Sale 12BP02 | Lot 129

WASHINGTON, GEORGE Autograph letter signed to James McHenry

Catalogue: Books, Photographs & Prints
WASHINGTON, GEORGE  Autograph letter signed to James McHenry

Lot Details

Lot 129
WASHINGTON, GEORGE Autograph letter signed to James McHenry.
. Philadelphia: 10 December 1783. 1 page autograph letter signed Go: Washington, on a bifolium (watermarked C Taylor), docketed most likely in McHenry's hand on verso: G. Washington/Dec. 10th 1783/Route from N. York to Annapolis/to resign his commission. 8 ¾ x 7 ¼ inches (22 x 18.5 cm). Some small brown stains, usual folds with a few short splits, remnants of mounting to verso of integral blank, this mount present with evidence of age toning.

The full text as follows:

Philadelphia Dec. 10th 1783
Dear Sir,
After seeing the backs of the British Forces turned upon us, and the Executive of the State of New York put into the peaceable possession of their Capitol, I set out for this place. On Monday next I expect to leave the City and by slow traveling arrive at Baltimore on Wednesday, where I will spend one day and then proceed to Annapolis and get translated into a private Citizen.
I am yr affect
Go: Washington

George Washington's wartime aide-de-camp James McHenry of Maryland served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and was a signer of the United States Constitution. He was the United States Secretary of War from 1796 until 1800 under both Presidents George Washington and John Adams. The namesake of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, it was the bombardment of the fort by British warships on the night of September 13th, 1814 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star-Spangled Banner, the original title of which was Defence of Fort McHenry.

George Washington to James McHenry;
Sold in the auction of James McHenry's papers to benefit the Maryland Institution for the Instruction of the Blind. The auction, Autograph Letters of Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Harrison, etc, was conducted by Gibson & Co., Auctioneers on December 15th, 1859. Three annotated copies of this catalogue in the Maryland Historical Society and at Syracuse University were examined and each bears a manuscript note reporting this letter sold to W. Walters of Baltimore for $21. This was Baltimore collector William T. Walters (1819-1894);
By descent to his son Henry Walters (1848-1941);
By descent to his wife Sarah Green Jones Walters (1859-1943);
By descent to her daughter Sadie Jones Pope (1887-1975) (daughter of Sarah and Pembroke Jones; wife of noted Jefferson Memorial architect John Russell Pope);
By descent to her daughter Jane Pope Akers Ridgway (1917-2011)

Literature: Published in Worthington Chauncey Ford (editor). The Writings of George Washington. [New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1890]. Vol. X (1782-1785).

A MAGNIFICENT LETTER WITH A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN PROVENANCE. WASHINGTON WRITES IN HIS FINAL DAYS AS CONTINENTAL COMMANDER TO WARTIME AIDE AND CONFIDANT JAMES McHENRY REPORTING VICTORY OVER THE BRITISH, THE RESTORATION OF NEW YORK, AND HIS INTENTION TO RETIRE FROM PUBLIC SERVICE. After the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the gargantuan task of removing the 29,000 British soldiers, citizens, refugees and military property crowding Manhattan island and New York harbor took place on November 25th, 1783. Washington watched the events of that day from New Jersey and did not enter the city until the British flag was removed and the American flag raised. He then led a triumphant parade down Broadway alongside Governor George Clinton, a strong symbol of restored sovereignty, before gathering his officers for a tear infused farewell at Fraunces Tavern on December 4th. Anxious to return to Mount Vernon after his eight year absence, Washington would travel from New York to Annapolis, where he intended to resign his commission of Commander of the Continental Army. Along his journey, jubilant celebrations erupted, and Washington addressed crowds in New Brunswick and Trenton before reaching Philadelphia. The tight schedule of formal appearances did not allow much time for personal correspondence, but Washington found time to pen this poignant and candid letter to James McHenry on the 10th. Washington is quite candid in his statements to McHenry and proudly reports "seeing the backs of the British forces turned upon us" and having returned the "State of New York [to] the peaceable possession" of its rightful Governor, before announcing his intention to retire in the oft-quoted phrase that he will "get translated into a private Citizen." In this letter Washington acknowledges the greatness of his victory and the newness of his personal state, having in eight years time been transformed from an unhappy Virginia planter to the commander of the revolutionary army, and most importantly, into this startling new entity: a free American citizen.

The letter remained among McHenry's papers until 1859, when it was sold at auction in Baltimore to benefit an institution for the blind. Sold to William T. Walters, the Baltimore industrialist and art collector, the letter descended to his son Henry Walters, who would greatly expand the family collection and would marry Sarah Jones. Jones was instrumental in the formation of the Walters Art Museum after Henry's death in 1931 and the balance of the collection sold at auction. Recently discovered among family papers, the letter has thus remained with the family of the original purchaser since 1859.

C Estate of Jane Akers Ridgway

Estimate: $80,000 - $100,000
Sold for $362,500 (includes buyer's premium)

Additional Notes & Condition Report

Any condition statement is given as a courtesy to a client, is only an opinion and should not be treated as a statement of fact. Doyle New York shall have no responsibility for any error or omission. The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from wear and tear, imperfections or the effects of aging.

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Estimate: $80,000 - $100,000
Sold for $362,500 (includes buyer's premium)

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