Mercy Otis Warren brooch
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This brooch contains a lock of hair of Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814). Abigail Adams (1744-1818) had the piece made as a token of their renewed friendship.
In the years before the Revolutionary War began, John and Abigail Adams became close friends with James and Mercy (Otis) Warren. All were deeply committed to the patriot cause, serving with their individual talents. As John became, first, a domestic statesman and, later, a diplomat for the new republic, Mercy turned her literary skills to composing the first history of the unprecedented events taking place.
In 1805, however, when Mercy published her three-volume history of the Revolution, she presented an unflattering picture of John, who had finished his term as president of the country in 1801. The ensuing dialog between the former friends resulted in a rift that set John and Abigail bitterly apart from Mercy (James died in 1808). The estrangement lasted until 1812, when a mutual acquaintance was able to effect a rapprochment.
Later that year, Abigail had a ring and brooch made to celebrate the renewal of their close friendship. "With this letter I forward to you a token of love and friendship," Abigail wrote to Mercy. "I hope it will not be the less valuable to you for combining, with a lock of my own hair, that of your ancient friend's, at his request. The lock of hair with which you favored me from a head which I shall ever respect, I have placed in a handkerchief pin, set with pearl, in the same manner with the ring. I shall hold it precious." In January, Mercy replied, "A token of love and friendship. What can be more acceptable to a mind of susceptibility?"
Although these are not mourning objects, the style that Abigail chose for the set would not have been unusual for hair mementos also used for mourning at the time, and the brooch certainly would have become a memorial object after Mercy died in 1814. Both items are constructed of gold with cabochon crystals over the hair memento and surrounds made up of pearls. On the brooch, a border of 35 pearls and an inner band of gold coil surround the crystal, which encloses braided hair and the gold cipher initials MW. The ring presents a square crystal bordered by 19 pearls and has an open, split shank fashionable in the earlier part of the 19th century. Mounted under the crystal are several strands of dark hair over a background of tightly woven, ivory colored fabric, with the gold foil initials JAA atop, combining Abigail's and John's names.
The above description is from In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry. By Sarah Nehama. Prefaces by Sarah Nehama and Anne E. Bentley. University of Virginia Press. 2012.