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    John Hancock writes George Washington in August 1776 concerning British peace overtures

    John Hancock Autograph Letter Signed "John Hancock Prest." and addressed "To Genl. Washington." One page, 8" x 8.75", "Congress Chamb[er Philadelphia]," "3 oClock PM" August 20, 1776. On the day that British General William Howe threateningly landed 15,000 troops on Staten Island, Continental Congress President John Hancock responds to General George Washington about messages of peace. In full:

    "Your Letter by Express with its several Inclosures I yesterday Rec'd, & yours by Post this moment come to hand; I have laid the whole before Congress, & am directed to keep the Express; I shall therefore only by the Return of the Post Inclose you Two Commissions which please to order to be Deliver'd; Referring all other matters to be Sent by the Express."

    Earlier on June 29, 1776, a large British force under General William Howe had arrived in New York harbor, consisting of 30,000 soldiers and thirty battleships which, the British general hoped, would bring the rebellious Americans to prefer peace rather than war. Known to be responsive to the Americans, Howe had been authorized by King George to deal with American grievances. But the day before the British force's arrival, Thomas Jefferson had presented his draft of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress, which was under the leadership of John Hancock. Experienced in leading legislative bodies, the wealthy Hancock had been unanimously elected president of the congress one month earlier. Under his leadership, the American congress, representing all thirteen colonies, accepted Jefferson's declaration on July 4 (though they didn't actually sign the document until August 2).

    British conciliatory efforts throughout July and into August were unfruitful, but on August 17, Lord Drummond (John Murray) sent General Washington several documents and letters containing overtures of peace, including a letter from Admiral Richard Howe, the brother of William Howe. Upon receiving the letters in the afternoon, Washington immediately wrote Lord Drummond, "I shall, by Express, forward to Congress your Lordship's Letter and the Papers which accompanied it; The Result will be communicated as soon as possible." The following day, he sent the letters to Hancock with a letter reading, "I have the Honor to inclose you for the perusal and consideration of Congress, sundry papers marked No. 1 to No. 7. inclusive, the whole of which, except No. 2 and 7, my Answer to Lord Drummond and General Howe, I received Yesterday Evening by a Flag, and to which I beg leave to refer Congress." Washington's letter, along with the papers from Lord Drummond and Admiral Howe, arrived to congress in Philadelphia on August 20. A committee, consisting of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Rutledge, William Hooper, and John Adams, was immediately formed to look into the matter, but before they made the recommendation to send a delegation to meet British representatives, John Hancock wrote this letter to Washington. Meanwhile, British soldiers were already on their way to Staten Island and seven days later, those same soldiers engaged General Washington's force at the Battle of Long Island. The American peace delegation finally met Howe on September 11, but because the Americans refused to withdraw their declaration of independence, the war continued. This document is toned - unevenly in places - with smoothed folds. Reinforced on the verso with rice paper. Ink burn exists in "Hancock," though it has been nicely repaired with the rice paper.




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    Auction Dates
    April, 2011
    8th-9th Friday-Saturday
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