Coming home: Rush Hawkins’ sword

June 7, 2013  |  Media Contact: Mark Nickel |  401-863-1638
For courage and gallantry - Detail from the Tiffany silver sword presented to Col. Rush Hawkins of the 9th New York Volunteers in May 1863. The sword, part of the AnnMary Brown Memorial established at Brown by Hawkins, was stolen from the University’s collections in 1977 or earlier.
For courage and gallantry Detail from the Tiffany silver sword presented to Col. Rush Hawkins of the 9th New York Volunteers in May 1863. The sword, part of the AnnMary Brown Memorial established at Brown by Hawkins, was stolen from the University’s collections in 1977 or earlier. Credit: Brown University Collections
Brown University received word Thursday, June 6, 2013, that the Civil War sword of Col. Rush Hawkins, reported stolen from the University’s collections in 1977, would begin its trip from Virginia back to campus. The U.S. District Court in Newport News, Va., ruled that Brown University is the lawful owner and ordered the sword’s return.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A Civil War-era silver Tiffany presentation sword — the Rush Hawkins sword — reported stolen from the University’s collections in 1977, will soon be on its way back to the Brown campus. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia entered a judgment Tuesday, June 4, 2013, confirming Brown University as the lawful owner and ordering the sword’s return, together with its ornamental scabbard.

“At its heart, the University’s case was quite simple and in three parts: We own it; it was stolen; we want it back,” said Beverly Ledbetter, vice president and general counsel. “The court ruled in the University’s favor on all three points. We understand that the defendant intends to deliver the sword soon to our attorney in Virginia.” The defendant had purchased the sword from another dealer.

The return of the sword concludes legal proceedings lasting nearly two years and recovery efforts of more than two decades. According to the court’s opinion and order, the sword passed through at least four private collections, beginning in 1979. In 1991, the University received a telephoned report from a collector who had seen the sword at a show in Baltimore. A written request by a University attorney to inspect the sword was refused by a private collector’s attorney in March 1992.

The successful legal proceedings began in 2011, after a Civil War historian familiar with the sword and its original presentation ceremony saw the sword on display at the Lee Hall Mansion in Newport News, Va.

The sword

Col. Rush Hawkins led the 9th New York Volunteers — “Hawkins’ Zouaves” — during the first two years of the Civil War. Fifty prominent New Yorkers, including the governor and the mayor, recognized his service with a Tiffany silver presentation sword. The sword includes a figure of a Zouave carved into the grip and a list of the 9th New York Volunteers’ battles inscribed along the blade. It was presented to Hawkins in May 1863.

Hawkins himself went on to great financial success as a lawyer in New York City and became one of the world’s leading collectors of incunabula, early printed books. In 1903, he established a memorial corporation to his late wife, Annmary Brown, the grand-daughter of Nicholas Brown, after whom the University is named. He built the Annmary Brown Memorial in Providence in 1907 and endowed it with his collection of incunabula, paintings, and artifacts of his Civil War service, including the Tiffany Sword. The Annmary Brown Memorial, 21 Brown St., was deeded to the University in 1948.

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