History of the $2M Washington/Lafayette Pistols

These pistols are reputed to have been carried by Washington at Valley Forge, Monmouth, Yorktown, and during the Whiskey Rebellion.

The Lafayette/Washington pistols came to Fort Ligonier in this walnut pistol case; however, there is no clear evidence of when the case was made.
The Lafayette/Washington pistols came to Fort Ligonier in this walnut pistol case; however, there is no clear evidence of when the case was made.photo from americanrifleman.org

Last week we posted a story on the guns from the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and their new home. Now, another pair of famous pistols from the same era is in the spotlight.

This post from americanrifleman.org details the history of a pair of flintlock pistols that were given to George Washing by Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, before they ended up in the possession of Andrew Jackson, who showed them to Lafayette years later.

Flash-forward to 2002: the pistols sold at Christie’s Americana Auction House for a stunning $1.986 million by a foundation in Pennsylvania. They were purchased to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War and the critical role Washington played.

In 2004, the foundation donated the pistols to the Fort Ligonier Museum in Ligonier, PA to be displayed as part of the museum's "Washington Collection," the story says.

The guns themselves were made by French gunsmith Jacob Walster between 1775 and 1777.

The pistols are nearly identical and have stocks of European walnut. The include raised and incised carvings in the rococo style with gold and silver inlays.

The guns are both 17.5 inches long with smooth bore barrels of about .57 caliber.

The barrels are 11.5 inches long and are made from wrought-iron.

Their large size means these guns were meant as “saddle pistols” that were to be carried in holsters attached to a horse’s saddle in front of the pommel, which were standard equipment for most mounted officers and cavalry.

The story says, "it is thought that Washington carried the pistols at Valley Forge, Monmouth, Yorktown and, later, during the Whiskey Rebellion during his presidency."

After Washington died, the pistols went to William Augustine Washington in 1799. Some time later, he gave the guns to his son-in-law, William Robinson.

The .57-cal. pistol barrels are made of wrought iron (common for the time period) and taper octagon-to-round from the breech area to the muzzle. Both pistols are tapered from butt end to muzzle, and b
The .57-cal. pistol barrels are made of wrought iron (common for the time period) and taper octagon-to-round from the breech area to the muzzle. Both pistols are tapered from butt end to muzzle, and balance well in hand. The ramrod appears to be made of ebony, while the ramrod tip is horn.photo from americanrifleman.org

In 1824, Robinson presented them to Andrew Jackson through a congressman from Virginia. It was at this time that Jackson showed the pistols to Lafayette, who confirmed he did indeed give them to Washington.

Jackson kept the pistols until his death when they were left to Lafayette’s son in France, George Washington Lafayette. Upon his death, the guns went to his son and changed hands a few more times during the 20th century.

“The Lafayette/Washington pistols are a national treasure in my opinion. Though they are inanimate objects, they are a living reminder of the time period and the struggles of our nation’s birth—and of the deep bond of friendship between two heroes of our American Revolutionary War. Further, the pistols are a grand testament to the quality and artistic expression of gun builders in the 18th century.”

The Lafayette/Washington pistols were made to be carried on horseback in holsters secured to the pommel of a saddle. They are reputed to have been carried by Washington at Valley Forge, Monmouth, York
The Lafayette/Washington pistols were made to be carried on horseback in holsters secured to the pommel of a saddle. They are reputed to have been carried by Washington at Valley Forge, Monmouth, Yorktown and, later on, during the Whiskey Rebellion when Washington was president.photo from americanrifleman.org