Celebrate 125! Monday: Historic Gavels

Written by: Lynn Young, President General
December 21, 2015

A researcher perusing the NSDAR Archives would expect to find early correspondence relating to the National Society’s formation, the proceedings of previous Continental Congresses and photos of the travels of past Presidents General. The Archives includes other, unexpected items too—such as its collection of 57 historic gavels donated throughout the National Society’s 125-year history.

The gavels in this eclectic collection have been donated by individuals, chapters and states, and many are made from historically significant pieces of wood. For example, various gavels claim to be made of wood from the White House roof, or a tree at Mount Vernon, or the home of President Benjamin Harrison. Here is a sampling of some of the gavels now housed in the Archives.

  • This black-handled gavel with an ivory mallet bears an engraving that reads “Presented to the Philadelphia Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution By Mary Eleanor Diehl Smith, First Regent March 16, 1894.” The gavel’s mallet is embellished with a red, white and blue shield and leaf designs rendered in metal.
  • Sometimes a historic relic’s ordinary appearance belies an extraordinary provenance. This grayish wooden gavel perfectly illustrates this phenomenon. At first glance, the most remarkable thing about the object seems to be its barrel-shaped mallet. However, the inscription on the metal plate encircling that mallet reveals its Revolutionary pedigree: “Made from wood of the British Frigate Augusta, sunk at the Battle of Red Bank N.J. October 23rd, 1777—Presented to Memorial Continental Hall by the DAR in New Jersey 1909.”
  • An inscription on one side of this blocky, utilitarian wooden gavel’s mallet references another 18th-century ship—“Old Ironsides,” officially known as the U.S.S. Constitution. Named by George Washington, this ship was one of six original frigates authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794. The brass plate on the other side reads “Presented to Constitution Hall 1929 by Old State House Chapter Melrose Massachusetts.”
  • Last month marked the 124th Continental Congress, and while much has changed since the DAR’s annual convention was established, an object from the historic first Congress remains at National Headquarters. Vice President Presiding Mary Virginia Ellet Cabell used this large, simple and stately gavel featuring a wooden handle and ivory mallet at the First Continental Congress in February 1892.
  • The DAR Insignia decorates the mallet of this diminutive gavel cast in gleaming silver. Its inscription reads: “Gertrude S. Caraway President General, N.S.D.A.R. from Catherine Lindsay Knorr State Regent Arkansas April 1954.”
  • Although its appearance is plain, this gavel represents a significant achievement in the National Society’s history. Daughters financed about half the cost of constructing Constitution Hall, and less than six years after the Hall opened, that debt was retired. The silver plaque on the mallet of this wooden gavel is inscribed with the words “44th Cont. Congress Mrs. Russell W. Magna Pres. Genl. Used to Cancel Debt on Constitution Hall April 20th 1935.”

Some chapters also own historic gavels. For example, in 1893 member E.P. McDowell Wolff presented Atlanta Chapter, Atlanta, Ga., with a one-of-a-kind gift: a gavel made from a tree that stood near the grave site of her great-uncle, Patrick Henry. Since then, Atlanta Chapter, the second-oldest chapter in the National Society, has opened each meeting with a rap of that gavel, which was also used at the inaugurations of Presidents Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson. Last year the chapter brought its treasured relic to an “Antiques Roadshow” event in Birmingham, Ala. An appraiser there likened the piece, which is embellished with coils and tendrils of silver, to a work of folk art and advised that it be insured for $750. 

This is an A Look Back article that was featured in the July/August 2015 Daughters Newsletter. Subscribe to the magazine here: www.dar.org/subscribe

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