WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("G:Washington") TO ROBERT DINWIDDIE, LT. GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA, [Ferry Farm, near Fredricksburg], King George County, Virginia, 10 June 1752. 2¼ pages, 4to (8 13/16 x 7¼ in.), small, expert repairs to minor fold separations, small hole at fold intersection, not affecting text, remains of old mount on blank page 4.
WASHINGTON LOBBIES FOR HIS FIRST MILITARY APPOINTMENT, PROMISING "A STRICT OBSERVANCE OF MY DUTY"
An exceptionally early letter--one of a very few which survive from this formative period--in which the twenty-one-year-old Virginia surveyor respectfully offers himself to fill a soon-to-be-vacant military post. George's older half-brother Lawrence--who had won military glory on Admiral Vernon's Cartagena expedition--was appointed Adjutant General of the Colony in 1743. But in the 1750s his health began to deteriorate, and after a temporary residence in the West Indies, he returned to Virginia in June 1752 with the certain knowledge that his death was imminent. After a lingering decline, Lawrence (who had served as a surrogate parent to young George) died in late July 1752. In the meantime, Lawrence's military duties had been assigned to a deputy, and plans made to partition the responsibility of the adjutant into three separate commands. George decided in the spring of 1752 to seek the adjutant's post for the Northern Neck of Virginia (which included Ferry Farm, his residence) even though "he had never seen a day's service as a soldier, or had any contacts with troops except briefly in Barbadoes," as Freeman notes. Still, his interest in military affairs "had been sharpened, doubtless, by Lawrence's activities as Adjutant of the colonial militia" (D.S. Freeman, George Washington, 1:266). Col. William Fitzhugh, the man who was a front-runner for the Northern Neck adjutancy, had recently left Virginia to settle on lands owned by his wife, in Maryland. Just before Lawrence's return from the West Indies, George had gone to Williamsburg and discussed the post with the Governor, then continued on to Maryland to ascertain if Fitzhugh would accept the post. The Colonel stipulated certain conditions under which he could serve, but felt these were not likely to be acceptable to the Governor. Here, George informs Dinwiddie of the outcome of his inquiry:
"Being impatient to know Colo. Fitzhugh's result, I went to Maryland...He is willing to accept of the Adjutantcy [sic] of the Northern Neck if he can obtain it on the terms he proposes...The enclosed [not present] is his Letter, whereof I believe he informs of his intention..." Then, in deferential terms, George suggests himself as a candidate for the appointment: "If I could have the Honour of obtaining that [the Adjutancy], in case Colo. does not, or either of the other two; [I] should take the greatest pleasure in punctually obeying, from time to time, your Honour's commands; and by a strict observance of my Duty, render myself worthy of your Trust reposed in me: I am sensible that my best endeavours will not be wanting, and doubt not, but by a constant application to fit myself for the Office. Could I presume your Honour had not in view a more deserving Person I flatter myself I should meet with the approbation of the Gentlemen of the Council..."
In the end, Washington's efforts bore fruit: after Lawrence's death he was named by Dinwiddie adjutant General for the southern district of Virginia, and was later reassigned as Adjutant for the Northern Neck and Eastern shore. The post--his first military command--set the stage for his command of the critical Ohio Valley reconnaissance for Dinwiddie in 1754.
Published in Papers, ed. Abbott and Twohig, 1:50-51. THIS IS THE EARLIEST LETTER OF WASHINGTON--BY A CONSIDERABLE MARGIN--TO BE OFFERED AT AUCTION IN HALF A CENTURY.
Exhibited: "The Constitution: Celebrating Two Centuries of America," The FORBES Magazine Galleries, New York, June 1986 - February 1988.
Provenance: Anonymous owner (sale, Sotheby's New York, 1 May 1985, lot 81).