University Archives


Civil War Presentation Sword for a Jewish Soldier Who Championed African American Causes

[CIVIL WAR SWORD.] Presentation Officer’s Sword and Scabbard presented to Jacob S. Menken by the National Light Guard, May 28, 1861, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Historical Background
Members of his company presented this sword to Captain Jacob S. Menken on May 28, 1861, in Cincinnati. The following day, the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune reported on the event:
“Another of those interesting incidents in the life of a soldier took place last evening at the Armory of the National Light Guard, Second Regiment of the Reserve Militia, on the occasion of the presentation of a handsome sword to Capt. Menken of that company. About 9 o’clock, the company being at an ‘open rank,’ Sergent Morgan stepped forward, and in a few well timed remarks, made the presentation, to which the gallant Captain responded in a short speech abounding with patriotism and expressions of devotion to our cause of Union. After the conclusion of the Captain’s speech the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and ‘Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,’ were sung with considerable effect, by a couple of the members of the company, when the regular drill of the company was proceeded with. “The sword is a handsome specimen of the ‘Regulation,’ and bears the following inscription: ‘Presented to Captain J. S. Menken by the National Light Guard, Cincinnati, May 28th, 1861.’”

Jacob Stanwood Menken (1838-1925) was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, into a Jewish family, the youngest son of Solomon Menken, who had immigrated from Holland in 1826 and became a merchant in Cincinnati. Jacob S. Menken was educated at St. Xavier College in Cincinnati and joined his father’s business at the age of sixteen. In 1858, he joined his father and brothers as a partner in S. Menken & Sons, which failed in 1861. Menken served briefly as a captain of the 27th Ohio Infantry from August 1861 until he was discharged with malarial fever in 1862. In 1863, he established a dry-goods business in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1865, he married Rachel Hart (d. 1930), and two of his brothers joined him in the Menken Brothers mercantile business. One brother died of yellow fever in 1878, and Menken and his wife adopted his brother’s five children. When the other brother retired in 1886, the firm was reorganized as J. S. Menken Company. By the 1890s, it employed more than 300 salesmen and clerks. In 1886, he organized the first free kindergarten in Memphis, and in 1894 the first one exclusively for African American children. He also served as president of the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society and helped establish the first Russian Jewish colony in the United States in Louisiana. His oldest brother Alexander Isaac Menken (d. 1874) married the famous and infamous actress Adah Isaacs Menken (1835-1868) in 1858 (the second of her five husbands), but the marriage was soon dissolved by a rabbinical diploma.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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