One of the most famous letters George Washington wrote was to his wife Martha after he was put in charge of the Continental Army in June, 1775. The letter is not only famous for its content, but is only one of two letters eventually ever found that Washington wrote to his wife. The original letter was found stored away in a desk drawer by Martha Washington’s granddaughters. About a year ago, a mysterious copy of that letter was found in the Waynesboro Heritage Foundation’s archives. It is unknown how the letter ended up in the archives or where it came from. Most likely it was inherited by the Foundation from the Waynesboro Public Library.
Folded up neatly and addressed, “Martha Washington… Mount Vernon, Va” on the front in elegant handwriting, the letter appears to be very old. Could this be an original copy of the famous letter that somehow found its way in the Waynesboro Heritage Foundation’s collection? Stranger things have happened considering the location is Virginia and Virginia’s rich history. The ink used for writing appears to be a kind of old chestnut ink commonly used before the era of modern ink and pens. However, the type of paper along with its blue lines indicate the letter was written most likely after the time of Washington had passed. Could this letter be a forgery? The answer is no. At the very end of the letter written in the same handwriting it is stated, “Note, this is the only extant letter of G. Washington to his wife.” The writer adds, “It is an epistle of unusual interest, both on the account of its subject and date.” Obviously, the creator of the letter did not want to pass it off as a forgery.
So what is the nature of this “artifact” found in the Heritage Foundation’s archives? It is indeed old. It is a handwritten copy, but not a forgery. The next question is could this be a Washington family heirloom made after the original letter was found? Perhaps. But there is no documentation on the letter’s previous owners. There is, however, an unrecognizable embossment on the papers’ upper left hand corner. Since it is unrecognizable, it is difficult to make out the embossment’s significance.
An associate of Mount Vernon was contacted about this letter, and their conclusion was just as inconclusive as the Heritage Foundation’s. The most likely explanation for the letter, which is admittedly a complete guess, is it was created for teaching. It could have been a prop for a history lesson long ago, or a way for students to practice their handwriting skills by transcribing the original letter. Despite the mystery on the letter’s origins, it is a wonderful reminder of a critical point in America’s history by its most famous Founding Father. Though, it is very appealing to think that this letter may be from one of George Washington’s descendants.
This article includes high definition scans of the letter found in the archives that have been digitally altered to make the text more legible. For the original transcript of the letter you can visit:
For more on George Washington from our Blog, see “Did George Washington Sleep in Waynesboro?“