WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("G:o Washington") to Bryan Fairfax, Washington's life-long friend and neighbor, Head Quarters, Newburgh [N.Y.], 15 June 1783. 2 full pp., 4to, the integral blank leaf very neatly inlaid, otherwise in pristine original condition.
AFTER EIGHT YEARS WAR, A VICTORIOUS COMMANDER IN CHIEF ANTICIPATES RETIREMENT: "I NOW ONLY AWAIT THE ARRIVAL OF THE DEFINITIVE TREATY TO BID ADIEU TO PUBLIC LIFE..."
An important private letter to a close friend, written three days after Washington's Farewell to the States, in which he formally announced that "the great object" of the war had been obtained, and cautioned the newly independent states to ensure the continuation of an "indissoluble union." The coming peace, he wrote, would permit him "to return to that domestic retirement which...I left with the greatest reluctance," and to "pass the remainder of my life is a state of undisturbed repose."
Here, in the more intimate context of a private letter to a long-time friend, Washington reiterates his frustrating wait for the completion of the Definitive Treaty, and his eagerness to be able to resign his commission, bid farewell to military life and return to Mount Vernon. (In the end, it was not until 3 September that the Definitive Treaty of Paris was signed by American and British diplomats, while word of the final text did not reach Washington until late October.)
Washington confirms he has forwarded a letter from Fairfax to England, by way of New York "immediately upon its arrival at this place." Then, in a buoyant and optimistic tone, he explains that "I should not have delayed so long to inform you of this, &...to have announced the Ratification of the Provisional & Preliminary Articles of Peace, had I not been sure that you did not doubt the first; & that the second would come officially, from the fountain head, before any letter from me could reach you."
As to his own affairs, he reports "I now, only await the arrival of the Definitive Treaty to bid adieu to public life; & in retirement to seek the repose which a mind always on the stretch & embarrassed by a thousand difficulties in the course of Eight successive years [the duration of the Revolution] stands much in need of." Referring to a legal problem in which both men were involved, he agrees that "Your direction to the Attorney General is, I think, very proper, and it is my opinion we should be governed wholly by his advice in the Suit of Mr. Savage--whether he is dead or alive.
Washington's nephew, managing Mount Vernon in Washington's absence, reports another unfortunate imbroglio: "I have been informed (by Mr. Lund Washington) that some person has petitioned, or is about to petition the court of Loudoun for an acre of the Land I bought of you on Difficult [Difficult Run, in Loudoun County], to build a Mill on; but I hope no advantage will be permitted, by that Worshipful Bench, to be taken of my absence, in this affair."
In a darker mood, the Commander ponders the very considerable effects of the prolonged war for independence on his own finances: "The losses I have already suffered by an Eight year absence from home; & the total neglect of my private concerns, are already capitally great--they need not be augmented by lessening the value of what is left me." He closes "with the greatest esteem & regard."
Bryan Fairfax, 8th Baron Fairfax of Cameron (1736-1902), was a son of William Fairfax of Belvoir, a plantation below Mount Vernon on the Potomac. As a young man he served briefly under Washington's command in 1756, and, although he proved a poor soldier, he came to rely on the guidance and assistance from the older Virginian. Though Fairfax did not support independence, hoping for a reconciliation with the Crown, he kept his opinions mostly to himself and declined to take an oath of loyalty to the King. In any case his friendly relations with Washington were seemingly unaffected by this divergence of opinion. Later ordained an Episcopal priest, Fairfax resumed his title of nobility. Back in 1765 Fairfax and Washington had been named co-executors of the late Reverend Charles Green, and found themselves embroiled in a series of fruitless legal tangles with a Dr. Savage who married the widow Green and looted the estate. Relations between the Fairfaxes and Washingtons remained warm and congenial in the following decades and the Fairfaxes were among those who dined with the elderly Washington on 11 December 1799, just a few days before his death.
Not in Writings, ed. J.C. Fitzpatrick; to be included in the forthcoming volume of Washington's Papers, Revolutionary War Series.
Provenance: Fairfax family descendants (sale Sotheby's, 1 November 1993, lot 224, $100,000).