Bone Walking Stick

Artist/Maker: Unknown[1]

Created: c. 1806

Origin/Purchase: Unknown

Materials: unidentified bone, gold

Dimensions: 108 (42 1/2 in.)

Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by bequest to James Madison; by bequest to Thomas Jefferson Randolph; by gift or purchase to an unidentified member of the Coolidge family; by descent to T. Jefferson Coolidge, Jr.; by loan to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1986

Accession Number: 1986-13-3

Historical Notes: In the summer of 1805, while Jefferson was in residence at the President's House, this "elegant walking staff" arrived for him at Monticello with no hint of the name of the benefactor.[2] On a visit to Monticello that summer, Jefferson's fourteen-year-old granddaughter, Anne Cary Randolph, was shown the walking stick by some workmen there, who told her that it was a gift from Napoleon. She dutifully passed this "fact" on to her grandfather:

They showed me a cane which they said Bonaparte sent you. It is a very handsome one but I hope you never will have ocassion [sic] for it. It is made of fish bone I believe as it is too long to have been the horn of any animal, although it has that appearance. It is capped and pointed with gold very handsomely embost.[3]

It was not until February the following year that Jefferson learned that the walking stick had been the gift of John F. Oliveira Fernandes, a Norfolk physician and wine merchant from whom Jefferson purchased wine for Monticello. Jefferson considered it

the most elegant thing of the kind I have ever seen; and worthy of place, as a curiosity, in any Cabinet whatever. I perceive that it is of the horn of some animal, but cannot conjecture of what.[4]

Fernandes told Jefferson that the cane was in thanks for his "bounty and generosity":[5]

It was my hope that your Love of Natural Philosophy would render so rare a production of the Animal Kingdom acceptable to you. While it might be an usefull [sic] companion in your retired and rural excursions at Monticello.[6]

Jefferson bequeathed this walking stick to his friend James Madison, who expressed his appreciation for the gift in a letter to Jefferson's grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph:

The article bequeathed to me by your grandfather...[I] received with all the feelings due to such a token of the place I held in the friendship of one, whom I so much revered and loved when living and whose memory can never cease to be dear to me.[7]

Madison, in turn, bequeathed the stick to Thomas Jefferson Randolph.[8]

Footnotes

  1. This article is based on Stein, Worlds, 428.
  2. Thomas Jefferson to John F. Oliveira Fernandes, February 28, 1806. Thomas Jefferson Papers,, Library of Congress.
  3. Anne Cary Randolph to Jefferson, July 11, 1805, in Family Letters, 276-277.
  4. Jefferson to Fernandes, February 28 1806. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.
  5. Fernandes to Jefferson, March 15, 1806. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. James Madison to Randolph, July 14, 1826, in a private collection.
  8. Dolley Madison to Randolph, August 1836, in a private collection.

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