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Whole Cloth And Pieces Of Lead

November 2023
1min read

Great events generate their own folklore, much of it having little to do with the facts at hand, and some of it downright hallucinatory. Such certainly was the case with the following bizarre account of the first Fourth of July, written by a German named Christoph Heinrich Korn. The story appeared in his book Geschicte der Kriege in und ausser Europa Von Anfange des Auffange des Aufstandes der Brittischen Kolonien in Nordamerika an (History of Wars In and Outside of Europe From the Beginning of the Uprising of the British Colonies in North America Onward) , published at Nuremberg in 1777. The relevant portion was translated and sent on to us by Dr. Karl J. R. Arndt, professor of German at Clark University:

“In order to give this [Declaration of Independence] more force in the heated minds of the inhabitants, it was made public in the following solemn manner. On July 4, 1776, the members of the General Congress assembled in Philadelphia in the house designated for their deliberations, and there signed this manifesto. Hereupon in procession they went into the church, where an especially prepared crown had been placed on the altar. After the sermon had been preached, all delegates took their positions around the altar, where the declaration of war was publicly read. After this the crown by a special address designed for the purpose was sacrificed to God as the only King of America from this point on; hereupon it was divided into thirteen parts, according to the number of provinces, and a part sent to each.… In all cities people showed great joy over the freedom which had been gained, but the mob, in keeping with its habits, committed many excesses, as especially in New York where the magnificent statue of George III, which had been erected only a few years ago, was brought down in a heap.”

The consecrated crown never existed, of course, but Korn did manage to get the story of the toppled statue right. As we reported nearly twenty-one years ago (August, 1958), the lead-and-gilt statue of the English king was indeed forcibly deposed by impassioned New York patriots on July 9,1776; it was then hacked to pieces and the chunks were sent north to Litchfield, Connecticut, to be melted down for bullets. Some of the pieces never arrived, for when the rebels stopped off in Wilton to down a tankard or two of ale, a gang of Tories spirited away what fragments they could carry and hid them here and there about the countryside. (The remaining fragments went on to Litchfield and became 42,088 bullets.) For two centuries, pieces of George III have been turning up in the Wilton region, most recently in 1972, when former antiques dealer Louis Miller discovered a twenty-pound fragment in a local swamp. Miller sold it to the Museum of the City of New York for $5,500; the owners of the swampland sued to get it back, and in December, 1978, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in their favor. The owners, however, consented to let the museum keep the chunk, and there it will stay, a piece in rest.

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