This rare official presidential appointment, dated March 19, 1793, is signed by George Washington as the nation's first President and countersigned by Secretary of War Henry Knox. The ornate, partially printed document appoints John Wade as Lieutenant in the First Sub Legion, granted with “special Trust and Confidence in [his] Patriotism, Valour, Fidelity and Abilities.”
The Legion of the United States was a reorganization and extension of the United States Army, active from 1792 to 1796, under the command of Major General Anthony Wayne. The Founding Fathers were initially suspicious of standing armies, and trusted a militia force to be suitable for the country’s needs. Yet they soon realized the stress on state militias when encountering Native American strongholds in our push into the Western frontier. At the recommendation of Henry Knox, a decision was made to recruit and train a "Legion"-a force that would combine all land combat arms of the day (cavalry, heavy and light infantry, artillery) into one efficient, brigade-sized force divisible into stand-alone combined arms teams. The legion was recruited and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and eventually divided into four sub-legions.
The document is printed in formal script, and completed by hand in black ink, now faded to a medium brown color. Knox’s signature is at bottom left, and Washington’s signature, “Go. Washington,” is at bottom center. An official presidential paper seal is affixed to the top left corner of the document.
Prominently engraved at top is a stunning spread eagle, with a shield on its chest. The shield has a solid top chief and alternating stripes. The eagle’s right talon clutches an olive branch. The eagle's left (sinister) talon holds a bundle of crossed arrows. When Charles Thomson put together the final design for the Great Seal, the official description reads the bald eagle holding "in his sinister a bundle of thirteen arrows." The thirteen arrows are tightly aligned – a symbol of "strength in unity" that can be found in traditional cultures everywhere, from the Romans to the Iroquois. In this case, the bundle is a nod to the unity of the original thirteen colonies.
The document is further decorated with a patriotic vignette at bottom. A striking amassing of thirteen star medallion flags, rifles, swords, a liberty cap, drum, and cannons rests on a grassy field littered with cannonballs, horns, and gunpowder barrels. Thakara & Vallance, the leading American publishing company of the 18th century, based out of Philadelphia, engraved the vignettes.
George Washington autographs and historical documents have been sought after as long as American autographs have been collected. Signed letters from the Revolution and letters and historical documents during his presidency can be particularly desirable, but the unique tale told by his presidential appointments and commissions makes such documents equally collectible as his letters. Washington’s determination to make appointments based on merit, to appropriate and qualified applicants, was an innovation, contradicting as it did the custom among royalty everywhere to name loyalists regardless of suitability or qualifications. Washington worked to appoint the best people for the office; in this particular case, John Wade.
The signed document has been artfully presented next to an engraved portrait of George Washington, by J. H. Hills. Depicted full length and standing, Washington’s right hand is resting by the fingers upon a scroll and book covered table. In the left hand, a dress sword is held at his side. Washington’s coat is drawn together by a single upper button. Among print collectors, this portrait is lovingly referred to as the “Tea Pot Portrait”, due to the position of Washington’s arms. Washington’s figure is fuller and turned more to the left than in famous Lansdowne portrait, although most of the room’s classical trimmings and accessories are the same.
The two spectacular pieces are mounted on archival olive mats, surrounded by a beaded gold fillet, deep brown linen top mat, and housed in a custom-built black and gold frame with conservation glass.