The trip had been bittersweet for Thomas Lynch.
A member of the Second Continental Congress, the South Carolina planter had traveled all the way to Philadelphia to cast a historic vote for the colonies to break with mother England. But a stroke had paralyzed his hand, preventing him from signing this Declaration of Independence.
His only consolation was that his son, Thomas Lynch Jr. — also a member of the congress — signed the document in his place.
When he set out for his Lowcountry home, Hopsewee Plantation, the illness finally took him. Lynch died in Annapolis, and left behind a mystery that has surfaced after more than two centuries.
At the Charleston International Antiques Show this weekend, a dealer specializing in early American silver will offer for sale the gold mourning ring Lynch wore in the last years of his life.
Lynch wore the ring to remember Elizabeth
Allston Lynch, his first wife and the mother of three of his children. She was born in 1728, married in 1745 and died in 1750.
"The Lynch family in particular played a key role in our country's fight for independence," says Leigh Handal, director of communications and public programs at Historic Charleston Foundation. "To my knowledge, no one in Charleston even knew this artifact existed, so to be able to bring such an important piece of the Lowcountry's history back home to Charleston is incredible."
Mourning rings were not common, restricted mainly to well-to-do families who could afford the unique jewelry. Lynch wore the ring even though he remarried after Elizabeth died.
Who took the ring, and why?
"It comes from a person who bought it in Annapolis about 20 years ago," says Mark Gaines, an antiques dealer. "It may have been given in lieu of payment for doctor's services. There's no way of telling, really, but it's certainly plausible."
The family that has held the ring for most of the last 200 years certainly knew its historical significance. More than a century ago the ring was placed in a shadow box, which includes a brief inscription noting that the ring was worn by Thomas Lynch in honor of his wife, the mother of a Declaration of Independence signer.
The ring is gold with tiny inscriptions, almost indecipherable to the naked eye. It suggests Elizabeth Allston Lynch died in November 1750, when her son was just a year old. The stone in its center is paste, not a real gemstone.
Gaines would not disclose the asking price for the ring, saying that he was still working out the price with the owners. He is serving as a broker.
"First of all, it's a pre-revolutionary South Carolina item," Gaines said. "I'd classify it as fairly important."
Bart Mullin, a local appraiser with Bart Mullin Appraisal Co. and Read and Mullin Appraisals, says that recently 18th century mourning rings have sold at auction for between $500 and $2,000. But a lot of the value in objects like this one is in its historical connections. For instance, George Washington memorial rings — somewhat similar to mourning rings — have sold at auction for more than $500,000.
Deciding an exact value for Lynch's mourning ring is difficult.
"A lot of the importance of it would be the provenance to Charleston," Mullin said.
Handal, who guarded the ring earlier this week, says that it's safe to say it is simply "priceless."
Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or email@example.com