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    George Washington Autograph Letter Signed "Go:Washington," one page, 7.75" x 10.5". Camp at Cambridge, September 14, 1775. Addressed on verso by Washington to "Miss Anna Maria Clifton/Fourth Street/Philadelphia," noted by him in the lower left, "Favourd/by/Captn Willing." General Washington writes, in full, "Madam, I am sorry that the cruel necessity of the time should cause you to receive a Letter thro' my hands, open, - the only appology [sic] I can make for it is, that all Letters which pass the Lines In, or out, of Boston, do, in consequence of general orders to the officers Commanding at those Posts, undergo an Inspection; and that Captn. Ellis's Letter to you had met with this fate before it got to my hands. I have only to add, that with the greatest respect & esteem I have the honr. to be Yr. most Obedt. & Most Hble. Servt. Go:Washington." Captain James Willing, later captured by the British and exchanged, was from Philadelphia and hand-delivered this letter to Miss Clifton.

    On April 19, 1775, British and American soldiers exchanged fire in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord and the American Revolution had begun. Two months later, on June 17, 1775, the Continental Congress appointed George Washington "General and Commander in chief, of the army of the United Colonies." General Washington arrived at his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on July 3, 1775 and assumed command. In addition to an inexperienced, undisciplined army, he struggled with numerous problems, writing to Congress about the "great Disadvantages for want of Tents" and his "dependence on a number of Persons for supplies" (July 10th), "Want of Vegetables and fresh meat" (July 20th), the "scarcity of ammunition" (August 31st), and his "request that more Money may be forwarded with all Expedition; the Military Chest being nearly exhausted" (September 7th). On September 30th, Congress appointed a delegation of three of its members, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Harrison, and Thomas Lynch, Sr., to meet with Washington at his Camp at Cambridge "in order to consult with him, touching the most effectual method of continuing, supporting, and regulating a continental army." They arrived at Cambridge on October 15th.

    From his arrival until he wrote this letter on September 14, 1775, General Washington had issued 61 General Orders to his troops. He also wrote another letter that same day, to Colonel Benedict Arnold, ordering him to lead an invasion of British-held Quebec, with a list of 14 specific instructions. Both were signed by Washington but not handwritten as was this letter to Miss Clifton. Why then would the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army handwrite a letter of apology to a lady for censoring her letter? Who was Miss Anna Maria Clifton? By her address, we know she lived on Fourth Street in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin lived with his daughter Sarah ("Sally") and son-in-law Richard Bache off High (now Market) Street, between Third and Fourth Streets. A friend of the Franklin family and other prominent Philadelphians, Miss Clifton was a social acquaintance of Franklin and looked after the Franklin household and furniture when Franklin was in Europe and the Baches were out of town. No doubt when she received the letter from Captain Ellis and saw that it had been opened, she complained to her friend Benjamin Franklin who had been appointed the first "Postmaster General for the United Colonies" on July 26th. Franklin then got word to Washington about the problem and the General handwrote this letter of apology to Miss Clifton beginning with "I am sorry." In a letter Anna Maria Clifton (1740-1811) wrote to the widowed Franklin in Paris on March 4, 1777, she penned, "I wish I was with you in Europe." She never married.

    This letter, in very good condition, is not published in Fitzpatrick. It has been tipped at the left edge to a 10.25" x 14" sheet. Four holes in the paper in blank areas, where the two vertical and two horizontal folds meet when the letter was folded by Washington and addressed, just nicking two letters, have been expertly repaired on verso. A tear from one of the holes, also repaired, passes through two letters of Washington's handwriting and the upper loop of the "G" in Washington's bold signature. Remarkably present on the verso of the letter is George Washington's 1" x 1.25" red wax seal depicting his coat of arms, minutely cracked but completely intact. George Washington inherited his arms from a long line of Washingtons stretching back into the Middle Ages in northern England. Records show that by 1346, the seal of Sir William IV de Wessyngton (later, Washington) had the design of two horizontal bars below three five-pointed stars, distinctly visible in this seal. Accompanied by a bust steel engraving of Washington, in uniform with epaulettes, 10.25" x 14", image 4.25" x 4" with facsimile signature. The image is noted to be from a "Private Plate" and was engraved "by H.B. Hall, Morrisania, N.Y. from the Original by Col.Trumbull." This letter of apology by General Washington, in the early months of the American Revolution before independence, would make a spectacular addition to a military or presidential collection.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2007
    16th-17th Monday-Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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