You Could Own an Amputated Arm From the George III Statue Toppled at Bowling Green
The 18th-century lead fragment was unearthed in a Connecticut resident’s garden in 1991
Five days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, around 40 soldiers and sailors snuck into a small Manhattan park called Bowling Green. Operating under the cover of darkness, these rebellious patriots draped ropes across the park’s centerpiece—a 4,000-pound equestrian statue of England’s reviled George III—and toppled it over. Then, they melted the monarch’s likeness down, using its remnants to cast 42,088 bullets.
As postmaster Ebenezer Hazard wrote to General Horatio Gates in the days following the act, “[The king’s] statue here has been pulled down to make musket ball of, so that his troops will probably have melted Majesty fired at them.”
The majority of the lead monument vanished in the forges, but a few fragments actually survived the incident: among others, the tail of the king’s metal horse, a piece of George III’s patterned sash, and a 20-pound segment believed to belong to the king’s cape or his horse’s mane.
Now, Michelle Young reports for Untapped New York, one of these unlikely survivors—an amputated arm unearthed in 1991—is headed to auction. Advertised as a “lead hand, wrist and forearm likely from the statue of King George III,” the artifact will go under the hammer at Skinner Auctioneers’ November 1 Historic Arms & Militaria sale, where it is expected to sell for between $15,000 and $25,000.
According to the lot’s listing, a resident of Wilton, Connecticut, discovered the 21-inch-long arm in their garden in 1991. (A portable X-ray fluorescence analysis testifies to the fragment’s provenance, yielding a “virtually perfect alloy match” when compared to two pieces owned by the New-York Historical Society.) The property’s one-time owner, Tory supporter Job Burlock, likely buried the fragment on his land after stealing it from a shipment sent by the patriots shortly after they dismantled the statue.
As Bob Ruppert writes in Journal of the American Revolution, the rebels loaded the statue’s mangled remains onto oxcarts bound for a foundry in Litchfield, Connecticut. But when the convoy stopped for the night in Wilton, Burlock and his fellow Tories swept in, rescuing some of the statue fragments and burying them around town.
Various pieces preserved by the monarchists have turned up over the centuries. Per a chart cited by Ruppert, finds include a chunk of the horse’s saddle, a foreleg fragment and a piece of the king’s cloak. The New-York Historical Society holds six of these fragments, according to the New York Times’ David W. Dunlap, and the Wilton Historical Society, the Museum of Connecticut History and the Museum of the American Revolution all own at least one.
In addition to the sculpture fragments, the New-York Historical Society boasts a tombstone originally used as the pedestal for George III’s likeness. As Untapped New York’s Nicole Saraniero notes, the marble slab popped up in 1783 as British soldier Major John Smith’s grave marker. After Smith’s resting place was leveled in 1804, a man named Cornelius Van Vorst, Sr., purchased the stone and used it as a kitchen step in his Jersey City home.
The English king’s head, meanwhile, remains unaccounted for. A journal entry penned by British Captain John Mentresor suggests the patriots “cut the [sculpture’s] nose off, clipt the laurels that were wreathed round his head, … drove a musket Bullet part of the way through his Head, and otherwise disfigured it,” likely with the intention of impaling the head on a stake.
Mentresor intervened, however, and sent a spy to retrieve the likeness, which he hid at Fort Washington before sending back to England. A November 1777 diary entry by Thomas Hutchinson, former governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony, marks the last recorded mention of the head: “The nose is wounded and defaced,” Hutchinson writes, “but the gilding remains fair; and as it was well executed, it retains a striking likeness.”