Fort Ticonderoga will display a new museum exhibit, ‘Pieces of Eight: Curiosities from the Collection,’ starting October 5, featuring objects from the bodies of famous or interesting characters from early American history including George Washington, renowned “Painter of the American Revolution” John Trumbull, and even a human rib tied to the legend of Jane McCrea.
Strange and perhaps macabre by modern standards, these objects were often cherished keepsakes among family and friends. Today, they are a reminder of how people in the past used objects to remember loved ones and other important figures. These objects reflect momentous events, tender sentiments, and sometimes the trauma and lasting wounds of 18th-century warfare in North America.
‘Pieces of Eight: Curiosities from the Collection’ will give context to this somewhat forgotten practice and explore how Fort Ticonderoga acquired and continues to document, preserve, and make accessible these and other treasures using modern museum protocols.
Items going on display and the stories behind them include:
Locks of George Washington’s Hair
George Washington is one of the most recognizable and important figures in American history and mementos of his life were sought after even before his death. Fort Ticonderoga holds numerous Washington mementos including trimmings from flags, furniture, and clothing associated with Martha and George. The museum also holds two clippings of hair identified as Washington’s, one certified by a letter confirming it was clipped from Washington’s head while he lived and another donated to the museum by Martha Washington’s great-grandson.
Lock of John Trumbull’s Hair
John Trumbull is best known as the “painter of the Revolution” whose canvases now grace the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. Before beginning his painting career, when he was just 20 years old he served as the Deputy Adjutant General of the Continental Army at Ticonderoga during the critical campaign of 1776.
Jane McCrea’s Rib Bone
The killing of Jane McCrea, the fiancé of a loyalist officer, by British-allied Native Americans in 1777, was used by Americans to incite fear and anger against the British and their allies. The event also fueled racial animosity towards Native Americans and that continued to be used in history, art, and literature well into the 19th century to justify the extermination of Native American communities. Jane’s body was disinterred twice during the 1800s when this bone was likely removed, a reminder of the trauma and the lasting wounds of 18th-century warfare.
Lord Howe Mourning Pendant
George Augustus Lord Viscount Howe was amongst the most popular British officers of the French and Indian War. He served as second in command of the British army that tried to capture Fort Carillon and tragically he was killed near Ticonderoga on July 6, 1758, in a minor skirmish. He was just 33 years old. This gold pendant was made for the Chaplin of Howe’s regiment the 55th Regiment of Foot.
Locks of Hair from Benedict Arnold and Margaret Mansfield Arnold
Locks of the Arnolds’ hair were presented to Fort Ticonderoga in 1952 by a descendant. Benedict and Margaret were married in New Haven, Connecticut in 1767. Margaret died when she was just 31 years old while Benedict was away capturing Fort Ticonderoga. Their youngest son Henry, settled in Upper Canada, now Ontario, and was given this lock of his father’s hair after Benedict Arnold’s death in 1801.
Johnson “Vanity Case”
This small case may have been owned by Sir John Johnson’s wife, Lady Johnson, or her sister. One of the most important and powerful families in the colonies, the Johnson’s remained loyal to the crown during the Revolution and were forced to flee their Mohawk Valley homes during the war. The lid of this gold, ivory, and enamel case is decorated with a beautiful woven pattern of hair that probably belonged to Lady Johnson’s mother, a small memento of the family and past that could be carried during the tumultuous years of war and Revolution.
Portrait Miniature of Lady Bowes
William Johnson’s family remained loyal to the Crown during the Revolution and well afterward. William’s granddaughter Catharine Maria Johnson married a British officer who fought for King George during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s. This miniature portrait of her as Lady Bowes incorporates woven locks of her hair on the reverse and may have been carried by her husband, who was killed in Spain fighting the French in 1812.
This exhibit was conceived following the overwhelmingly positive response to Fort Ticonderoga’s display of extremely rare locks of Benedict Arnold’s hair in May. Curatorial staff began extensive research and identified eight intimate artifacts that compromise the new exhibit. Many involve human hair, which was trimmed, saved, mailed, and even made into jewelry where it was carried across the world.
This exhibit will be on display in the first-floor classroom in the Mars Education Center until April of 2019.