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|With 2 swords, state gains slice
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Bequest: A descendant donates to the state two swords owned by Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman, aide-de-camp to George Washington.
Today, the state of Maryland will take possession of that sword and another owned by Tilghman, Washington's aide-de-camp, at a Board of Public Works ceremony in Annapolis.
The swords were left to the state in the will of Judith Goldsborough Oates, a great-great-granddaughter of Tilghman who died in Baltimore Dec. 26 at the age of 98. News of the bequest came "absolutely, completely out of the blue," said Edward C. Papenfuse, the state archivist.
Papenfuse said the acquisition is particularly thrilling because the newer of the swords is the one pictured in Charles Willson Peale's 1784 portrait of Washington, Tilghman and Lafayette, which hangs in the Old Senate Chamber of the State House.
As a condition of the bequest -- one Maryland officials are delighted to fulfill -- the state will hang the swords in the chamber, where Washington resigned his commission in 1783.
The swords will go on display Feb. 16, when the Senate holds its annual Washington's Birthday gathering in the old chamber, with Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein delivering the commemorative address.
Tilghman, a member of a prominent Eastern Shore family that
gave its name to Tilghman Island in the Chesapeake Bay, was one of Maryland's best-known Revolutionary War figures.
By joining the Continental Army in 1775, he broke with his father and two brothers, who were prominent Loyalists in Talbot County.
Tilghman became Washington's aide in 1776 and remained in his service until early 1783. When the British surrendered at Yorktown, the 1781 battle that sealed the British defeat, it was Tilghman whom Washington entrusted to take the official dispatches to Congress in Philadelphia.
"His ride became as famous locally as Paul Revere's was nationally," Papenfuse said.
Jack Frazer, an Annapolis genealogist and a Tilghman descendant, said that although Tilghman became best known for that ride, it was just the culmination of a distinguished military career.
"It wasn't the greatest thing he ever did, but it was the reward for all the other things he had done. It was General Washington's way of thanking him," said Frazer.
Frazer said that for many years, Oates was co-owner of the swords with an older sister, Mary Hill Goldsborough Willson, who died earlier last year in Easton at the age of 102.
Susan Goldsborough Glynn, a younger cousin of Oates, recalled that the elderly woman kept the two swords hanging above the mantelpiece of her home in Guilford.
Glynn, a Bethesda resident, described Oates, the widow of Baltimore engineer Malcolm N. Oates, as an accomplished watercolor artist who took up poetry late in life.
During the late 1970s, state officials approached Judith Oates about selling the swords, Papenfuse said. She was unwilling to sell for the price the state was offering, he said, resisting even the entreaties of Goldstein.
But on Jan. 5, Mimi Calver, education and exhibits director for the Maryland State Archives, received a call from a paralegal representing Oates' estate.
"I was delighted," Calver said. "To have an object that's actually in that wonderful portrait is a thrill."
The sword in the painting has a silver hilt, with a wash or inlay of gold and a leather scabbard that has since deteriorated.
Papenfuse said it was crafted by a sword-maker named Bibb on Newport Street in London and shipped to Philadelphia about the time hostilities broke out between England and the Colonies. It was probably acquired in Philadelphia by Washington's young aide, the archivist said.
"Tilghman was so proud of that sword that it was displayed prominently in the painting by Charles Willson Peale, who so carefully delineated the sword that it is instantly recognizable," said Papenfuse.
The other sword -- shorter and less ornate -- is even older. According to Tilghman family lore, it was passed down to young Tench from his great-great-grandfather Michael Turbutt, a Calvert County resident and one of the earliest settlers of Maryland.
Originally Published on 2/04/98