The Chancellor\’s colichemarde from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Chancellor Robert R. Livingston was nothing if not a fashionable man. As such he frequently carried a sword. He was not a soldier, but the style of the time called for men of a certain position to carry a blade.

One of the swords that the Chancellor carried during his life was a small sword known as a colichemarde. The colichemarde was developed in the 1680’s and was extremely popular for about the next half century. The sword itself was transitional in nature, shorter and lighter than the rapier’s that proceeded it, hence “small sword”. Not that it was particularly small, the Chancellor’s sword was 39 ½ inches long from its steel tip to its ornate silver hit and grip. The silver work was created by silversmith John Parry of London. [i]

            Colichemarde blades were triangular in shape. The blade started fairly wide near the hilt, which made an excellent surface for parrying a blow from an enemy, but after several inches narrowed sharply to a thin blade with shape edges for slashing and a very sharp point made for lethal thrusting. These swords were ideal for use in duels.

            The colichemarde sword was on its way out as a fashionable sword when the Chancellor was wearing it. Perhaps it would have gone completely out of style had not another famous American taken to wearing one during the French and Indian War, George Washington. Washington’s sword was even more ornate than the Chancellor’s. Historians at Mount Vernon believe that Washington is wearing the sword in at least two portraits done of him.[ii]

The hilt of the sword at Washington\’s hip appears to match the hilt of his colichemarde

Again, the hilt of the sword shown seems to match the hilt of Washington\’s colichemarde

            Click here to see one of Mount Vernon’s curators explore George Washington’s colichemarde.  

            As far as we know the Chancellor never fought a duel with his colichemarde, but he would have proved a lethal adversary with this blade in his hand. Had he. Perhaps his size and the sword on his hip prevented many duels he could have found himself in, were he a smaller man or carrying a different sword

[i] The Chancellor’s sword is in the collection of the New York Historical Society. Information about the blade comes from their online collections guide.

[ii] Information on George Washington’s colichemarde comes from George Washington’s Mount Vernon