A group formed to orchestrate the return to Georgia of a ceremonial sword meant for a Columbia County native and War of 1812 hero has raised nearly enough money to purchase it from a private collector.
It will cost $100,000 to buy the Appling Sword, an elaborate ceremonial blade commissioned by the Georgia Legislature in 1814 to be presented to Lt. Col. Daniel Appling.
The collector agreed to the sale price and not to consider any other buyers before the end of the year, said Susan Lemesis, chairwoman of the Appling Sword Campaign.
“We’ve still got to get $10,000. We’ve got $90,000,” Lemesis said. “It has been a little difficult coming up with the money. ... I’ll tell you, this is the hardest uphill climb.”
Appling, for whom Appling County is named, died before the sword could be presented to him. The whereabouts of the intricately carved, gold-handled sword had been a mystery for a century until it turned up in the possession of a Pennsylvania antiques collector and dealer in 2010, Lemesis said.
The collector is offering Georgians the chance to purchase the sword and return it to the Georgia Division of Archives and History, where it was last housed in the state in 1907.
“He’s already got people lined up to buy it,” Lemesis said. “Already, military collectors are waiting to see if we’re going to make it or not.”
Lemesis said she’s spent the year traveling around the state, making presentations to various civic organizations and historical groups about the sword and the campaign to return it to Georgia. She spoke to the Columbia County Historical Society in July.
The group donated $1,000 to the campaign, historical society member Julia Prather said.
“I wish we could get it back in Columbia County,” Prather said. “We can at least get it back to Georgia.”
The campaign is something that former Columbia County Probate Judge and active Historical Society member Pat Hardaway would have supported. Hardaway died July 15.
“She was interested and concerned with Columbia County history,” Prather said. “I just think it is something that Pat would like.”
Appling was born in Columbia County in 1787 and enlisted in the Army in 1805. He rose through the ranks to captain by 1812. He’s best remembered for his leadership in the Battle of Sandy Creek in northwestern New York, where he led his troops on a victorious surprise attack against the British.
The Georgia Legislature voted to award Appling the ceremonial sword for his battlefield leadership and victories. But Appling died on March 5, 1817, before the sword could be presented to him.
The sword was displayed in the state capitol building until 1907, when it and several other artifacts were sent to the Jamestown Exposition. At the time, there were no protocols for checking items in and out of the Archives.
The sword wasn’t seen again for about 80 years until it was mentioned in a 1988 book. The sword passed through the hands of several collectors before the Archives director saw an advertisement in an antiques magazine last year offering the sword for sale for $250,000.
The Archives, the Georgia Capitol Museum and several other historical and hereditary organizations started the campaign to raise money to buy the sword.
Lemesis said she has approached several foundations about contributions. But their focus is usually too narrow and they can’t make donations until spring for tax reasons, or they’d rather support the education programs once the sword is purchased, she said.
Lemesis said she’s received several large donations, like the one from the historical society, including $5,000 and $8,500 contributions.
“Other than that, primarily it has been $200 or less from individuals,” Lemesis said. “When you look at it that way, and you think about how many individuals contributed, that’s a lot. ... This has been a true grassroots campaign.”
No state funds will be used in the purchase of the sword.
Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. If purchased, the sword will be displayed in the Georgia capitol’s Hall of Valor, Lemesis said. It will be an important tool for teachers who lead about 50,000 pupils through the hall each year.
Any individual, group or corporation donating at least $1,000 will be listed on the plaque at the capitol with the sword.
“That was just so great for (the Columbia County Historical Society) to come up with the money,” Lemesis said. “I thought it was just fantastic to have Columbia County, a name with the birthplace of Appling, on the plaque. It was just fantastic.”
Donations can be made online at www.fogah.org., or mailed to P.O. Box 711, Morrow, GA 30261-0711.
For information, contact Lemesis at (770) 993-2858 or firstname.lastname@example.org.