William Bainbridge’s Gold Freedom Box
The Corporation of the City of New York presented this gold Freedom Box, along with the “Freedom of the City,” to Commodore William Bainbridge of USS Constitution in 1813, in commemoration of his victory over HMS Java on December 29, 1812. The honor of the “Freedom of the City,” often accompanied by a gold “Freedom” box containing an official seal, was bestowed upon distinguished men.
While it was customary to have these boxes made by silversmiths specifically for their recipients, this eventual gift to Bainbridge was produced in Paris between 1798 and 1809, according to the gold standard hallmark on the inside of the lid. The existing box was likely purchased by or for the Corporation of the City of New York and engraved with the dedication: “The Corporation/of the City of New York/to/Commodore William Bainbridge/of the U.S. Frigate/Constitution/in testimony of the high sense/they entertain of his gallantry/and skill in the capture of his/Britannic Majesty’s Ship/Java/on the 29th December/1812.”
In his last will and testament, William Bainbridge refers to this box as a snuff box, which has led to confusion about the box’s origins and use over the past 200 years: “The gold snuff box, presented to me by the City of New York, with the freedom of the City, I bequeath to my daughter, Susan P. Hayes.”