Green, General Nathanael

The Order of The Cincinnati medal with ribbon and bow belonging to Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene

p4A ItemID D9672837

General Nathanael Greene, Revolutionary War Hero

(Sotheby’s catalogue note accompanying the sale of General Greene’s Order of the Cincinnati)

Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene was born on 7 August 1742 in Warwick, RI to Nathanael Greene Sr., a successful Quaker farmer and blacksmith, and his second wife, Mary Mott. Before the war Nathanael worked in his family’s foundry and served in the Rhode Island Assembly from 1770-72, and again in 1775. In 1773 he was expelled from a Quaker meeting having attended a military parade, and it was at that point that he chose to separate himself from the Quaker religion in order to become active in the military. In anticipation of developing strife between the American colonies and the British, Greene helped to organize the Kentish Guards, a local military company in 1774, and in 1776 he participated in the defense of New York City, for which he was promoted to Major General. He also played an important role in the surprise attack on Trenton, led by George Washington in December 1776. He worked closely with Washington again at Morristown, Brandywine, Germantown, Valley Forge and Monmouth. He was made a Quartermaster General in 1778, but with the guarantee that he would not lose his right of command in action. He resigned from the position in 1780.

On 20 July 1774 Greene married Catharine Littlefield (1755-1814), daughter of John Littlefield and Phebe Ray Littlefield of Block Island, RI. The couple had six children. Mrs. Greene was known to have visited her husband often during the war and earned the reputation for being an independent woman with an unusual interest in politics and the military.

Despite his numerous military triumphs, Greene is most recognized for his leadership in the South. In 1780 Washington assigned Greene the difficult task of leading the feeble Southern forces. The failures of three previous generals had left the South in a tenuous position and Greene and his forces were to confront Lieutenant General Earl Cornwallis, the most skilled of the British generals. Knowing that his limited number of troops would be no match for the British if engaged in a large battle, he used his small numbers to make surprise, concise attacks on the slow-moving British army. Although Greene never fought in Georgia he is credited with rescuing Augusta in 1781 and Savannah in 1782 by assigning significant and appropriate forces to drive opposing troops out of the state, which had been under British occupation since 1780.

Following the Revolution, the state of Georgia gifted Greene with a plantation named Mulberry Grove, near Savannah. Greene and his family relocated to the plantation, but he was to live there for less than a year before he died suddenly of sunstroke in 1786. He was initially buried in the Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah until his remains were exhumed in 1901 under the direction of the Rhode Island State Society of the Cincinnati. Greene’s remains are now entombed beneath a monument erected in his honor at Johnson Square in Savannah.

General Nathanael Greene was a founding member of the Society of the Cincinnati, and his signature appears with those of George Washington, Henry Knox and other officers on the Institution (charter) drawn up on 13 May 1783, preserved at the Society’s headquarters at Anderson House, Washington DC.

The organization was to include all Continental officers in service at the end of the war, all those who had served three years honorably during the war and those that had been “deranged” or dismissed for no longer needed services. To join they had to pledge a month’s pay owed to them by the government. The funds received would be used to help the families of needy officers. Later it was decided to extend membership to French officers who had participated. Membership was to be hereditary from father to eldest son.

Major Pierre L’Enfant (1755 to 1825) submitted two water color designs for the badge, (collection of the Society’s headquarters, Anderson House, Washington DC) and was entrusted with obtaining the badges in Paris, arriving in France, December 8, 1783. The first examples were quickly made and distributed free (against instructions) to forty-five French officers in January 1784. L’Enfant brought back forty more highly finished, slightly larger examples for distribution to those who pre-ordered them at a price of $25 each and one hundred and forty lighter examples on speculation, priced at $26 each Two prime medals were The Diamond Eagle presented to George Washington by the French navy (Anderson House) and Washington’s Special Eagle, distinctively designed for himself. All the above medals are attributed to Duval and Francastel and associated firms, Paris, 1784. General Greene’s medal belongs in the category of the forty pre-ordered Eagles. Information taken from Minor Myers,jr., The Insignia of The Society of the Cincinnati.

Washington’s Special Eagle was subsequently presented to La Fayette on his great tour of 1824 to 1825 and recently sold Sotheby’s, New York, on December 11 2007 for $5,305,000 (p4a item number D9851817).

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