a gift made of the celebrated oak tree — George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers when Lord Buchan sent an extraordinary gift to President Washington as noted in the news of January 4, 1792.

From A History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, Volume 2, by William Dunlap, published in 1918:

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Buchan’s Gift to Washington

In the month of December following his arrival in the United States, he [Archibald Robertson] went to Philadelphia, then the seat of government, to deliver to Washington the celebrated box made of the wood of the oak tree that sheltered Wallace after the battle of Falkirk.

This token of regard for the character of the president, had been committed to the charge of Mr. Robertson by his friend the Earl of Buchan. We extract the following from the “Atlantic Magazine”:

“Philadelphia, January 4.

“On Friday morning was presented to the president of the United States, a box, elegantly mounted with silver, and made of the celebrated Oak Tree that sheltered the Washington of Scotland, the brave and patriotic Sir William Wallace, after his defeat at the battle of Falkirk, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, by Edward the First.

“This magnificent and truly characteristical present is from the Earl of Buchan, by the hand of Mr. Archibald Robertson, a Scots gentleman, and portrait painter, who arrived in America some months ago.

“The box was presented to Lord Buchan by the Goldsmiths’ Company at Edinburgh, from whom his lordship requested, and obtained leave, to make it over to a man whom he deemed more deserving of it than himself, and the only man in the world to whom he thought it justly due.

“We hear further, that Lord Buchan has, by letter, requested of the president, that, on the event of his decease, he will consign the box to that man, in this country, who shall appear, in his judgment, to merit it best, upon the same considerations that induced him to send it to the present possessor.

“The inscription, upon a silver plate, on the inside of the lid, is as follows: — ‘Presented by the goldsmiths of Edinburgh, to David Stuart Erskine, Earl of Buchan, with the freedom of their corporation, by their deacon — A.D. 1790.’

“The following is the letter which accompanied the box that was presented to General George Washington, by Mr. Robertson, from Lord Buchan.

” ‘Dryburgh Abbey, June 28th, 1791.

” ‘Sir — I had the honor to receive your Excellency’s letter relating to the advertisement of Doctor Anderson’s periodical publication, in the Gazette of the United States: which attention to my recommendation I feel very sensibly, and return you my grateful acknowledgments.

” ‘In the 21st number of that ‘Literary Miscellany,’ I inserted a monitory paper respecting America, which, I flatter myself, may, if attended to on the other side of the Atlantic, be productive of good consequences.

” ‘To use your own emphatic words, “may that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aid can supply every human defect,” consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the American people, a government instituted by themselves for public and private security, upon the basis of law and equal administration of justice, preserving to every individual as much civil and political freedom as is consistent with the safety of the nation: and may He be pleased to continue your life and strength as long as you can be in any way useful to your country!

” ‘I have entrusted this sheet enclosed in a box made of the oak tree that sheltered our great Sir William Wallace, after the battle of Falkirk, to Mr. Robertson, of Aberdeen, a painter, with the hope of his having the honor of delivering it into your hands; recommending him as an able artist, seeking for fortune and fame in the New World.

” ‘This box was presented to me by the goldsmith’s company at Edinburgh, to whom, feeling my own unworthiness to receive this magnificently significant present, I requested and obtained leave to make it over to the man in the world to whom I thought it most justly due; into your hands I commit it, requesting of you to pass it, in the event of your decease, to the man in your own country, who shall appear to your judgment to merit it best, upon the same considerations that have induced me to send it to your Excellency.

” ‘ I am, with the highest esteem, sir,
” ‘ Your Excellency’s most obedient
” ‘And obliged humble servant,
” ‘Buchan.

” ‘ General Washington,  President of the United States of America.’

” ‘P. S. — I beg your Excellency will have the goodness to send me your portrait, that I may place it among those I most honor, and I would wish it from the pencil of Mr. Robertson. I beg leave to recommend him to your countenance, as he has been mentioned to me favorably by my worthy friend, Professor Ogilvie, of King’s College, Aberdeen.’ ”

Mr. Robertson says that, although “accustomed to intimate intercourse with those of the highest rank and station in his native country,” his embarrassment on being introduced “to the American hero,” was so obvious, that Washington entered into familiar conversation, with a view to putting his guest at his ease, and introduced him to Mrs. Washington, whose urbanity and ceaseless cheerfulness fully accomplished the general’s intention.

Previous to sitting for his portrait, in compliance with Lord Buchan’s request, the president invited the artist to a family dinner, which he thus describes in a memorandum before us: “The dinner at three o’clock was plain, but suitable for a family in genteel circumstances. There was nothing specially remarkable at the table, but that the General and Mrs. Washington sat side by side, he on the right of his lady; the gentlemen on his right hand and the ladies on his left. It being on Saturday the first course was mostly of eastern cod and fresh fish. A few glasses of wine were drank during dinner, with other beverage, the whole closed with a few glasses of sparkling champagne, in about three-quarters of an hour, when the general and Colonel Lear retired, leaving the ladies in high glee about Lord Buchan and the Wallace box.”

The president sat to Mr. Robertson for a miniature, as did Mrs. Washington. From the miniature of Washington a larger picture was painted by the artist for Lord Buchan, “in oil, and of a size corresponding to those of the collection of portraits of the most celebrated worthies of liberal principles and in useful literature, in the possession of his lordship at Dryburgh Abbey, near Melrose, on the borders of Scotland.”

To conclude the history of the Wallace box, we give Washington’s answer to Lord Buchan, and an extract from the hero’s will.

“Philadelphia, May 1, 1792.

” My Lord — I should have had the honor of acknowledging sooner the receipt of your letter of the 28th of June last, had I not concluded to defer doing it till I could announce to you the transmission of my portrait, which has just been finished by Mr. Robertson (of New York), who has also undertaken to forward it.

“The manner of the execution of it does no discredit, I am told, to the artist; of whose skill favorable mention had been made to me. I was farther induced to entrust the execution to Mr. Robertson, from his having informed me that he had drawn others for your lordship, and knew the size which best suited your collection.

“I accept, with sensibility and with satisfaction, the significant present of the box which accompanied your lordship’s letter.

“In yielding the tribute due from every lover of mankind to the patriotic and heroic virtues of which it is commemorative, I estimate as I ought the additional value which it derives from the hand that sent it, and my obligation for the sentiments that induced the transfer.

“I will, however, ask that you will exempt me from compliance with the request relating to its eventual destination.

“In an attempt to execute your wish in this particular, I should feel embarrassment from a just comparison of relative pretensions, and fear to risk injustice by so marked a preference.

“With sentiments of the truest esteem and consideration, I remain your lordship’s most obedient servant,

“G. Washington.

“Earl of Buchan.”

Extract from the will:

“To the Earl of Buchan I recommit ‘The box made of the oak that sheltered the brave Sir William Wallace after the Battle of Falkirk,’ presented to me by his lordship in terms too flattering for me to repeat, with a request ‘to pass it, on the event of my decease, to the man in my country who should appear to merit it best, upon the same conditions that have induced him to send it to me.’

“Whether easy or not to select the man who might comport with his lordship’s opinion in this respect, is not for me to say; but conceiving that no disposition of this valuable curiosity can be more eligible than the recommitment of it to his own cabinet, agreeably to the original design of the Goldsmith’s Company of Edinburgh, who presented it to him, and, at his request, consented that it should be transferred to me, I do give and bequeath the same to his lordship; and in case of his decease, to his heir, with my grateful thanks for the distinguished honor of presenting it to me, and more especially for the favorable sentiments with which he accompanied it.”

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The George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of David Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan.

George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

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