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    General Washington writes to General St. Clair

    [Revolutionary War]. George Washington Letter Signed "Go: Washington" as commander in chief of the Continental Army. One page, 7.5" x 12.25", Morristown, February 2, 1780, to Major General Arthur St. Clair during what turned would be the coldest winter of the eighteenth century. He writes to St. Clair, in full:

    "I have received your 2d letter of this date. As I wrote you this forenoon I leave the Enterprise in view entirely with You and the execution to be attempted or not as you may judge proper from a full consideration of all circumstances, the intelligence you have received, and the character of the persons who gave it. If it should appear to you that there is a strong probability of its succeeding the experiment can be made. If not, it may be best not to undertake it.

    "The Dragoon has Two or Three bundles of prepared combustibles in charge and some port fires."

    It is possible that Washington is here giving his assent to attack the Loyalist New Jersey Volunteers of Abraham Van Buskirk who were then stationed on Staten Island. The expedition was ultimately abandoned. In "The St. Clair Papers," author William Henry Smith adds a footnote regarding the "Enterprise" which Washington is referring. "As the letter of St. Clair to which the above refers is missing, it is impossible to tell the nature of the information he had received, and the enterprise he designed based upon it. The probability is that it was to be an attempt to surprise some post of the enemy. The letter of St. Clair to Washington, February 7, may give a clue to the design." (The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair. Volume 1, page 497)

    Three years earlier, St. Clair was tasked with the defense of Fort Ticonderoga whose purpose was to deter a British invasion of New England from Canada. British General John Burgoyne laid "siege" to the fort with a force that outnumbered the Continentals nearly three to one. St. Clair was forced to evacuate the fort four days later. Under cover of night, the Continentals loaded 200 boats with all the men and supplies they could take and headed up river for Skenesboro. St. Clair was subsequently court martialed, but was found not guilty on all charges and was returned to duty, but did not hold a further field command.

    This letter is found on page 480 in "The Writings of Washington, Vol. 17, October 1779-February 1780" with one minor discrepancy. The last line of the transcription in "Writings" reads: "The Dragoon has Two or Three bundles of prepared combustibles in charge and some Two Dozen port fires." It is presumed that the inconsistency stems from the various copies that were made of official correspondence.

    The letter exhibits some light to moderate toning. Ghosting from a wax seal present near left edge. Washington's signature is large and bold.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2012
    4th-5th Thursday-Friday
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