By Joe Craig and Eric Schnitzer, Park Rangers
As we know, soon after General Burgoyne tendered his sword to General Gates on the day of the surrender at Saratoga, 17 October 1777, Gates returned the sword to Burgoyne. There is no further reference or evidence as to the disposition of this particular sword and it was only long afterward that the “surrender sword” became an object of interest and legend. As with such relics, there are many supposed Burgoyne “surrender swords” in various private and public collections, and in every instance, connections of these swords to Burgoyne are anywhere from tenuous to impossible.
One question that must be considered when trying to identify Burgoyne’s “surrender sword” is, what type of sword was he wearing that day? A general officer like Burgoyne would have owned a variety of swords; as a mounted officer, a standard sword would have been a hanger with a long, strong blade. But Burgoyne was also a cavalry officer (he was colonel of the 16th or Queen’s Light Dragoons) and as such he may have worn his regiment’s officer pattern horseman saber (although this is unlikely, as it would have been out of context with his position as a general officer while wearing a general officer’s uniform). Further, as an officer who was faced with ceremonial instead of battle duty, he may have carried a lightweight gold wash-hilted small sword.
Because Burgoyne’s sword was returned to him on the day of the surrender, there is no reason to assume that he would have done anything with it other than take it back home to England. That he would have given it away to someone else in America or elsewhere, for any reason, is very much against character and reason for any officer. That it would have been considered as something special – an historical artifact worthy of preservation – is likewise implausible. In the end, Burgoyne’s “surrender sword” should have suffered the same fate of the many thousands of other British officer swords used during the Revolutionary War. Most were destroyed, and for those comparative few that still exist, the names of the original owners are long gone and impossible to trace.
Photo: Dick Farrell
ABOVE One of the alleged “Burgoyne swords” is displayed in the West Point Museum at the United States Military Academy in New York State. It is accompanied by a placard that relates the claim of a connection to Burgoyne, without actually confirming it:
British Officer’s Small Sword, c. 1768
Arms of the Georgian period commonly bear the initials “G.R.” under a crown denoting “Georgius Rex,” Latin for “George the King.” The blade of this sword is, however, engraved [with] the cipher “C.R.” for “Charlotte Regina,” wife of George III and Queen of England, identifying the original owner of this sword as a member of a “Queen’s” regiment.
The guard and pommel of this silver-hilted sword are both pierced with similar intricate designs and the triangular blade is engraved on all sides [of] its entire length. The maker was “Loxhams,” of the Royal Exchange in London, and the silver date mark indicates the hilt was cast in 1768-1769.
According to family legend, this sword was given to American Colonel Elisha Porter by British General John Burgoyne after the surrender of his army at Saratoga in October 1777. While en route to Boston, General Burgoyne was purportedly a guest of Colonel Porter in Hadley, Massachusetts, thus establishing contact of the two officers. Burgoyne’s association with the sword is additionally strengthened since he served as a Colonel of the 16th Light Dragoons, a regiment given the honor of becoming a “Queen’s” Royal Regiment in 1766.
Gift of the Francis Browne Cooley Family