I found the Phoenix button in my back yard! It is rare to find one in the eastern US.
Henry Christophe became the king of Haiti in 1807. For 12 years prior to these Haitian slaves revolted against their European masters and in this timeframe defeated the English, Spanish and French. In 1802 the French anchored 225 ships in the harbor with 60,000 troops to put down the revolt. The Haitians were greatly outmanned and outgunned, but somehow managed to defeat the French, and by 1803 the French army was spent. Thomas Jefferson quickly took advantage of Napoleon and a French army in desperate need of cash, and convinced him to sell the Louisiana territory for 15 million dollars. Known as the Louisiana Purchase, this was probably the greatest land bargain in history.
Christophe reigned as king until 1820 when he became ill, and was too weak to put down a coup. He committed suicide that same year. The phoenix was Christophe’s coat of arms. All of his troops were outfitted with uniform buttons and buckles with this phoenix design. The numbers at the bottom of the buttons denoted the regiment number. The buttons are numbered 1-30 with 11-13, 15-19 and 21-24 being skipped. There is no concrete evidence of why these numbers were skipped. One theory is they were skipped intentionally to fool enemies into believing the army was larger than it really was.
At this point the history of the Phoenix Button becomes somewhat cloudy. After Christophe’s death the button maker or maker’s apparently sold the undelivered buttons to a trading company bound for the West Coast of the United States. Very little information is available about the manufacturer of these buttons. The only buttons with back marks are the ball variety, and allure back marked “BUSHBY LONDON.” No records have been found on this English company, so whether they were the only maker is unclear.
Nathaniel Wyeth a trader of the time was in the process of setting up a trading post on Sauvies Islandnear present day Portland, Oregon. It is generally accepted that he was the one that the buttons were sold to in England. One of the ships believed to be carrying the buttons made a stop in Hawaii, and one of the buttons was found in Hawaii several years ago. The mysterious thing is, the regimental number on the button has never been found anywhere else.
Almost all of the buttons made their way to Wyeth’s trading post. Here they were believed to be traded to the Indians for furs and salmon. The Indians in turn traded with other tribes, and eventually the buttons made their way up and down the West Coast. The buttons have been found at period sites from Alaska to Southern California. Of the 10 or so buttons that have been reported east of the Rocky Mountains, 3 have come from Virginia. Why this is, is anyone’s guess. The remaining buttons have been single finds in various states. These single losses could easily be explained as being lost by people making their way back from the West Coast. However, the 3 in Virginia would suggest some kind of link between the original source and Virginia.
Much of the accepted theory on the Phoenix Buttons can be accredited to Emory Strong, who was a button collector and amateur archaeologist from the Portland Oregon area. He passed away several years ago, and not much research has been done since. He devised a system to describe the buttons based on the different types. The disc style buttons came in 3 sizes: 17, 25 and 26mm, and were made of polished brass. They were 1 piece die stamped brass buttons with a soldered back loop. The ball variety came in two sizes; 13 and 17mm and were made of copper with a silver gilting. Strong’s system puts the buttons into 3 types, with typeI and II having 3 styles. Type I is the button found most, and all of the photos in this article are type I except the ball variety. Type 2 is similar totype I except between the bird and regiment number is a crossed cannon and mortar. Type III is the ball variety of button. The system was designed to describe a button without having to write all of the details out. Example:II3s2 would be a type II, style 3 small, regiment number 2