Skip to content
Your purchase supports our mission to preserve George Washington's legacy
Your purchase supports our mission to preserve George Washington's legacy
The Swords of George Washington - The Shops at Mount Vernon

The Swords of George Washington

George Washington and his swords
Francis G. Mayer/Corbis/VCG via Getty​​

The Secret and Stylish History of George Washington's Swords

Washington's swords fall into four distinct categories: gentlemanly small swords, often referred to as dress swords; custom-ordered cutting swords, known as cuttoes or hangers; regulation military arms; and presentation or commemorative pieces. Although each of these sidearms was edged and potentially deadly, they were worn principally for social display. As Erik Goldstein notes in his authoritative The Swords of George Washington, the "role as a weapon took a backseat to its overall form and decorative appearance....Primarily, each one was a fashionable display of masculinity and an integral part of a gentleman's or military officer's attire." 

The narrow and sharp silver-hilted smallword was lighter and easier-to-maneuver and designed to be both practical and ornamental, with etched decorations of scrolling vines and interlaced ribbons on the blade, complementing a gilded silver hilt - a conspicuous update to Washington's wardrobe. 

Two other swords surviving from Washington's Revolutionary War service are know as hangers, or cuttoes after the French word couteau, for knife. As the name implies, this sidearm evolved from hunting knives, with a single-edged blade that was useful for either cutting or thrusting.    

In his July 1799 will, Washington stipulated that each of his five nephews was to receive "one of the Swords or Cutteaux of which I may die possessed; and they are to chuse in the order they are named." It is suggested that he owned at least 11 swords. After the General's death, his assemblage of swords, acquired over the five decades of his adult life, was dispersed among his heirs, extended relations, and their descendants- with four ultimately returning home to Mount Vernon between 1184 and 1924. 

Each of the surviving swords has been revered, displayed, and described, but almost always as an individual object, isolated from its fellows.    

1767 Silver Hilted Smallsword
George Washington's ​​Mount Vernon

Shop Sword Related Items

The Swords of George Washington

By Erik Goldstein, Stuart C. Mowbray, and Brian Hendelson. ISBN 978-1-931464-71-0. Copyright 2016. 

Hardcover with 112 oversized glossy pages including a dictionary, selected bibliography, and scores of color and black and white images.

For the first time, every one of Washington's known swords is presented in brilliant color with the story of each weapon told in vivid detail from the colonial era to the present day. The 268 photographs, works of art and historical images provide a rare and intimate portrait of these powerful symbols of early American leadership.

George Washington Sword Letter Opener

Eighteenth-century gentlemen wore small swords as part of formal civilian attire for social and ceremonial occasions. George Washington owned several of these jewel-like, lightweight weapons. 

This superbly crafted letter opener was adapted from a sword of Washington's which is depicted in Charles Willson Peale's 1772 portrait of Washington as a Virginia colonel. Washington is also believed to have worn that sword when he resigned his commission as commander in chief in Annapolis in 1783 and when inaugurated as our nation's first president on April 30, 1789. View the original Smallsword.

The 9" letter opener has a sterling silver finish and comes in a gift box lined with blue velvet fabric.

Previous article The 2022 George Washington Book Prize Winner Is...
Next article The Mount Vernon Blacksmith Shop

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields