Treasure Chest Thursday: The Hidden Sword Blade Guard in a Secret Compartment of Grace McClellan’s Sideboard

In 1969, after the passing of Nana Grace (Hanson) McClellan, a large wooden sideboard from her house was moved next door to her granddaughter Edna’s home, where it has sat by the kitchen table for 43 years. This month, Edna gave the sideboard to her daughter Debbie, and a small group of family members gathered to help maneuver the heavy piece of furniture. As they cleared out the sideboard of possessions that had accumulated over the years, they uncovered a false back in one of the drawers, which was moved to reveal a small hidden compartment. Neither Edna nor anyone in the family had ever known of the compartment’s existence since its arrival in 1969.

Imagine the surprise, then, to open the compartment and discover this little treasure sitting inside:

Brass object discovered in a hidden compartment in Nana McClellan’s sideboard. Photograph courtesy of Don Blauss.

The object was made out of brass, with a design featuring an eagle with six arrows behind the eagle and a narrow arm with a floral design along the arm. It’s the handle and blade guard to a sword – with the sword missing, of course.

Back side of the brass sword handle and blade guard. Photo courtesy of Don Blauss.

Grace (Hanson) McClellan acquired the sideboard from Daniel Waldo Field, the Brockton shoe manufacturer and philanthropist, who died in 1944. Although the exact date of purchase is uncertain, it probably occurred between 31 January 1920 (when Grace Hanson of Whitman, Mass. married Roderic McClellan of Hanson, Mass.) and the death of D. W. Field in 1944.

With that piece of provenance, there are four probable scenarios for who originally owned the blade guard (and missing sword):

1) An ancestor of Grace (Hanson) McClellan (1886-1969)

2) An ancestor of Roderic McClellan (1882-1962), the husband of Grace (Hanson) McClellan

3) An ancestor of Edith (Ramsdell) McClellan (1883-1918), the first wife of Roderic McClellan

4) An ancestor of Daniel Waldo Field (1856-1944). This seems unlikely if the sideboard was sold during his lifetime, because he presumably would have known that the piece was hidden in the compartment. However, if it was sold perhaps as part of his estate after his decease, its possible that his heirs were not aware that it was hidden.

Additionally, there’s the chance that Roderic and Grace McClellan or Daniel Waldo Field picked up the piece as a curiosity and hid it away, although the hidden nature of the compartment suggests it held value – sentimentally or financially. And it’s also possible that someone owned the sideboard prior to D. W. Field, though the chances of it remaining undiscovered during so many moves over the years seems unlikely.

Closeup of blade guard. Photo courtesy of Don Blauss.
Closeup of the top of the blade guard, including the hole where the sword used to sit. Photo courtesy of Don Blauss.


Base of the handle and blade guard. Photo courtesy of Don Blauss.

The eagle with six arrows behind it certainly suggests a military decoration, such as the federal war eagle. A search for similar blade guards online resulted in some similiar matches, such as this blade guard attached to a Spanish-American War sword for a New York officer:

sword was presented to First Lieutenant Alfred Somerset Orchard Commanding Company D 23rd Regiment National Guard of the State of New York on the occasion of his promotion. Courtesy of Specialist Auctions.

A Civil War era Calvary officer’s blade guard had a similiar eagle with six arrows:

Civil War era Calvary Officer’s Sword. Courtesy of Civil War Preservations.

But without any maker’s mark or inscribed date on the brass guard, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact era of the sword. If anyone can locate another guard with the exact same design with a known provenance, that would be extremely useful in helping to solve the mystery of the guard’s original owner.

But assuming that the sword could possibly date to World War I (1917-1918 for U.S.), the Spanish American War (1898), or the Civil War (1861-1865), let’s revisit the four possible owners.

1) An ancestor of Grace (Hanson) McClellan (1886-1969). Grace Hanson was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland to John F. Hanson and Lila Cody and orphaned when she was a teenager. She then went to live in the household of her maternal aunt Margaret (Cody) Andrews and Fred Andrews in Brockton, Massachusetts, where she became a schoolteacher. Little is known about her father, but according to the 1910 Census, he was born in England, and if he was a similar age to his wife Lila Cody (b. ca. 1864, Maryland), he was too young for service in the Civil War. It is uncertain if he was alive for the Spanish American War – the family has not yet been identified in the 1900 Census. So with just those bare facts, he seems an unlikely candidate for the original sword owner. Lila (Cody) Hanson’s father, Martin Cody, was probably the 39 year old “Martin Codey” who enlisted from Baltimore as a private on probably in June 1863 in Company G, 10th Regiment Infantry of Maryland Volunteers for a six month term, but likely never reported for duty when his information was filed 10 July 1863, since he was listed as AWOL on 5 July 1863 and by October 1863 was classified as deserted. Since he enlisted but probably did not report for duty, it is unlikely he received a uniform or weaponry. Additionally, he had two eldest sons, and several of his daughters moved and married in Massachusetts, so any of those children would probably more likely to inherit war mementoes than his orphaned granddaughter Grace Elizabeth Hanson would have. Therefore, Grace (Hanson) McClellan and her immediate ancestors can probably be eliminated as the original owner of the sword, if it indeed dates to Civil War, Spanish American War, or World War I military service.

2) An ancestor of Roderic McClellan (1882-1962), the husband of Grace (Hanson) McClellan. Roderic himself served in the Massachusetts State Guard during WWI, a duty sergeant of N Company in the Fourteenth Regiment of Infantry, which was disbanded on 18 December 1918. He was the top-ranking sharpshooter in his company during that time. However, there is no evidence that he was issued a sword.

Roderic McClellan in uniform. Duty Sergeant, Company N, 14th Regiment of the Massachusetts State Guard. Circa August 1918.

Roderic’s father, George McClellan (1848-1912), was from Nova Scotia and living in Canada during the Civil War (and too young to serve) and had abandoned his wife and children in the 1890s and did not serve in the Spanish American War. His paternal grandfather Dougald McClellan lived in Canada and had died by the American Civil War. His maternal grandfather, Barnabas Everson, did not serve in the Civil War and died before the Spanish American War. Therefore, Roderic McClellan and his immediate ancestors can be eliminated as the original owner of the sword, if it indeed dates to Civil War, Spanish American War, or World War I military service.

3) An ancestor of Edith (Ramsdell) McClellan (1883-1918), the first wife of Roderic McClellan. Roderic McClellan married Grace Elizabeth Hanson in 1920, two years after the death of his first wife, Edith May Ramsdell, who died in 1918 during the Spanish influenza epidemic. Her father, Edgar O. Ramsdell (1863-1899) was too young for Civil War service and did not serve in the Spanish American War. Her paternal grandfather, John Brooks Ramsdell (1819-1895) did not serve in the Civil War and died before the Spanish American War. Her maternal grandfather, Caleb Francs Wright (1828-1907) registered for the Civil War Draft in June 1863, but did not serve in the Civil War or Spanish American War.

4) An ancestor of Daniel Waldo Field (1856-1944). D.W. Field was too young for service in the Civil War, and his father, William Lawrence Field (1828-1914) did not serve. D. W. Field married Rosa A. Howes of Barnstable in 1879. Her father, Philip Howes (1811-1867), also did not serve in the Civil War.

So unfortunately, that provides no likely suspects for the original owner of the sword. Perhaps if more details come to light about the provenance of the sword, or if anyone can help to date the sword more precisely, further details can be brought to light.


7 thoughts on “Treasure Chest Thursday: The Hidden Sword Blade Guard in a Secret Compartment of Grace McClellan’s Sideboard

  1. What a fascinating mystery you have here. While I’ll be no help in identifying the piece or its proper time frame, I do have a couple suggestions. I ran into a problem in my own family history research in which I found a photograph (cabinet card era) with a military uniform I couldn’t identify. I wrote a blog post on it–as you have done–but then I visited the various genealogy forums, mentioning my dilemma, the link to the blog post’s further details, and that the blog post included photographs. I got a lot of visitors to that blog post from genealogy forum readers…and eventually someone left a comment with the correct identifying information. I might add that I posted my query in the specific forums that specialize in military subjects such as uniforms, to target my query to those who’d best know the answer.

    Another suggestion, if you are on Twitter: mention your “mystery” post in a few tweets scattered throughout different parts of the day–morning, noon, late night–to catch more readers, including a shortened hyperlink to this post. Or do a second tweet with a question about identifying the item. See if there are hashtag labels to include in your message that would target your tweet more effectively. Perhaps that way, you will find someone who is more expert in such military details than your general blog readership might be.

    Best wishes in solving your mystery–which will make for an excellent follow up post!

  2. My curiosity is peaked as I have a branch of my tree from the Brockton area and I might even be distantly related to Daniel Waldo Field. What an interesting mystery to solve.

    1. John, do you know any history about the sword that you own that might be helpful to further identifying it?

      1. Thank you. I can reply by saying that this sword is in very good condition. It is a stamped blade with the year 1865. Also, with “Grand Army Of The Republic” (GAR).” The Scabbard (Sheathe) has the initials “B H F” which is my guess, the officers initials. Also, the blade is stamped with, “Made by: WM Read,Boston, Mass.


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