Lot 214: 1781 Continental Congressman and Secrect Agent William Carmichael ALS to Elbridge Gerry

Early American

December 10, 2016, 9:00 AM PST
Rancho Santa Fe, CA, US
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Description: American Revolution
1781 Important Content Continental Congressman William Carmichael Autograph Letter to (Signer) Elbridge Gerry, with 12-Line Autograph Endorsement by Gerry
WILLIAM CARMICHAEL (c. 1739-1795). American Statesman and Diplomat from Maryland during and after the Revolutionary War, made a "Secrect Agent" by Congress in 1776, participated in Benjamin Franklin's mission to Paris in 1776-8, represented Maryland in the Continental Congress in 1778 and 1779 and U.S. Representative in Spain, and was the Principal Diplomat United States Charg d'Affaires in Spain from 1782 to 1794.
March 1, 1781-Dated Revolutionary War Period, Important Content Autograph Letter Signed, "W. Carmichael," 12 pages, measuring 7.75" x 9", Choice Very Fine. In this extensive Letter written from Madrid, Spain, Continental Congress Member William Carmichael writes to Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and 5th Vice President under James Madison), providing him extended insight and views of the politics of the Court of Spain, of Europe, and their disposition towards America. He evokes John Jay (then the Acting United States Charg d'Affaires in Spain), John Adams, Silas Deane, Arthur Lee and others. Writing is precise, clear and dark on fine quality period laid paper that is clean and in nice condition. Located on the final page is a 12-line Autograph Endorsement by Elbridge Gerry, in which he acknowledges receipt, and dates of the Letter, and of his response. This remarkable, very important historic Letter regarding his European intelligence report reads, in part:

"The situation of Europe is critical at present and puzzles much better politicians than myself to divine what it will be some months hence. Prussia who had the armed Neutrality hath not yet taken a decided part & to retard this, the Emperor hath prepared his mediation Jointly with the Empress to terminate the present disputes. This offer I believe is not well timed nor at Bottom is it well received. I have been assured that our friends will make our Independence the basis of their acceptation of it..." Twelve additional pages of important content follow!
WILLIAM CARMICHAEL (c. 1739-1795) was born sometime around 1739 at the family home (Round Top) in Queen Anne's County, Maryland, on the Chester River just opposite Chestertown. Apparently, he was sent to Europe for his education, at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

He was living in Chestertown in 1774, and was a member of its Committee of Correspondence during the local controversy over dutiable tea (the so-called "Chestertown Tea Party"). But by the time the Revolutionary War began, he had decamped to London, England, and soon after, in 1776, made his way to Paris, carrying letters to the Continental Congress sewn inside the cover of a pocket dictionary.

In 1776 the Congress named Carmichael as a Secret Agent, first as an assistant to Silas Deane. He is credited with befriending the Marquis de Lafayette and recruiting the teenage aristocrat to the American cause; when Lafayette traveled to America, he carried with him a letter of introduction from Carmichael to George Washington's aide Tench Tilghman, a fellow Marylander from the Eastern Shore. Carmichael later represented American interests at the court of Frederick II of Prussia in Berlin. He returned to America in February 1778 and the Maryland Assembly sent him as a delegate to the Continental Congress.

Carmichael clashed repeatedly with many of his fellow countrymen, particularly Arthur Lee and John Jay, and his tenure in Congress was a brief and stormy one. His true milieu was the world of European courts and high society, and his principal value to his native country was as an astute and well-informed observer of European political intrigues. In 1779, then, Carmichael returned to the Old World, this time to Madrid as a diplomatic representative to Spain for the United States. At first, he was Secretary to the Legation headed by John Jay. When Jay returned in April 1782 Carmichael became Charg d'Affaires, remaining in this post at the Spanish royal court until illness forced his replacement in 1794.

In 1792, President George Washington appointed Carmichael a commissioner plenipotentiary (together with William Short) to negotiate a treaty with Spain protecting American navigation rights to the Mississippi River. The treaty was concluded shortly after Carmichael's death, and became known as the Treaty of San Lorenzo or Pinckney's Treaty, Thomas Pinckney having stepped in to complete the negotiations. Carmichael was also involved in negotiations to free American mariners who had been taken captive by the Dey of Algiers, a situation that later led to the Barbary Wars.

William Carmichael died in Madrid, Spain on February 9, 1795 and is buried in the Protestant cemetery there. He left a Spanish wife and daughter, who returned to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and were eventually compensated by the U.S. Congress for Carmichael's services.
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