Brown University Continues Fighting Civil War

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Apparently Brown University is really grumpy about the city of Newport News, Virginia. Brown alleges that Newport News has its sword.

Or, at any rate, the sword is located in Newport News. Who’s actually in possession is a little unclear. According to an article by Peter Dujardin in the Daily Press:

Brown University has filed a federal lawsuit against a prominent Williamsburg artifact collector and the City of Newport News, claiming ownership of an elaborate Civil War-era sword that a city-owned museum recently had on display.

Brown says the sword was stolen from a university collection in the 1970s, but “recently surfaced” at Lee Hall Mansion, a Newport News-owned property, where it was on loan from the collector from December 2009 to December 2010.

In 1861 Rush Hawkins (see image) helped form the 9th New York Infantry, a battle unit that fought gallantly for the United States in the Civil War. Known as “Hawkins Zouaves,” for their flamboyant, French-influenced battle wear (oh, how very Brown of them), the group fought at Cape Hatteras, Roanoke Island, Fredericksburg, and Antietam.

In 1863 the infantry presented Hawkins, its colonel, with a decorative sword and scabbard made by Tiffany & Company. Hawkins gave his sword to Brown in 1907. Hawkins had no affiliation to the university at all but his wife, Ann Mary, was a descendant of Nicholas Brown, who helped found the college with his brothers in 1764.

The university lost the sword in the 1970s, but it’s pretty sure it owns the sword displayed in the Virginia mansion until last month. The trouble is that the Lee Hall Mansion doesn’t own the sword, and neither does the city of Newport News.

In fact, a Williamsburg collector owns it. His name is Donald Tharpe and he’s the one who loaned the sword to the museum. Tharpe and his wife are major collectors of Civil War artifacts. Tharpe’s not saying how he came to own the sword and, you know, finders keepers. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer