Lot 61: [AMERICAN REVOLUTION] WASHINGTON, GEORGE. Important 1776 letter signed to the New York Committee of Safety. [New York: 17 Ap...
January 11, 2017
New York, NY, USALive Auction
WASHINGTON, GEORGE. Important 1776 letter signed to the New York Committee of Safety. [New York: 17 April 1776]. Four page manuscript letter on a bifolium, the text in the hand of aide William Palfrey and signed on the final leaf by Washington, the letter to the New York Committee of Safety [this known from the letter book copy in which this letter is addressed to William Paulding, chairman of the committee], and below Washington's signature is a four line note from the committee calling a meeting in response to the letter. 8 3/8 x 7 1/4 inches. Nicely presented in a double-sided frame with portraits of Washington and Benjamin Franklin to the recto (this letter once thought to be in the hand of Franklin) and a view of Mount Vernon and the printed text of the letter to verso. Well preserved overall but the first and fourth pages lightly faded and with a faint old stain at center fold mostly at foot darkening some text and the signature, small punctures at fold points, unexamined out of frame.
IN THIS STIRRINGLY PATRIOTIC 1776 LETTER, WASHINGTON DEMANDS THE CITIZENS OF NEW YORK STOP SUPPLYING PROVISIONS TO BRITISH SHIPS OF WAR IN NEW YORK HARBOR. Washington, as commander in chief of the Continental Army, spent much of 1775 and early 1776 in Massachusetts, and upon the British evacuation of Boston ordered much of the army to New York where he arrived on April 4th. Once in the city, Washington was very much suprised to learn that New York's Provincial Congress and the Committee of Safety continued to allow local merchants to supply provisions to the British ships anchored in New York Harbor as long as the British allowed ships importing goods to the city to pass unmolested. Washington points out the "glaring absurdity of such procedure" and to support his strong conviction, philosophically asks if New York is in a state of peace or war with Great Britain: "If the former why are our Ports shut up-Our Trade destroyed-Our property seized-Our Towns burnt, and our worthy and valuable Citizens led into Captivity & suffering the most cruel hardships? If the latter, my imagination is not fertile enough to suggest a reason in support of the intercourse." He continues reporting that while the weak state of New York's defenses once made these exchanges with the British necessary and even prudent, the defenses are now much improved and thus "the advantages of an intercourse of this kind are altogether on the side of the Enemy, whilst we derive not the smallest benefit from it" and further warns against the delivery of intelligence to the enemy by the merchants. Washington requests a" total Stop to all future Correspondence with the Enemy" and that of the committee he is "relying upon your Zeal and attachment to the Cause of American Liberty for your assistance in putting a Stop to this Evil." Washington also warns of the wider affect the exchanges with the British could have on the fragile unity among the American colonies as the "World is apt to judge from appearances, and while such Correspondence exists the reputation of the whole Colony will suffer in the Eyes of their American Bretheren" and suggests punishment for those who would continue these activities. A hurried note at the foot of the letter orders the committee to meet the next morning and by the end of April communication with the enemy was forbidden. AN EVOCATIVE LETTER FROM THE CRUCIAL PERIOD BEFORE THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE AND THE BATTLE OF LONG ISLAND.
C The Nelson Doubleday, Jr. Collection
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