First celebration on the tercentenary in 1792 — Columbus Commemorative Half Dollar Coin

Today, the Columbus Commemorative Half Dollar Coin remembers the first Columbus celebration held on the tercentenary on October 12, 1792.

From The Magazine of American History of January 1893:


The society accordingly met at the Wigwam, and an address was delivered by Mr. John B. Johnston, which was followed by a dinner and the drinking of appropriate toasts.

Previous to the meeting there was displayed at the Wigwam an illuminated monument in honor of Columbus, erected by the society.

The following is an account of it, and the celebration, written at the time, which is of more interest than any briefer statement of my own.

New York, October 17, 1792.

The 12th inst., being the commencement of the IV. Columbian Century, was observed as a Century Festival by the Tammany Society, and celebrated in that style of sentiment which distinguishes this social and patriotic institution.

In the evening a monument was erected to the memory of Columbus, ornamented by transparency with a variety of suitable devices.

This beautiful exhibition was exposed for the gratification of the public curiosity, some time previous to the meeting of the society.

An elegant oration was delivered by Mr. John B. Johnston, in which several of the principal events in the life of this remarkable man were pathetically described, and the interesting consequences, to which his great achievements had already conducted, and must still conduct the affairs of mankind, were pointed out in a manner extremely satisfactory.

During the evening’s entertainment, a variety of rational amusements were enjoyed—The following are some of the toasts which were drank:

‘The memory of Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of this new world.’

‘May the new world never experience the vices and miseries of the old; and be a happy asylum for the oppressed of all nations and of all religions.’

‘May peace and liberty ever pervade the United Columbian States.’

‘May this be the last centenary festival of the Columbian Order that finds a slave on this globe.’

‘May the fourth century be as remarkable for the improvement and knowledge of the rights of man, as the first was for discovery, and the improvement of nautic science.’

‘May the deliverers of America never experience that ingratitude from their country, which Columbus experienced from his King.’

‘May the genius of liberty, as she has conducted the sons of Columbia with glory to the commencement of the fourth century, guard their fame to the end of time.‘

Several moral and patriotic songs, inculcating the Love of Country and of Freedom, were gratifying in the highest degree.

Among others an ode was composed and sung on the occasion (some stanzas of which are here given):

‘Ye sons of freedom, hail the day,
That brought a second world to view;
To great Columbus’ mem’ry pay
The praise and honor justly due.

Chorus: Let the important theme inspire
Each breast with patriotic fire.

Long did oppression o’er the world,
Her sanguine banners wide display:
Dark bigotry her thunders hurl’d,
And freedom’s domes in ruin lay.
Justice and liberty had flown,
And tyrants called the world their own.

Thus heaven our race with pity viewed;
Resolved bright freedom to restore:
And, heaven directed o’er the flood,
Columbus found her on this shore.
O’er the bless’d land with rays divine,
She shone, and shall forever shine.

Hark! from above, the great decree
Floats in celestial notes along,
“Columbia ever shall be free,”
Exulting thousands swell the song.
Patriots revere the great decree,
Columbia ever shall be free.

Here shall enthusiastic love.
Which freemen to their country owe;
Enkindled, glorious from above,
In every patriot bosom glow,
Inspire the heart, the arm extend,
The rights of freedom to defend.

Secure forever, and entire,
The Rights of Man shall here remain:

Here commerce shall her sails extend,
Science diffuse her kindest ray:
Religion’s purest flames ascend,
And peace shall crown each happy day.
Then while we keep this jubilee,
While seated round this awful shrine,
Columbus’ deeds our theme shall be,
And liberty that gift divine.’

The monument is upwards of fourteen feet in height, being well illuminated, and resembling black marble; it blended, in an agreeable manner, a grave and solemn with a brilliant appearance.

At the base a globe appears, emerging out of the clouds and chaos, presenting a rude sketch of the once uncultivated coast of America.

On its pyramidal part, History is seen drawing up the curtain of oblivion. which discovers the four following representations:

First, and on the right side of the obelisk. is presented a commercial port, and an expanding ocean; here Columbus, while musing over the insignia of geometry and navigation, the favorite studies of his youth, is instructed by Science to cross the great Atlantic.

She appears in luminous clouds, hovering over its skirts; with one hand she presents Columbus with a compass, and with the other, she points to the setting sun. Under her feet is seen a sphere, the eastern half of which is made to represent the then known terraqueous globe; the western is left a blank.

On the pedestal is the following inscription:

This Monument
was erected by the
Tammany Society, or, Columbian Order
October 12, MDCC, XCII
to commemorate
the IVth Columbian Century:
An interesting and illustrious æra

On the upper part of the obelisk is seen the arms of Genoa, supported by the beak of a prone eagle.

The second side, or front, of the monument shows the first landing of Columbus. He is represented in a state of adoration; his followers prostrate as supplicants around him, and a group of American natives at a distance.

Historical truth is attended to, and the inscription on the pedestal is as follows:

Sacred to the Memory
Christopher Columbus.
The Discoverer of a New World,
October 12, 1492.

Above, the arms of Europe and America are blended and supported as on the right side of the monument.

The third or left side exhibits the splendid reception of Columbus by the court of Spain, on his first return from America. He is seated at the right hand of Ferdinand, and his illustrious patroness, Isabella.

A map of the newly discovered countries, and some of their peculiar productions, lying at his feet, distinguish the interesting scene.

Above, the prone eagle supports the arms of Isabella, and on the pedestal is the following inscription:

was  born at Genoa, 1447.
was received by the court of Spain in triumph.
was put in chains by its order,
September, 1500;
died at Valladolid
May 20, 1506.

The last scene, exhibited on the rear, or fourth, side of the obelisk, strongly contrasts with the one just described; Columbus is seen in his chamber pensive and neglected. The chains with which he had been cruelly loaded hang against its bare walls, on which is seen written, “ The ingratitude of Kings.”

To cheer his declining moments, the Genius of Liberty appears before him: the glory which surrounds him seems to illuminate his solitary habitation.

The emblems of despotism and superstition are crushed beneath her feet; and, to intimate the gratitude and respect of posterity, she points to a monument, sacred to his memory, reared by the Columbian Order.

On the pedestal, Nature is seen caressing her various progeny; her tawny offspring seem to mourn over the urn of Columbus.

The upper part of the obelisk is embellished as on the other sides.

But the eagle, as an emblem of civil government, is seen no longer prone, or loaded with the decorations of heraldry: she soars in an open sky, grasping in her talons a ferule, inscribed, The Rights of Man.

It is a striking fact, that this Tammany monument, and another afterward projected in Baltimore, antedated by over half a century any monument to Columbus in the city of Genoa itself.


The Columbus Commemorative Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of the Tammany Hall Museum housing the monument in 1792.

Columbus Commemorative Half Dollar Coin