Pitcher and Salver
Round silver salver with three applied feet cast in a grape-and-leaf motif, a squarish convex booge, and an applied cast banding encircling the rim. Face of salver is engraved with c-scroll, flower, leaf, and fruit decoration.
INSCRIPTION: Pitcher engraved in a cartouche on side of body: “To/J. A. Van Dyke/from/the relatives of the late/John G. Starr/of Savannah Geo./an officer of the Nicaraguan Army, in grateful memory/of his kindness to him on arriving sick and wounded/at New York/April 16, 1857”. Salver engraved “J.A. Van Dyke”on its face.
MARK: Pitcher struck on underside of base with intaglio “S.WILMOT” mark in a rectangular reserve. Salver unmarked.
MAKER: Samuel Wilmot Jr. was born about 1795 in New Haven, Connecticut, to Samuel Wilmot Sr. (1777-1846) and Mary Abernathy (1775-1846). Samuel Wilmot Jr. most likely apprenticed under his father. In the late 1820s and early 1830s, he may have been working in partnership with his cousin, Thomas Townsend Wilmot (1804-1850), in Bridgeport, Connecticut; other sources place him working during this time on his own in Georgetown, South Carolina. In 1837, he was definitely working with his cousin in Charleston, South Carolina, under the partnership of S. & T.T. Wilmot. In 1844, Samuel was working in Georgetown and Thomas had moved to Savannah, Georgia. Upon Thomas’s death in 1850, Samuel moved to Savannah and began business at Thomas’s address. At some point he took on Henry A. Richmond as partner to create the firm Wilmot & Richmond, which operated until the start of the Civil War. Nothing else is known about Richmond’s training or life. Wilmot seems to have returned to Connecticut sometime by 1860. See George Barton Cutten, “The Silversmiths of Georgia” (Savannah, GA: Pigeonhole Press, 1958).
FORM: Silver pitchers in Colonial America were most often small cream pitchers in the rococo fashion that were used as part of the tea ceremony to serve milk. Large wide-mouthed pitchers in the neoclassical and empire styles became popular after the American Revolution. Such pitchers were used to serve water or wine and provided silversmiths with abundant flat surface area for engraving everything from simple monograms to armorials to lengthy presentations. The term “pitcher” is most commonly used in the United States and can be applied to any container with a spout for pouring liquids. In other English-speaking countries, the term “jug” is use more prevalently. A “ewer” is a vase-shaped, handled pitcher, often decorated, with a base and flaring spout.
Footed salvers are an early and less-common form of American silver. In the early eighteenth century this form replaced similar objects comprised of a flat circular plate and a central pedestal, called “tazzas,” as the latter tipped more easily than trays with feet. Salvers, also called “waiters,” were used like a tray to carry glasses, bottles, and other vessels containing food and drink, and were an important ornament of the dining room or parlor when not in use.
The Wilmot pitcher and salver are extraordinary Georgia-made silver objects that also highlight a poignant episode stemming from a little-known American military action known as the Filibuster War in Nicaragua. John G. Starr (1833-1857), a native of Georgia, joined a private army formed by William Walker to support the Democratic Party in Nicaragua’s Civil War.
John G. Starr was severely wounded in the shoulder by a rifle ball on 15 February 1857 when his battalion lost a battle at Castillo Viejo. Starr and a small group of injured and sick soldiers returned to America on 17 April 1857, making port in New York City aboard the Tennessee. A newspaper reporter described the men as “Living Scare Crows” and that he had “rarely seen more wretched specimens of the human race… .” They arrived “destitute and penniless, unable to help themselves.”
James A. Van Dyke (1820-died before 1890), a coachman, met the Tennessee at dock. Taking pity on them, Van Dyke drove the soldiers to a hotel where he personally paid for their breakfast and found contributors to house, feed, and clothe the men. Van Dyke then raised the funding to provide the soldiers with passage to their homes. There a several extensive reports in several New York City newspapers of Van Dyke’s efforts to help the soldiers. Van Dyke was born in Pennsylvania and married a woman named Frances, who was born in England about 1825. The Van Dykes had four children. At the age of 43 he enlisted as a private in the New York 12th Infantry Regiment to serve during the Civil War. After returning home from the war, he become a policeman in New York City.
John Starr returned home to Savannah but died very shortly after his arrival in his home city, on 27 April 1857. He was buried in Bonaventure Cemetery in the Starr family plot. His mother, Georgia Ann, had died in 1833 and his father, John Chauncey, in 1836, and he was raised with his brother, William Starr (1830-1868), in the household of his grandfather, William Lightfoot Starr (1765-1858). William Lightfoot Starr was the customs inspector for Savannah and John’s brother, William, was listed as a merchant in Savannah in the 1860 Federal Census.
On 8 May 1857, his brother William wrote a letter (in accession file 5810.1) to Van Dyke informing him of John’s death, thanking him for the care of his brother. In appreciation for Van Dyke’s assistance, William Starr noted in the letter that he had sent a “Silver Pitcher & Waiter” to Van Dyke via a friend, J. H. Brundage (1827-1866), an oil distiller and merchant in New York City.
The Savannah Volunteer Guards ran a notice in the Savannah Daily Republican of 15 May 1857 that they memorialized in thier minutes John Starr”s death and the circumstances under which he served and resolved to commend Van Dyke for his kindness and assistance.
The Daily Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia, ran a notice on 22 May 1857 relating the presentation of the silver to James A. Van Dyke. In the notice, the pitcher and waiter were valued at $150.