COLLECTION: Costume Accessories

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George Washington Commemorative Handkerchief

Origin: America, Pennsylvania, Germantown
OW: 11 1/8"; OH: 11 3/8"
Printed cotton
Museum Purchase, The Friends of Colonial Williamsburg Collections Fund
Acc. No. 2006-118
Sepia on off-white printed handkerchief showing George Washington standing with a sword in his left hand, gesturing with his right hand beneath a swag drapery with 2 tassels. The title printed across the drapery reads "THE EFFECT OF PRINCIPLE / BEHOLD THE MAN". To the left side is printed text beginning "THOUGH in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think that I may have committed many errors..." To the right of the central vignette are the words "GEORGE WASHINGTON/born 11th February O S 1731 /DIED 14th December 1799/Who from his integrity of conduct was unanimously elected President of the united States of America after discharging the duties of this office for many Years voluntarily resigned in a speech the conclusion of which the annexed is a brief extract." Below are three vignettes: Eagle with banner "E Pluribus Unum," two ships at sea and the words "COMMERCIAL UNION," and a lion lying down with the words printed above him, "THE BRITISH LION."
Label:The image of our first President George Washington adorned numerous items of decorative art, not only during his lifetime, but also after his death in 1799. To capitalize on his popularity, printmakers offered engravings on paper of the famous man's visage, textile printers designed yardage honoring Washington, and schoolgirls embroidered memorials to him. Among the many commemorative items were cotton handkerchiefs that paid homage to Washington's honesty and integrity. One of these handkerchiefs was added to the collections, thanks to the generosity of the Friends of Colonial Williamsburg Collections.

Measuring about 11 ½ inches square, the handkerchief is printed in sepia using a copper plate. Beneath the title "The Effect of Principle, Behold the Man," Washington stands with a sword in one hand and gestures expansively with his other hand. The likeness was taken from Gilbert Stuart's full-length painting, usually known as the "Lansdowne" portrait, an image that was circulated and popularized through engravings on paper. The handkerchief honors Washington's decision to eschew the power he might have claimed and resign from the presidency in 1796. A portion of his farewell address that revealed his modesty and humility is printed alongside the central image. (For a full text of Washington's Farewell Address, see

The handkerchief was once believed to be printed around 1806 and attributed to the Philadelphia factory of John Hewson, who had apprenticed as a textile printer in England prior to immigrating to America in 1773. It is now reattributed to a printworks in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and reassigned a date in the 1820s or 1830s.