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September/October 2013

President Howard Taft spoke to the 19th Continental Congress in 1910 with President General Julia Green Scott presiding.  In his remarks, President Taft said, “Certainly, I should be the last to deprecate or minimize the debt that is due to those who have given up their lives or their limbs in defense of their country in the exigency of war, but there are other times when that virtue of patriotism is just as essential … in the conduct of the government. It is in the discharge of the comparatively small duties of each citi­zen that goes to make up what the whole people do, and it is in the recognition of the smaller officer, of the humbler citizen, in withholding himself from that which is easy and comfortable in order to accomplish something by his sacrifice for the public weal. …

Therefore, I welcome the news of the prosperity of such an organization as this—come here for the purpose of stirring up patriotism the country over, and showing that that (sic) is a virtue worth the cultivation of the best, the most intellectual and of the humblest citizen of the country.”

After the president’s speech, Mrs. Scott introduced New Jersey State Regent Mary E. Libbey, who presented President Taft with a custom-made gift of Revolutionary significance. During the Battle of Red Bank in 1777, the British, barricaded in Philadelphia with dwindling supplies, aimed to regain access to the Delaware River, which was blocked by three small American forts constructed on the river’s New Jersey banks. 

Mrs. Libbey explained, “Among the ships sent out for this purpose was the splendid frigate Augusta. As she came up the river as a pathfinder for the rest of the fleet, she succeeded in overcoming the American forces in the lower fort, which was abandoned, and the men concentrated at Red Bank, where a regular engagement took place. The Augusta, beset by the Continentals in the fort and the river, lost her way and grounded on the flats; terrific fighting ensued, in the midst of which the Augusta’s powder magazine exploded and she sank.“

The New Jersey Daughters raised funds to have the frigate raised and used part of its timbers to panel the New Jersey period room at DAR Headquarters. Some of the remaining wood was then used to fashion a chair for President Taft. Daughters requested that the chair be placed in the room with the portrait of George Washington that Dolley Madison cut out of the frame and saved by during the War of 1812.  President Taft said that as long as he remained in office the chair would be in the room with the portrait.

The Office of the Historian General and the William Howard Taft Historical Site were contacted in an effort to determine what happened to the chair, but no information was available. Someday, someone may find an answer to this DAR mystery.

Image: The New Jersey period room at DAR Headquarters is paneled in wood salvaged from the British ship HMS Augusta.