Background Image

Badge of the Society of the Cincinnati

In this Section

The Clarkson family legacy includes a Revolutionary War hero, Matthew Clarkson.

Matthew Clarkson

Matthew Clarkson volunteered as a private in the Continental Army in 1775, when he was only 17 years old. In less than two years, he was promoted to major, and eventually retired as a major general at the war’s end.

Shortly after volunteering for duty, Clarkson was grievously wounded in a battle near Fort Edward, New York. While trying to rally the troops, a musket-ball struck and passed through his throat. All expected Clarkson to die of his wounds. But he survived.

During his military career, Clarkson served as aide-de-camp to Generals Benedict Arnold and Benjamin Lincoln. In 1777, Clarkson received the sword of surrender from British General Burgoyne, which was considered quite an honor.

After the war, Clarkson joined with his fellow military officers to create the Society of the Cincinnati. Many of our founding fathers including George Washington were original members of the Society.  At its founding, the Society was intended to preserve the memory of the Revolution, to help officers maintain the bonds they had forged in war, to provide financial support to members in need, and to preserve the liberties for which they had fought.

The organization today is a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. educating the public about the American Revolution. They believe that remembering the service and sacrifice of our forefathers is essential to maintaining our liberties today.

The Society’s badge was designed by Frenchman Major Pierre L’Enfant who joined the American cause in 1777. Not only were the original badges manufactured in France, but the blue and white ribbon also symbolize the union between France and the United States during the Revolutionary War.

Society's badge

Credit: Badge of the Society of the Cincinnati; Pierre L'Enfant, John Cook, Matthew Clarkson, ca. 1802; Silk, gold, enamel; Overall 3 3/4 x 1 1/2 in. (9.5 x 3.8 cm);
object #1972. 12ab.
Collection of the NewYork Historial Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY

The badge further consists of symbols representing Cincinnatus, the Roman hero for whom the organization is named. Cincinnatus was a farmer who was called to lead Rome’s army twice in 458 B.C. and 439 B.C. Unlike most leaders in such powerful positions, when his service was finished and Rome was safe, Cincinnatus gave up his role and returned to his farm.

The front of the badge depicts Cincinnatus being called to service, while the back depicts the hero returning to his farm with the Latin phrases, “he gave all to serve his republic,” and fame was “the reward of virtue.”

The badge also depicts a bald eagle, one of the first uses of the image as an American symbol.  In fact, the badge is often referred to informally as the “Eagle.”

Matthew Clarkson’s badge from 1802 (one of only five known to still exist) will be on display beginning in the spring of 2017 at the New York Historical Society at 170 Central Park West, New York, New York. The museum is currently undergoing renovations, but once those are complete, the badge will be available for viewing. The museum is open Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday from 10am to 6pm, Friday 10am to 8pm, and Sunday 11am to 5pm.

In 1894, a sister organization was created called the Daughters of the Cincinnati. This organization was founded by female descendants of Continental Army officers. Its mission was to encourage the study of the American Revolution and to inspire a reverence for the officers who fought for independence.

Additionally, the Daughters of the Cincinnati have provided college scholarships for over 100 years to daughters of career commissioned officers in our armed forces. Our own Annie Clarkson (Matthew’s great-granddaughter) was a member of the organization and even served as Treasurer and Vice President in the early 20th century.

Today, the Daughters of the Cincinnati is a nonprofit organization maintaining a headquarters in New York City.

The Society of the Cincinnati believed the leaders of the American Revolution honorably demonstrated service to humanity, personal sacrifice, and commitment to public welfare.

These are some of Clarkson University’s values, too. (http://www.clarkson.edu/about/mission/values.html)

Clarkson University volunteers.

volunteer

Clarkson University sacrifices.

Clarkson University is committed to public welfare.

Thank you for being part of Clarkson’s legacy.

*Sources for these facts include:

http://www.societyofthecincinnati.org/

http://daughters1894.org/

The Clarksons of New York: A Sketch, Volume 2

http://www.nyhistory.org/exhibit/badge-society-cincinnati

(rev. 12/2016)

twitterFollow us on Twitter @annieclarkson