Mourning Ring

Mourning Ring
The picture below is of a mourning ring in our collection that is believed to contain a lock of hair from George Washington. The oval center is made of glass and contains a knotted lock of hair visible through the glass, and the glass is in a gold setting.
History Behind the Ring
The ring dates to 1800 and is believed to have belonged to Major William Lithgow, who was a friend to Washington. The ring was passed down through the generations, eventually coming into the possession of a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, William Lithgow Willey, who gifted it to the American Independence Museum
General History of Mourning Jewelry
Mourning jewelry was popular between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

In the seventeenth century, Puritans sent gold rings to close family members and friends that often had symbols, such as a winged skull referred to as a “death’s head” or a skeleton.

By the nineteenth century, such symbols had disappeared and the hair of the deceased was incorporated into the jewelry.

Post Mourning Jewelry
Mourning jewelry would begin to fall out of use with the invention of the daguerreotype, which was an early form of photography.

Photography changed the ways in which people commemorated loved ones. Prior to photography, grieving family retained a lock of hair to keep the memory of a person no longer with them.

With photography, family could now keep an image to memorialize a loved one, which shifted mourning culture from jewelry toward momento mori photography in which photographs were taken of a person after they had died, often posed seated in chairs and appearing life-like.