner Africa for Halifax,
    Nova Scotia. Since there were threats from the blockade he “made no secret of talking about his
    anxiety and his plans for throwing it overboard….” When the Africa reached Halifax, Chapman
    and some of the others boarded the steamer Alpha for St. George, Bermuda. While in Bermuda
    an anxious Chapman decided to go on to Wilmington, North Carolina, ahead of the seal’s press
    and other supplies. After four tries, and with the seal in his pocket, Chapman made it to
    Wilmington.
    The Great Seal of the Confederacy was presented to Secretary of State Benjamin in
    Richmond on 4 September 1864. Back in London, Mason was relieved to learn that the seal had
    arrived safely in the Confederate capital, but for the next several months he and Benjamin
    exchanged notes on the whereabouts of the press and supplies. Without its press, the great seal
    was probably never used in an official capacity, and the permanent government continued to use
    the seal of the provisional government. The provisional seal had a design of a scroll and the
    “word ‘Constitution’ above and ‘Liberty’ below.” After the Confederate government collapsed,
    Benjamin threw this first seal into the Savannah River as he fled the South for England.
    The seal press remained in Bermuda in the care of John Bourne, a Confederate
    commercial agent, who held it until his death in 1867. The press was then sold at auction and
    disappeared until 1888, when John S. Darrell purchased it as a piece of junk. Darrell had the
    press cleaned, found it in good condition, and then mounted it in a glass case. After unsuccessful
    attempts to obtain a silver replica of the great seal to use in the press, Darrell had one cast in
    brass. The press is now in the custody of Darrell’s descendants, the Cox family of Hamilton,
    Bermuda.
    The best starting point for tracing the post-bellum history of the great seal is April 1865.
    State Department clerk William J. Bromwell had previously moved three cartons of departmental
    records to a barn near Richmond, and he had also been ordered to transfer seven additional
    cartons of records to Danville Female College in Danville, Virginia. With the end of the
    Confederacy near, Secretary of State Benjamin then instructed Bromwell to take all of the
    records to Charlotte, North Carolina. The clerk arrived there on 1 April 1865, placing the ten
    containers—one of which held the great seal—in the courthouse in strongboxes. But the
    surrender at Appomattox, Davis’s flight and subsequent capture, and Benjamin’s escape to
    England seemingly made Bromwell the formal custodian of the records.
    Bromwell returned to Richmond to practice law, and then moved to Washington, D. C. in
    1866, where he was employed by John T. Pickett in his law firm. Bromwell made certain that
    the records followed him, and eventually he informed Pickett that he had custody of them.
    In 1868, the two agreed that Pickett would act as Bromwell’s agent, and Pickett
    approached the Federate government about purchasing the papers for $500,000. U. S. Secretary
    of State William Henry Seward was interested in purchasing them, but expressed concerns about
    their authenticity and the price. Negotiations broke down until the next year when the
    government indicated its willingness to purchase the papers for an undisclosed amount. Pickett
    must have been unimpressed for he broke off the talks, and later tried to sell the records to a
    group of Southerners for $25,000. It was not until 1871 that Congress appropriated $75,000 for
    the purchase, when Pickett (and Bromwell) accepted. Federal authorities were now interested in
    the papers because of damage claims being made against the United States by former
    Confederates; the records could help determine if the accusations were genuine.
    Seward then appointed Navy Lieutenant Thomas O. Selfridge as the State Department’s
    representative to inspect the papers. All along, from the start of the negotiations, Pickett claimed
    that the Confederate records were in Hamilton, Ontario, affording them protection from
    confiscation by the U. S. government. In reality the papers were still concealed in the
    Washington, D. C. area. In June 1872, Pickett and Selfridge traveled by railroad to the
    announced storage site, with the papers heading to the same destination on the same train! Once
    in Canada, Pickett carefully produced the papers. Selfridge made the inspection and determined
    the records were genuine. The pair returned to Washington with the papers once again following
    them on the train. After additional inspections by government officials, Pickett received the
    $75,000 payment on 3 July 1872, and the sum was divided with Bromwell.
    At some point during the trip, Pickett gave Selfridge the Great Seal of the Confederacy.
    The reasons why the exchange took place are unclear, and both men knew it had to remain a
    secret between them. In 1873, however, a third party gained knowledge of who possessed the
    seal.
    Pickett had arranged for Selfridge to lean him the seal in order to have 1,000 electrotype
    replicas manufactured and coated in gold, silver, and bronze. New York electrotyper Samuel H.
    Black completed the task for $778 and gave Pickett his Masonic oath that he would never
    divulge information about the seal’s owner. The two signed an agreement on 15 May 1873 that
    completed the transaction. The replicas were then placed on sale with all generated revenue
    gong to relieve Southern widows and orphans. The amount that Pickett raised is unknown. “
    ‘The understood,’ “ as Selfridge referred to the seal, arrived back in his custody on 21 May. By
    1885, he and Black were the only two who knew the truth about the great seal. Bromwell had
    died in 1875, and Pickett, in 1884.
    Pickett’s electrotypes and his correspondence with Selfridge left clues that would
    eventually reveal who owned the great seal. Questions arose about the authenticity of the item
    from which the copies were made, and Pickett sent an electrotype to London to the firm that had
    engraved the true seal. J. S. and A. B. Wyon confirmed that it was identical to the one produced
    in 1864. They added further that “we have no hesitation in asserting that as perfect an
    impression could not have been produced except from the original Seal. We have never made
    any duplicates of the Seal in question.”
    Ever so slowly, detective work by several individuals interested in the great seal, and
    working apart from one another, began to reveal who had custody. Miss L. T. Munford, of the
    Confederate Memorial Literary Society and its Confederate Museum in Richmond, contacted the
    War Department in 1905 seeking information about the seal’s location. Acting Secretary of War
    Robert Shaw Oliver informed her that the department had never held the seal and suggested that
    South Carolina was supposed to be the custodian. Miss Munford also received notification from
    the Smithsonian Institution that the United Daughters of the Confederacy held the seal.
    North Carolina Judge Walter A. Montgomery was also interested in the seal and came
    close to locating it. While researching the Confederate government at the Library of Congress in
    1910 and 1911, he, too, started wondering what had happened to the great seal. After carefully
    reading Pickett’s correspondence with Selfridge—the Library of Congress had only recently
    acquired the Pickett Papers—Montgomery concluded that Selfridge held the seal. In an October
    1911 article for the Richmond Times-Dispatch he reported his conclusions, hoping that Selfridge
    would release the seal. Nothing resulted from his efforts.
    Not until Gaillard Hunt, Chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress,
    began working to locate the seal was the mystery truly solved. After examining Pickett’s papers,
    Hunt concluded, just as Montgomery had, that Selfridge owned the seal. Hunt then took his
    efforts one step further and informed Selfridge that he intended to publish his findings unless he
    gave up the seal. Fearing a scandal over his acquisition and ownership of the seal, Selfridge
    agreed to Hunt’s demand, but only if he received $3,000. Hunt now faced a financial dilemma
    and enlisted the help of Lawrence Washington, descendant of the first president and a fellow
    employee at the Library of Congress. Washington quickly found three prominent residents of
    Richmond—Thomas P. Bryan, Eppa Hunton, Jr., and William H. White—who agreed to give
    $1,000 apiece for purchasing the seal. The buyers signed a preliminary agreement with Selfridge
    in May 1912 but had one important stipulation: the seal in question must receive authentication
    as the Greta Seal of the Confederacy.
    Bryan, Hunton, and White arranged for J. St. George Bryan and Granville Gray to travel
    to London to visit the Wyon studio to obtain the needed authentication. The firm was then
    headed by Allen G. Wyon, nephew of the original engraver, and after making a wax impression
    he confirmed that the seal was genuine. Wyon signed a document attesting to its authenticity
    and attached it to the seal.
    While Hunt was in the process of proving that Selfridge held the seal and raising the
    $3,000, he was also in touch with Miss Susan B. Harrison of the Confederate Memorial Literary
    Society. The two had met earlier when Miss Harrison had traveled to the Library of Congress to
    study the preservation of manuscripts. In April 1912, he told her in a confidential letter that he
    had located the great seal and added that he hoped a Southern institution would eventually
    become its custodian. In additional correspondence of the same month, he remarked that he
    hoped to receive some of the credit for helping the Museum obtain the seal and the “sole credit”
    for having located the item. Hunt assured Miss Harrison that “no one [would] have the Seal who
    does not promise to give it to a public institution in Virginia—preferably your Museum.” “If
    you restrain yourself for a couple of weeks,” he concluded, “you will see the drama closed.”
    Miss Harrison notified Hunt on 26 April 1912—Confederate Memorial Day in the Deep
    South—that, “Since reading your letter…I have been floating on pink clouds….” She said that if
    the seal were given to the Museum he would “be the Hero of the whole play,” and the “Society
    will give you a reception and crown you King of Kings, waving Confederate flags and singing
    Dixie—”. The matter, unfortunately, remained unsettled for three more years.
    In October 1913, Miss Sally Archer Anderson, President of the Confederate Memorial
    Literary Society, approached Eppa Hunton, Jr., about depositing the seal at the Museum. “I do
    not know if you and your associates have made up your minds,” she began, “as to the proper
    place in which to put as a gift The Confederate Seal, but I feel so intensely…that our Museum is
    the place for it, that I venture to impose on you this letter.” Miss Anderson recounted the special
    care that objects and manuscripts received when given to the Museum, and noted the special
    training that Miss Harrison received from Hunt at the Library of Congress. She added that the
    Museum owned fireproof cases for its documents and a fireproof safe for the most valuable items
    in the collections.
    Miss Anderson’s letter, and no doubt other efforts that followed, must have influenced
    Bryan, Hunton, and White. On 24 May 1915, Hunton presented Miss Harrison with the great
    seal and all the papers that certified its authenticity. The items were loaned to the Museum, and
    Hunton added, “It is a pleasure to be able to put the Seal with you….I know your organization
    will value and care for it as it deserves to be.”
    The seal remained on loan to the Museum until 1943 when the heirs of Bryan, Hunton,
    and White decided to give their interests to the Confederate Memorial Literary Society. With
    urging from Miss Anderson, the transfer took place in June and July of that year, and the
    descendants signed deeds of gift that formally completed the donation.
    In 1970, the seal was put in active use for the first time. The Confederate Memorial
    Literary Society established Literary Awards in that year to honor outstanding scholarship in
    Confederate history. The Jefferson Davis Award honors narratives and the Founders Award
    honors edited primary sources. Each prize winner receives a framed citation bearing an
    impression of the great seal in red wax.
    The history of the Great Seal of the Confederacy and its journey to the Museum is a story
    of mystery and luck, and the determination of Bryan, Hunton, and White to ensure the
    preservation of this unique object. That they perceived the Museum as the proper custodian for
    such a famous treasure, almost three-quarters of a century ago, is indicative of this institutions
    long-standing reputation as the principal center for the study of the Confederacy.
    ****************
    Citation:

    “The Museum of the Confederacy Journal” (summer 1987), p. 10-13.

    The Museum of the Confederacy Headquarters: The Museum of the Confederacy | Museum of the Confederacy

    Cathy Wright, Curator
    The American Civil War Museum
    White House and Museum of the Confederacy
    1201 East Clay Street,
    Richmond, VA 23219
    Toll-free 855.649.1861
    Tnmountains likes this.

 

 

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