These dozen camp cups were owned by General George Washington, and are now elegantly displayed by the Museum of the American Revolution in a tumble of gleaming silver. According to the museum's placard, Philadelphia silversmith Edmund Milne supplied Washington with "12 Silvr Camp cups," fashioned from "16 Silvr Dollrs" in August, 1777. The cups would have been used by Washington as a hospitable commander-in-chief while dining in his field tent as well as in the army’s various winter encampments, and would have travelled with his other belongings in the army’s baggage wagons. To be sure that the cups’ glorious pedigree would never be forgotten, a later owner (the cups descended through the Washington family) had each one engraved with the inscription "Camp Cup owned and used by General Washington during War of the Revolution."
Of course, given that I still have the characters of I, Eliza Hamilton much on my mind, I thought of young Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, an aide-de-camp to Washington. I wondered if he ever drank from one of these cups, or if they were reserved only for exalted guests - other generals, visiting dignitaries, foreign diplomats, members of Congress - rather than lesser officers serving as part of the general's military family.
Regardless, it's easy to look at the cups and imagine them being used by Washington and his guests, a determined effort to maintain the appearances and civility of Georgian gentlemen no matter how grim the circumstances or meagre the camp fare. That silver would have reflected the candlelight or fire, and the toasts to liberty and freedom that were drunk from them would have helped seal the camaraderie of these elite men who were risking so much for the sake of the Revolution.
Camp Cups, made in Philadelphia by Edmund Milne, 1777. Museum of the American Revolution.
Read more about Eliza and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.