WASHINGTON, Martha Dandridge Custis (1731-1802). Autograph letter signed ("M Washington") to Mrs. [Henrietta] Liston, wife of the British Minister to the U.S., Mount Vernon, 22 February 1798. 2 pages, 4to. Fine.
WASHINGTON, Martha Dandridge Custis (1731-1802). Autograph letter signed ("M Washington") to Mrs. [Henrietta] Liston, wife of the British Minister to the U.S., Mount Vernon, 22 February 1798. 2 pages, 4to. Fine.

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WASHINGTON, Martha Dandridge Custis (1731-1802). Autograph letter signed ("M Washington") to Mrs. [Henrietta] Liston, wife of the British Minister to the U.S., Mount Vernon, 22 February 1798. 2 pages, 4to. Fine.

A PRESIDENT AND FIRST LADY IN AGREABLE RETIREMENT: A LETTER COMPOSED BY THE FORMER PRESIDENT

A fine social letter whose complex sentence structure and measured formality confirms that, like a number of the elderly First Lady's surviving letters of late date, it was drafted by George on Martha's behalf and carefully copied by Martha, even replicating Washington's very characteristic use of semi-colons and colons. The Washington papers contain George's autograph draft and a secretarial file copy. It had been not quite a year since George Washington happily relinquished the presidency and he and Martha had at last been able to retire to Mount Vernon ("our retreat") after years of public service. The pleasure they both derived from their bucolic retirement is palpable in this gracious letter:

"Before I had the honor to receive your favor of the 12th Inst from Philadelphia, we were informed (by Mr. Patten) of your having passed through Alexandria on your return from Charleston; and of the accidents which you had met with on the journey--on your happy escape from which, we sincerely congratulate you. It is unnecessary, I trust, to assure you of the pleasure we should have felt in seeing you on your return to Philadelphia, and which we shall feel, at all times, when it may be convenient and agreeable to you to visit us in our Retreat [Mount Vernon?]. Your voyage from hence to Norfolk was of a length hardly ever known before: this, accompanied by bad weather and a short allowance of provisions, of which we could have had no conception, from the provident care we supposed Mr. Patten had taken to lay in a store, must have rendered your situation on board very unpleasant, and have given you an unfavourable idea of the navigation of the Potomac." (This is an obvious observation for George, one of the original investors in and promoters of Potomac navigation, to add; it hardly seems a remark Martha would make.)

"Mr. Washington begs to be respectfully presented to Mr. Liston and yourself. Nelly Custis would do so likewise was she at home, but she is at present with her Sister Peter, in the Federal City [Washingtoton]. Washington Custis is thankful for your kind remembrance of him, and with my compliments to Mr. Liston."

Diplomatic delicacy may have been part of the reason behind Washington having drafted the letter for his wife, since Henrietta Merchant Liston was the wife of Robert Liston (1743--1836), British envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the United States, 1796-1802. Henrietta was the daughter of a Caribbean planter, and relations between the envoy and the Washington's were friendly, though a trifle formal. While "no longer an Actor " as he put it, in the field of politics and diplomacy, Washington was ever mindful that Liston might report to his government anything deemed of interest to the English crown (including the state of navigation on the Potomac). Published in A Worthy Partner, ed. J. Fields, pp.313-314.
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