An anonymous letter from 1 March 1792, penned by a concerned Citizen from Georgia, described the United States as “disgraced & unnecessarily impoverished.” Albeit brief, the phrase mirrors the foreboding mood of the following spring and summer. As the end of his first presidential term approached, George Washington navigated an increasingly precarious conflict at home with the Native American nations along the western frontier while simultaneously steering the country through a tempestuous international situation precipitated by the French Revolution. In addition to handling complex political circumstances and issuing the first presidential veto in United States history, he managed personal projects, the foremost being assistance with the creation of a family genealogy and supervising the planning of the new federal capital.
April 1776 marked almost a year since Gen. George Washington took command of the Continental army, a critical time for the relatively untested general. Bookended by GW’s successful capture of Boston and the news of the arrival of British troops in New York, the documents in the fourth volume of the Revolutionary War Series cover topics ranging from outbreaks of smallpox among Continental soldiers to assassination attempts on influential members of the army. Perhaps most importantly, it details GW’s struggles as a man and a leader to guide his troops fairly and firmly to victory in the hard-fought battle for independence.
The weak and inefficient government under the Articles of Confederation tested George Washington’s renowned patience and restraint. As shown in the fourth volume of this series, the still young nation experienced a trying and uncertain time. Unfavorable attitudes toward the government in April 1786 became much harsher over the progressing months. A substantial contributor to the growing public unease was the prolonged rebellion in Massachusetts from August 1786 through February 1787.
The Revolutionary War series opens with George Washington’s Address to the Continental Congress on 16 June in which he declares, “I do not think my self equal to the Command I (am) honored with.” Throughout the documents that cover the three months between 16 June and 15 Sept., the new commanding general grapples with uncertainty. He doubts his own abilities as well as the competence of the forces he now leads.
Documents in the first volume of the Colonial Series tell a coming-of-age story that showcase George Washington’s rapid transformation from 1748 to 1755. GW began his career working as a professional surveyor on the frontier, then the fringe of his society, but in less than five years became one of Virginia’s most distinguished soldiers. What started as quiet adolescence in the country with a comfortable occupation turned into the tale of a young man confronting the dangers of a military career while caught in the middle of a burgeoning conflict and political intrigues.
An unfortunate understanding persists that George Washington achieved greatness through his magnificent character despite a marginal intellect. Contemporaries, such as Timothy Pickering, spread this notion by pointing to how Washington relied on aides and secretaries to write so many of his letters, particularly during the Revolutionary War, and plenty of subsequent biographers and commentators have picked up on the idea. It is ridiculous to demean Washington for requiring assistance while acting as commanding general of the Continental army because that position often demanded multiple letters a day, with many involving complex or highly sensitive matters. Moreover, Papers of George Washington editors have discovered documentary evidence that Washington involved himself directly in the drafting of all correspondence and confirmed their final form with his signature. Further supporting this evidence are the innumerable textual notes in the Revolutionary War Series where Washington in his own handwriting modified words, phrases, or sentences in drafts prepared initially by aides or secretaries.
TOPICS: Franco-American Relations, George Washington, Revolutionary War by Ben Huggins, Associate Editor February 11, 2022 When Gen. George Washington learned in August 1779 that the French minister who recently had arrived in America, Ann-César chevalier de La Luzerne, would be traveling from Boston to Philadelphia, Washington made plans to receive […]
Benjamin Montanye (1745–1825) is one of the more colorful characters introduced in vol. 31 of The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. A blacksmith who became a Patriot postrider in 1776, Montanye carried letters between Gen. George Washington at New Windsor, N.Y., and Philadelphia during the spring of 1781. On March 29, Montanye was waylaid in the mountains near Haverstraw, N.Y., by British lieutenant James Moody, a Loyalist raider who brought Montanye along with several Washington letters to British-controlled New York City. Montanye endured a stint in prison there, and in the years following, it appears he grossly exaggerated or perhaps even purposely misrepresented the importance of his capture.
One of the most important skills for a transcriber to master is how generously to read misspellings. For example, if an 18th-century writer did not differentiate between their “i’s” and “e’s” very well, then the question of spelling must be decided by the transcriber. Do you transcribe every letter without a dot above it as an “e,” even if that results in a misspelled word? Or do you trust that the author meant to spell the word correctly and just didn’t dot the “i”?
Between military service, business activities, and political obligations, George Washington traveled extensively and slept away from home many nights. In fact, he slept in so many places, and those locations so loudly publicized these visits, that the claim “George Washington Slept Here” became humorous.