Washington and Lee University

The Virginia Society of the Cincinnati's Gift to Washington College
Edgar Erskine Hume
(Part 3)

Note: The following is taken from the January 1935 issue of The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (volume 43), pp. 47–58.

(Continued from [part two])

President of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of
Virginia and Assistant Secretary General.


Unfortunately for all concerned, Treasurer Baker defaulted and the extent of his liabilities was not discovered until after his suicide. The then Treasurer of the Commonwealth, Lawson Burfoot, in the June term of the General Court, 1828, sought to recover the amount of the shortage from the surviving sureties of the defaulting Jerman Baker, whose official bonds as treasurer in the years 1825 and 1827 stated that “Baker shall faithfully account for all moneys and other things which shall come to his hands by virtue of his office, and perform all other duties thereof according to law”. The sum of $5,778.16 was claimed, with interest from January 1, 1826 “on account of the funds of the Cincinnati society, previously received by him” and the sum of $2,265.60 with interest from January 1, 1828, also on account of the Cincinnati fund.

It was shown that Baker had duly receipted for the Cincinnati funds with the following documents:

Treasury Office, 13th of October, 1824

In conformity to the provisions of the within act of the gen'l ass'y of Virginia, I have this day received of Major James Gibbon the following certificates of stock belonging to the Cincinnati society, viz: cer. No. 66, Virginia 6 per cent, stock, six thousand two hundred and thirty dollars seventy cents; cer. No. 28, United States six per cent, stock, three thousand four hundred and six dollars thirty-three cents; cer. No. 57, United States six per cent, stock, five hundred dollars; No. 4569, certificate of ten shares of Farmers Bank stock; No. 7423, certificate of twenty-three shares of stock of Bank of Virginia

Jerman Baker, Treasurer
of the Commonwealth of Virginia

Richmond, 26th day of July, 1826.

Rec'd of Maj'r. James Gibbon the promissory note of Mr. J. Nelson, dated the 9th of May 1823, for the sum of sixty dollars, payable on the 9th May 1824, to Maj'r James Gibbon, for the use of the Cincinnati society of Virginia.

Jerman Baker, Tr. and Trustee
of the Cin. Soc'y of Virginia

Though the fund was never audited by the Auditor's Office, Baker left behind memoranda showing that in all he had received $13,569.16, and after disbursements for the purchase of other stocks, a sum of $8,043.76 was left unaccounted for. The disbursements were apparently made upon order from the trustees of Washington College who had heard that some of the stocks transferred by Major Gibbon had been redeemed. On November 7, 1825, they made an order “that the treasurer of the commonwealth be requested to invest the money of the Cincinnati society in his hands, received for six per cent, stock of Virginia, and of the United States, in James river stock, or any other profitable stock which he can procure; and also, invest in like manner, any surplus money of said society that may be in his hands”.

The jury found a verdict against the sureties, of whom there had originally been more than thirty, for the sums claimed with interest as above stated. The case was appealed and heard in the April term, 1845, before the Court of Appeals of Virginia (Wilson et als. vs. Burfoot, Treasurer).

The case is interesting and throws much light on the early history of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia, for the original records of the Society were introduced as evidence. Unfortunately many of them were in some manner lost. The Clerk of the Court of Appeals said that the records of the Society never reached his hands, and that he always believed that they were abstracted by some of the numerous agents who were hunting for Revolutionary claims against the Government. (See 2 Grattan, 134).

The opinion was rendered by Judge J. Allen who held that the Cincinnati fund had been received by Treasurer Baker in accordance with law, and that once received he became responsible for the money, and therefore the claim of the then Treasurer of the Commonwealth against Baker's sureties was a valid one, and it was ordered to be paid. In view, however, of the long time that had elapsed since the defalcation, the General Assembly released Jerman Baker's securities from the accrued interest. The trustees of Washington College, who were now entitled to the fund by reason of having complied with all the conditions of the donation, thereupon brought suit against the Commonwealth for the whole, with interest, and having obtained a judgment for the same, they at length in the year 1848, were enabled to obtain this fund for the college, amounting to about $25,000. The receipt of the fund took place over forty years after it was first voted to the college by the Society of the Cincinnati!


The terms of the Cincinnati gift to Washington College required the teaching of the sciences of fortification and gunnery. Such instruction was afforded under an agreement between the Board of Trustees of the College and the Board of Visitors of the Virginia Military Institute. This joint board was created under the Act of the Assembly of Virginia converting the arsenal into a military school, and ordered to meet in Lexington on August 7, 1837. While the board was primarily to make provision for military instruction of such students at the college as might desire it, according to the terms of the Cincinnati bequest, it also provided, by way of reciprocity, that “such cadets as might desire a liberal education” might attend college classes. Negotiations took definite shape before the opening of the Virginia Military Institute in 1839. Article 5 of the agreement is:

In order to carry into effect the design of the Cincinnati donation, the trustees of the college may, if they see fit, appoint the professor of the Institute their Cincinnati professor of military science, and appropriate to that department such portion of the Cincinnati fund as they shall deem equitable. Provided, however, that such appointment on the part of the college shall not affect the distinct organization of the two institutions; nor will the college corporation claim any other control over the Cincinnati professorship in the Institute than the power of withdrawing their appointment and appropriation of funds, on giving due notice to the Visitors of the Institute.

Under this Article, Col. Francis Henney Smith*, Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute, was appointed Cincinnati Professor of Military Science by the college board at its meeting of June 27, 1839. “For a number of years some cadets attended classes in college, and a squad of students uniformed, armed and accoutered cadet fashion, in charge of an orderly sergeant of their own number, marched to the Institute each afternoon in suitable weather, and were merged according to size into the body of cadets during the hour of drill and dress parade”. (Wash. & Lee Papers, No. 6, p. 43). “Cadets in 1842 still had the privilege of attending classes at the college, but they seem to have been so fully occupied with their own professors that very few of them ever found their way to the college, and so far as appears only a class consisting of about 20, sometimes less, went to the Institute for military drill. In 1842 Col. Smith resigned the office of Cincinnati Professor of Military Science, giving as his reason that Capt. Williamson, the drill-master, was the only teacher whose instructions were attended upon by such students. Whereupon the college board appointed Capt. Thomas M. Williamson as Cincinnati Professor”.

In June, 1845, the college board resolved to establish a Cincinnati Professor of Military Science who should give his entire services to the college, and after due notice to withdraw the appointment of military professor of the Institute as the college professor. Prof. Williamson's appointment was terminated on February 22, 1846, the board being careful to inform him that they were entirely satisfied with his services. The salary of the military professor was fixed at $800, to be paid from the Cincinnati fund as soon as that amount should be yielded, and a ratable portion of the tuition fees.

About this time there was talk of putting the college under military discipline, but this was never seriously considered. However, the college course of studies and discipline were modified so as to suit the proposed introduction of a military professor. Prof. Benjamin S. Ewell of Hampden-Sydney College was elected Cincinnati Professor of Mathematics and Military Science in 1846. He was succeeded in 1848 by Major Daniel H. Hill, and he, in turn, in 1854 by Alexander L. Nelson, A.B. of Washington College and A.M. of the University of Virginia, who “had taken special training in Military Science at the United States Military Academy”. The name of the Chair remained the Cincinnati Professorship of Mathematics and Military Science until 1865 when it was changed to the Cincinnati Professorship of Mathematics, and the training offered in fortification and gunnery was transferred to the School of Engineering. For fifty years thereafter, the annual catalogues carried this statement under Military Engineering: “To students who especially apply for it the principles of fortification and gunnery will be taught”. No students having applied for this course during that time, the statement was dropped from the catalogue by the editor. The University states, however, that the course would still be taught to students who specially apply for it. The courses in higher Mathematics, which are necessary for an understanding of fortification and gunnery, are still being taught by the Cincinnati Professor of Mathematics and in the Department of Civil Engineering.


In 1838 President Henry Ruffner of Washington College delivered an oration at the college in honor of the Society of the Cincinnati. Shortly thereafter “an annual address by a student, to be called The Cincinnati Oration, was established as one of the honors and was given to the best scholar in the class”. After the passing of General Robert E. Lee, who was President of the College from 1865 until his death, his name was added to that of Washington and the present Washington and Lee University came into being. In 1891 the University created a special gold medal, known as The Cincinnati Orator's Medal, to be given to the man delivering the Cincinnati Oration. The first award of the medal was in 1912, it being received by T. McP. Glasgow. Orations had been submitted for this award between 1891 and 1912, but “the Committee who read them thought that they did not display the scholarship, thought, and power of expression required of recipients of this high honor”. The offer of the Cincinnati Award is carried in the annual catalogue of the University. Since the oration is not delivered every year, but only when exceptional merit is displayed, the medal has been awarded but rarely. It is of gold, 2 3/16 inches in diameter, the obverse bearing the busts of General Washington and General Lee, facing to the right, with the inscription: Washington and Lee University. The reverse is engraved Cincinnati Orator's Medal, and the name of the winner, the whole within a raised border of oak leaves.

The following have been the Cincinnati Orators:

1869—M. W. Humphreys, M.A.   1879—F. K. Leavell
1871—T. J. Bartlette, M.A.   1880—J. T. Akers
1872—W. D. Vinson, M.A.   1881—J. H. Hamilton
1873—H. B. Fergusson, M.A.   1882—J. E. Cockrell
1874—W. H. Tayloe   1883—H. D. Campbell
1875—W. H. Tayloe   1885—H. A. White
1876—C. A. Deshon   1886—J. V. McCall
1877—J. H. Dillard, MA.   1887—Wm. B. Smith
1878—W. F. Miller   1888—C. L. Crow
1890—J. H. Gorrell   1919—F. C Stipes
1912—T. McP. Glasgow   1921—Fitzgerald Flournoy

The Cincinnati Award is now made for the best essay, if of sufficient merit, upon the subject of the principles upon which the Society of the Cincinnati was founded.

In 1931 the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia struck a bronze medal to commemorate the sesquicentennial anniversary of the victory at Yorktown which assured American independence. Copies were presented to the President of the United States, the Governor of Virginia and other distinguished official visitors to the ceremonies at Yorktown. Copies were likewise presented to those Virginia colleges which date back to the period of the institution of the Society of the Cincinnati. Under this provision the medal was presented, with appropriate ceremonies, by the President of the Society, at the 1932 commencements, at the College of William and Mary, Hampden-Sydney College, and Transylvania College (in what is now Kentucky). It was presented at the special Washington commemoration at Washington and Lee University on April 12, 1932.

Thus for a century and a quarter has the Society of the Cincinnati been linked to the “seminary of learning in Rockbridge County”, which bears the names of the Cincinnati's first President General and of the noble son of another original member of the Cincinnati, who said of that President General, that he was “First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of his Fellow Citizens”.


1. Proceedings of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia 1783–1824. Published for the Society, Richmond, 1896. Subsequent Minutes in annual pamphlets.

2. Manuscript correspondence and papers of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia (Virginia State Library).

3. Manuscript Records of the General Society of the Cincinnati, also of the Virginia Society, on deposit in the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress.

4. Historical Papers of Washington and Lee University, Nos. 1 to 6.

5. Correspondence of George Washington, edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford, 1891.

6. Leonard G. Helderman (Associate Professor of History in Washington and Lee University)—George Washington Patron of Learning, Century Co., N. Y., 1932.

7. Journals of the House of Delegates of Virginia, Dec. 20, 1813, p. 66.

8. Acts of the Virginia Legislature in the 38th year of the Commonwealth, Chapter XXXV, February 5, 1814.

10. Reports of Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Appeals, and the General Court of Virginia, by Peachy R. Grattan, April 1, 1845, to April 1, 1846—Richmond, 1861, pages 134 to 168 (quoted as 2 Grattan 134).

11. Edgar Erskine Hume—George Washington and the Society of the Cincinnati, Vol. III of the Literature Series of the U.S. George Washington Bicentennial Commission, 1933, pp. 568–576; also same (enlarged) in pamphlet form published by the Commission, Washington, 1933.

12. Edgar Erskine Hume—General George Washington's Eagle of the Society of the Cincinnati, The Numismatist, XLVI, December, 1933, pages 749 to 759.

13. Washington and Lee University Bulletin, New Series, XXXIII, No. 4, 1933.

14. Edgar Erskine Hume—Sesquicentennial History and Roster of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia, 1783–1933. Published by the Society, Richmond, 1934.

15. Edgar Erskine Hume—The Attempt to Establish a State Society of the Cincinnati in Kentucky—Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, XXXII, July, 1934, pages 199–223.

The author is happy to express his appreciation of assistance rendered in the preparation of this narrative, by the late Dr. Henry D. Campbell, Historian of Washington and Lee University, who kindly searched the University's records for pertinent data; to the late Dr. William Glover Stanard, Secretary of the Virginia Historical Society; to the late Dr. Henry Read Mcllwainc, Librarian of the Virginia State Library and his staff; to Mr. John Collins Daves, President General of the Cincinnati; to Mr. Francis Apthorp Foster, Secretary General of the Cincinnati; and to Mr. John Archer Coke, Jr., Secretary of the Virginia Cincinnati.


Original Members of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia.

Those marked with an asterisk (*) are now represented. Those marked with two asterisks (**) are not now represented but have been since the revival of the Society in 1889. In most cases the rank held in the Continental Line is given, some of the officers having subsequently held higher militia rank. Militia service, unless directly under Continental orders did not qualify for membership. To be eligible an officer must have (a) served as such for three years; (b) have served to the end of the war; (c) have been “deranged”, that is rendered supernumerary, in one of the several reorganizations of the army. Officers who died in service were eligible to be represented. In 1854 the General Society adopted the provision that officers otherwise qualified for membership but who never availed themselves of that privilege, would be eligible to be represented. This list does not include the names of officers who died in service or who are represented under the “Rule of 1854”. The eldest male descendant of each original member is entitled to apply for admission to the Society. Where an officer left no descendants, his eldest collateral representative has this right. The last roll of original members of the Virginia Society was compiled more than forty years ago, since which time a number of new names have been discovered.

[Omitted list of about 300 names]


* Francis Henney Smith was born in Virginia in 1812, and was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy from that state in 1829. He graduated in 1833, standing fifth in his class, and was commissioned Second Lieutenant, First Artillery in the same year. He resigned May 1, 1836. He achieved distinction as Colonel and brevet Major-General of Virginia Cadets, Confederate States Army. He died March 21, 1890.