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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

President's Day Post

Happy belated President's Day! Today, February 22, marks Washington's actual birthday so I thought we'd celebrate with a peek at Washington's earliest surviving letter.(If you want to get precise, when he was born Washington would have thought of his birthday as February 11, since England and her colonies still used the Julian calendar, but it works out to February 22 in the Gregorian calendar, to which Britain switched in 1752).

In any event, this earliest surviving letter was written when George was only 17. It is written to his older half-brother Lawrence. In the first sentence George makes mention of Lawrence's cough; Lawrence would die of tuberculosis in 1752 at the age of 34.

George Washington, autograph letter signed to Lawrence Washington. Ferry Farm, Va., 5 May 1749. AMs 1058/23

May 5th, 1749
Dear Brother,

I hope your Cough is much mended since I saw you last, if so likewise hope you have given over the thoughts of leaving Virginia.

As there is not an absolute occasion of my coming down, hope you'll get the Deeds acknowledged without Me; my Horse is in very poor order to undertake such a journey, and is in no likelihood of mending for want of Corn sufficient to support him; tho' if there be any certainty in the Assembly's not rising untill the latter end of may, will if I can be down by that; As my Mothers term of Years is out at that Place at Bridge Creek, she designs to Settle a Quarter on that Peice at Deep Run, but seems backward of doing it, untill the right is made good, for fear of accidents.

It's Reported here that Mr. Spotswood intends to put down the Ferry that is kept at the Wharf where he now Lives, and that Major Frans: Taliaferro intends to petition the assembly for an act to have it kept from his House over against my Mothers Quarter, and right through the very Heart and best of the Land; whereas he can have no other view it but for the Conveniency of a small Mill he has on the Water side, that will not Grind above three Months in twelve, and the great Inconveniency and prejudice it will be to us, hope it will not be granted; besides, I do not see where he can Possibly have a Landing Place on his side that will ever be sufficient for a Lawful Landing (by reason of the steepness of the Banks;) I think we suffer enough with the Free Ferry, without without being troubled with such an unjust and iniquitous Petition as that, but hope as its only a flying report he will consider better of it and drop his pretentions. I should be glad (if its not too much trouble) to hear from you in the meanwhile remain with my Love to my Sister Dear sir
Your affectionate Brother
George Washington

For more Washington documents, as well as materials by the other Presidents' Day president, check out the Rosenbach's Manuscripts Online site, which features high resolution, searchable documents for your presidential perusal pleasure.

Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

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