U.S.A. -(AmmoLand.com)- Made by French gunsmith Jacob Walster around 1775, this pair of pistols is, in my opinion, the most historic pair in the United States. They were originally purchased by the Marquis de Lafayette who gave them to one of his best lifelong friends: George Washington.
Measuring 17.5 inches in overall length, the pistols are approximately .57 caliber and are fitted with barrels measuring 11.5 inches. Accompanied by silver and gold accents, the pair were considered “saddle pistols” because of their size. Most likely, they would have been carried in a pair of holsters designed to fit over the pommel of a saddle.
Washington carried the pistols and it's believed that he had them with him at Valley Forge, Monmouth, the Battle of Yorktown, and then later while he was president during the Whiskey Rebellion. The pistols are an exceptionally well made pair and are a fantastic example of the type of craftsmanship that was made in the last quarter of the 18th century.
These pistols are remarkable not only for their connection to George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, but they have a connection to yet another American president. After George Washington passed away, his nephew received the pistols and they went down the line in his family until they ended up being given to President Andrew Jackson. It is during Jackson’s period of ownership where the guns tie back into the story of their original purchaser: the Marquis de Lafayette.
When Lafayette came over in 1824 and 1825 to do his tour of the United States, he stopped at the Hermitage in Tennessee and visited with Andrew Jackson. During the visit, Jackson pulled out these pistols and showed them to the Marquis and asked him if he recognized them. Of course, the Marquis did and said that he remembered giving them to his good friend, General George Washington.
After Jackson passed away, his son fulfilled one of the wishes in his father’s will by giving the guns back to the Lafayette family. Specifically, they went to the Marquis’ son: George Washington Lafayette.
The pistols’ chain of custody and provenance is unbroken, having followed this path: Marquis de Lafayette, by purchase; George Washington, by gift; William Robinson, by inheritance; Andrew Jackson, by gift; George Washington Lafayette, by bequest;
Edmond Lafayette, son; Antonin de Beaumont, nephew; Marie de Beaumont (Mme. Edmond Hennocque), daughter; Charles Marchal, private collector; Charles Dresser, private collector; Couturier Nicolay Paris, at auction; Robert Simpson, private collector and dealer; Michael Zomber, dealer; anonymous private buyer; Christie’s, at auction; Richard King Mellon Foundation; Fort Ligonier, by donation.
The Mellon Foundation purchased the guns at Christie’s in 2002 in recognition of the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War. They paid an astounding $1,986,000 for the pair.
These pistols have an incredible storied history, having been passed down to some of the most well-known names in both American and world history. Their place at Fort Ligonier in Pennsylvania helps tie together the connection between the French and the Americans.
Fort Ligonier is located southeast of Pittsburgh. Constructed in 1758, it was visited by General Washington shortly after completion. It was abandoned less than a decade later in 1766. Restoration on the site began in 1946 and Fort Ligonier was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Today, you can tour the fort and the museum, where the pistols are on permanent display.
About Logan Metesh
Logan Metesh is a historian with a focus on firearms history and development. He runs High Caliber History LLC and has more than a decade of experience working for the Smithsonian Institution, the National Park Service, and the NRA Museums. His ability to present history and research in an engaging manner has made him a sought after consultant, writer, and museum professional. The ease with which he can recall obscure historical facts and figures makes him very good at Jeopardy!, but exceptionally bad at geometry.