Brass, pearls, hair
This stick pin, or tie pin, contains the hair of George Washington, first President of the United States. The hair is set in piece under glass with the initials “GW”, and is surrounded by seed pearls. The pin is brass.
The hair was given to Sarah Jay by Washington in 1779, while he was serving as General of the Continental Army. Sarah Jay was about to embark on a Trans-Atlantic voyage. She was accompanying her husband to Europe, where he was going on a diplomatic mission to Spain. The hair was presented along with a note from Washington’s secretary that read:
General Washington presents his most respectful compliments to Mrs. Jay…he takes pleasure in presenting the enclosed, with thanks for so polite a testimony of her approbation & esteem_ He wishes most fervently, that prosperous gales- at unruffled sea- & everything pleasuring & desirable, may smooth the path she is about to walk in.
Sarah held onto the hair until 1794 when she sent it to England with her son, Peter Augustus. Peter Augustus was accompanying his father to England for the negotiation of what would become the Jay Treaty. Peter’s instructions from a notebook dated 11 May 1794, were as follows: “1 . Genl. Ws. Hair is to be made into a Breast-pin….with a cypher in pearls of G.W. & the Genl’s name engraved on the back”. Peter’s “to do” list also included getting two additional hair pins made, however the original owner of that hair is unknown.
The act of giving one’s hair, was quite common in the 18th century. Often locks of hair were exchanged between loved ones as a token of remembrance, especially when one was about to go on a long voyage. Washington was known to give out numerous locks of hair. One historian stated that “Second only to his autographs, the most widely distributed relics of the first president are pieces of his hair.”