WASHINGTON, George (1732-1799), President. Autograph manuscript account of his early military career, entitled "Remarks," prepared as additions to a draft biography by Colonel David Humphreys, [Mount Vernon], n.d. [1786-1789]. 11 pages, folio, 322 x 200mm. (10 11/16 x 7 7/8in.). written on rectos and versos of three bifolios of laid paper watermarked "L I C," pages 2, 3, 6, 7 and 9 professionally reinforced with tissue to protect weakened folds, with an early cover sheet of a different paper (also reinforced) bearing note of an 1829 owner (see Provenance); enclosed in red morocco gilt folder, silk linings, quarter red morocco gilt folding box.
WASHINGTON'S VIVID ACCOUNT OF HIS SERVICE IN THE FRENCH & INDIAN WARS, WITH HIS IMPORTANT NARRATIVE OF THE CATASTROPHIC DEFEAT AND DEATH OF GENERAL BRADDOCK DURING THE FORT DUQUESNE EXPEDITION; A MANUSCRIPT THAT WASHINGTON REQUESTED BE BURNED
A very remarkable autograph manuscript: one of Washington's only direct, autobiographical writings and a manuscript which Washington himself asked his biographer to burn: "The information given in these sheets, tho related from Memory, Is it is believe[d] to be depended upon It is earnestly requested that after Col.0 Humphrey[s], has extracted what he shall judge necessary, and given it in his own language, that the whole of what is here contained may be returned to G W, or committed to the flames." Humphreys (1752-1818), a Yale graduate, poet and one the Connecticut Wits, joined the Continental cause in 1776, and became an aide to General Israel Putnam, then to General Nathaniel Greene, and finally, in 1780, aide-de-camp to the Commander-in-Chief of the American forces, General Washington. The General's friendship with the younger man persisted long after the conclusion of the Treaty of Paris. In subsequent years Humphreys was a frequent house guest at Mount Vernon. He became Washington's private secretary upon his election as President and later held important diplomatic posts during his Presidency. On several occasions from 1784 on, Humphreys urged Washington to furnish an autobiographical account of his life and public career, and proposed himself as biographer. In a letter of 25 July 1785, Washington agreed to Humphreys' plan, promised access to what papers he had a Mount Vernon, and praised Humphreys' suitability for the task. Visiting Mount Vernon in 1786, and becoming a permanent resident there from 1787 until 1789, when the newly elected President departed for New York, Humphreys prepared at least two drafts of his biography of the hero of the War of Independence, one of which he submitted to Washington for suggestions and additions. Washington responded by composing (from memory, as he asserts in two places) these 11 pages of notes, directly keyed by page and note numbers into Humphreys' text. Humphreys' drafts, believed lost for many years, survived in the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia, (the draft to which Washington's "Remarks" are keyed) while another, earlier draft is in the Humphreys-Marvin-Olmstead Papers at Sterling Library, Yale University. Throughout his "Remarks" Washington refers to himself in the third person wherever possible, but reverts to the initials "G W" in places where the nominative case is demanded by his narrative. Page 1 contains six notes, the first recording that "My father dies when I was only 10 years old" (in 1742); another adding information on Washington's mission, in 1753, as envoy from Virginia's Governor Dinwiddle to the French at Presque Isle, which was accomplished "at a most inclement Season, for he travelled over the Apalacheon Mountains, and passed 250 miles thro an uninhabited Country in the depth of winter while the face of the Earth was covered with snow and the waters covered with Ice; the whole dist[anc]e from W[illia]msburgh at least 500 miles." (This difficult journey was the subject of Washington's only other autobiographical writing for publication, his Journal of Major George Washington, published at Williamsburgh in 1754.) The next note records the Indians' re-naming of the young Virginian: " Caunotaucarius (in English) the Towntaker; which has been remembered by them [the Indian tribes] ever since in all their transactions with him during the late [Revolutionary] War."
Then, after apologizing for "the badness of his memory, loss of papers and the derangement of them by frequent removals in the late War," Washington provides, "according to the best of recollections," an extended account of his campaign against the French forces on the frontier in 1754, the only occasion on which he was forced to accept surrender terms: "He began his March in the Month of May in order to open the Road and for the especial purpose of siezing [sic], if possible, before the French sh[oul]d arrive at it, the important Post at the conflux of the Alligany and Monangahela [Fort Duquesne, near Pittsburg]; with the advantages of which he was forcibly struck the preceding year; and earnestly advised the securing of...But notwithstanding all the exertions, the New, and uncommon difficulties he had encounter he had but just ascended the Laurel Hill 50 M: short of his object: after a March of 230 Miles when he received information from his Scouts that the French had, in force, siezed the Post he was pushing to obtain It was thought advisable to fall back a few miles; to a place known by the name of the great Meadows [later Fort Necessity] But the French sent a detachment to reconnoitre our Camp and obtain intelligence of our Strength & position; notice of which being given by the Scouts, G W marched at the head of the party, attacked, killed 9 or 10; & captured 20 odd. This, as soon as the enemy had assembled their Indian Allies, brought their whole Force upon him; consisting of about 1500 men."
"About 9 O'clock on the 3d. of July the Enemy advanced with Shouts, & dismal Indian yells to our Intrenchments, but was opposed by so warm, spirited, & constant a fire, that to force the works in that way was abandoned by them; they then, from every little rising, tree, stump, Stone, and bush kept up a constant galding fire upon us; which was returned in the best manner we could till late in the Aftern[oo]n when their [sic] fell the most tremendous rain that can be conceived, filled our trenches with Water - Wet, not only the ammunition in the Cartouch boxes and the firelocks, but that which was in a small, temporary Stockade in the middle of the Intrenchment called Fort Necessity and left us nothing but a few (for all were not provided with them) Bayonets for defence. In this situation and no prosp[ec]t of bettering it terms of capitulation were offered to us by the enemy w[hi]ch ...were the more readily acceded to, as we had no Salt provisions and because a full third of our Officers as well as privates were, by this time, killed or wounded. The next morning we marched out with the honors of War and the Remains of the Regim[en]t, and the detachment of Regulars, took up their line for the interior Country ."
After brief mention of his resignation from the army (due to disputes over the relative authority of Colonial and English officers), Washington tells of his rejoining to serve with General Braddock: "Upon the arrival of Gen[era]l Braddock he [Washington] was very particularly noticed by that General; taken into his family as an extra-Aid; offered a Capt[ai]ns Comm[ission] by brevet. In this capacity he commenced his second Campaign." He offers an interesting comment on Braddock's unwillingness to accept tactial advice from his subordinate, who had already experienced combat under difficult frontier conditions: "[I] used every proper occasion to impress the Gen[era]l., & the principal Officers around him, with the necessity of opposing the nature of his defence, to the mode of attack which more than probably he would experience from the Canadian French, and their Indians but so prepossessed were they in fav[o]r of regularity & discipline and in such absolute contempt were these people held, that the admonition was suggested in vain." On the march to Fort Duquesne, Washington, taken ill, remained behind, but rejoined Braddock's forces on July 8th, "tho' much reduced and very weak" at the Monongahela. While crossing the river, Braddock's forces were attacked, and "by the usual Halooing and whooping of the enemy, whom they could not see, were so disconcerted and confused as soon to fall into irretrievable disorder. A general panic took place among the Troops from which no exertions of the Officers could recover them. Before it was too late, & the confusion became general an offer was made by G W to head the Provincials & engage the enemy in their own way; but the propriety of it was not seen into until it was too late for execution. After this, many attempts were made to dislodge the enemy from an eminence on the Right but they all proved ineffectual; and fatal to the Officers. In one of these the Gen[era]l received the W[oun]d of which he died; but previous to it, had several horses killed and disabled under him. G W remained the sole Aid through the day, to the Gen[era]l; he also had one horse killed, and two wounded under him. A ball through his hat, and several through his clothes, but escaped unhurt G W placed the Gen[era]l in a small covered Cart, which carried some of his most essential equipage, and in the best order he could, with the best Troops (who only contin[ue]ed to be fired at) brought him over the first ford of the Monongahela." After describing his efforts, all that day and well into the night, weakened by fever, to deliver Braddock's messages to the scattered forces (some up to 40 miles apart), Washington offers a vivid description of the defeated army's retreat: "The shocking scenes which presented themselves in this Night's March are not to be described. The dead, the dying, the groans, lamentations and crys along the Road of the wounded for help were enough to pierce a heart of adamant. The gloom and horror of which was not a little encreased by the impervious darkness occasioned by the close shade of thick woods which in places rendered it impossible for the two guides to know when they were in, or out of the track but by groping on the ground with their hands."
"Of about 12 or 13 hundred [men] which were in this action eight or 9 hund[re]d were either killed or wounded; among whom a large proportion of brave and valuable Officers were included. The folly and consequence of opposing compact bodies to the sparse manner of Indian fighting, in woods, which had in a manner been predicted, was now so clearly verified that from hence forward another mode prevailed in all future operations. At an Incampment near the Great Meadows the brave, but unfortunate Gen[era]l Braddock breathed his last. He was interred with the honors of War, and as it was left to G W to see this performed, & to mark out the spot for the reception of his remains. To guard against a savage triumph, if the place should be discovered, they were deposited in the Road over which the Army, Waggons, &ca. Passed to hide every trace by which the entombment could be discovered." In a marginal note, Washington recalls the personality of his superior, Braddock: "Thus dies a man, whose good and bad qualities were intimately blended. He was brave even to a fault, and in regualar Service [i.e., on a traditional field of battle] would have done honor to his profession. His attachments were warm, his enmities were strong, and having no disguise about him, both appeared in full force. He was generous and disinterested, but plain and blunt in his manner even to rudeness."
Washington goes on to describe the danger the Middle Colonies faced after the destruction of Braddock's army; and his appointment, in the fall of 1755, as Colonel and Commander-in-Chief of all Virginia forces, at age 23. In a remarkable passage on p. 8, Washington's recounts "a circumstance w[hic]h involved the life of G W in as much jeopardy as it had ever been before or since." With a force of volunteers, Washington approached to reinforce a body of Provincials under Col. Mercer which had been engaged in a heavy skirmish: "But it being near dusk and the intelligence [of Washington's approach] not having been fully disseminated among Col. Mercer's Corps, and they taking us for the enemy commenced a heavy fire upon the releiving [sic] party which drew fire in return in spite of all the exertions of the Officers one of whom & several Privates were killed before a stop could be put to it. To accomplish which G W never was in more imminent danger by being between two fires, knocking up with his sword the presented pieces [rifles]." This manuscript is believed to contain the only account by Washington himself of this famous incident, which was recorded by other participants. Washington describes his final campaigns with General John Forbes, in 1758, against Fort Duquesne. When the French abandoned it, leaving Virginia's frontier secure. Washington again resigned from the army: "The sollicitation [sic] of the Troops which he commanded to Continue, their Affect[ionat]e farewell address to him affected him exceedingly," he confides, and, "in grateful sensibility he expressed the warmth of his attachm[en]t to them on that, and his inclination to serve them on every other occasion." The remaining notes in the manuscript concern Mount Vernon's agricultural production, Washington's involvement in the Potomac canal projects, the frequency with which he hunts (once a week), and conclude with the admonition to Humphreys, already quoted, to return or burn "the whole of what is here contained."
Fortunately for history, Colonel Humphreys disregarded his old commander's request, but he never completed, or published, his intended biography. A short section, based upon his draft and incorporating part of Washington's narrative, was published anonymously in Jedidiah Morse, American Geography in 1789. A partial transcript of Washington's "Remarks" appeared in Scribner's Magazine, May 1893; a full version, edited by John Pickering, in Essex Institute Historical Collections, vol. lxxii (January 1936), 89-101, and Washington, Writings, ed. G. Fitzpatrick, vol. xxix, 37-50. For Humphreys' unpublished biography, collated from the surviving drafts, with the present additions by Washington, see Rosemarie Zigarri, ed., David Humphreys. Life of Washington, ed. Rosemarie Zagarri. We are grateful to Dr. Zagarri for her advice in the preparation of this description of what we believe to be the most important Washington manuscript to be offered at auction in the present century.
1. David Humphreys (1752-1818)
2. Mrs. Humphreys, née Anne Francis Bulkeley, presented in 1829 to
3. John Pickering (1777-1846), son of Col. Timothy Pickering, with his inscription on the cover sheet: "Washington Paper, given to me by Mrs. Humphreys in 1829 - containing original memos in Washington's handwriting by way of remarks upon an intended biography which General Humphreys was writing. Jno. Pickering"
4. Henry Goddard Pickering (d. 1926), by descent
5. Sarah W. Pickering, cousin of the above, by descent
6. The Pickering Foundation, sold in 1974, to
7. John F. Fleming, (sale, Christie's, 18 November 1988, lot 357).