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Anti-Catholic “Test Oath” Signed by George Washington – as Required to Validate his Military Commission as Lieutenant Colonel at the Outset of the French and Indian War
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“there is no Transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lords supper or in the elements of Bread and wine...”

On March 15, 1754, Governor Robert Dinwiddie enclosed Washington’s commission as lieutenant colonel of the Virginia regiment in a letter directing the young officer and his men to the Ohio Valley to help defend against approaching French forces. Four days later, Washington signed this “test oath” – required of all Virginia civil and military officers – validating his commission. He would soon find himself at the center of a battle that ignited war between Britain and France, and a defeat that led him to sign the only surrender of his entire career.

Ironically, Washington’s signature on this document launched the military and political career that eventually proved instrumental in expanding the religious freedoms that this oath sought to restrict.

Note that we have agreed to steer this to a philanthropic individual, foundation or company willing to acquire and donate this to George Washington’s Mount Vernon or the Fairfax County Circuit Court Archives. Details on request.

GEORGE WASHINGTON. Manuscript Document Signed, [March 19, 1754]. With signatures of more than a dozen others, dating from Feb. 3, 1754 to Aug. 19, 1755. John West, Jr. and James Towers, whose signatures immediately follow Washington’s, subscribed on the same day, and, along with several other signers, served with Washington in the 1754 campaign. The subscribers, all Fairfax County, Va. public officials and militiamen, signed starting on the right side of the paper; a second column was then added to the left.

Inventory #23200       PRICE ON REQUEST

Catholicism and Civil Rights in America
Maryland, which had been founded by the (Catholic) Calvert family as a sanctuary for all Christians, was home to most Roman Catholics in colonial America. Elsewhere, anti-Catholic feelings ran deep, and Catholics were often deprived of religious freedom and civil rights. They were excluded from voting and holding public office, forbidden to have churches and schools, and subject to numerous other legal disabilities. Even in Pennsylvania, founded to provide religious freedom to Quakers, Catholics were officially discriminated against. Thus, very few Catholics lived in the other colonies.

In Virginia, whichwas made a crown colonyin 1624, Catholics faced increasingly restrictive legislation.A 1641 law decreed that Catholics would be fined 1,000 pounds of tobacco if they tried to hold public office. The next year, all Catholic priests were given five days to leave the colony. In 1661, Virginia citizens were required to attend the established Protestant services or face fines. In 1699, Catholics were deprived of voting rights. In 1705, theywere declared incompetent as witnessesin court.

In 1714, one of the first acts of the reign of George I aimed to thwart future attempts by Catholics to claim the English throne. “An act for the further security of his Majesty’s person and government, and the succession of the crown in the heirs of the late princess Sophia, being protestants; and for extinguishing the hopes of the pretended Prince of Wales, and his open and secret abettors” came on the heels of James Francis Edward’s (the “Old Pretender) attempt at the monarchy. The act required that “test oaths” denying key aspects of the Catholic faith be signed by civil and military officials. 

Most American Catholics,regardless of their treatment, favored the American Revolution. Maryland’s Charles Carroll of Carrollton signed the Declaration of Independence. Daniel Carroll of Maryland and Thomas Fitzsimons of Pennsylvania signed the United States Constitution. Gradually, Catholics acquired full civil rights in the various states.

Washington in the French and Indian War
Conflict over the Ohio Valley (in present-day Pennsylvania) came to a head in the early 1750s, as the British expanded west and the French pushed south from Canada. Each side claimed ownership and moved to ally with local Indian tribes. In 1753, the governor of New France, the marquis Duquesne, sent troops into the Ohio Valley to construct fortifications and occupy the territory. That fall, Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddie chose George Washington, then an adjutant general of the militia with the rank of major, to gather intelligence and to confront the French and demand their withdrawal. That demand was ignored.

As the French continued their encroachments, Dinwiddie ordered Washington to raise troops and assist in the building of British fortifications in the Ohio Valley. In April of 1754, Washington and his men set off on that expedition. On May 28, they were involved in a skirmish with French forces, that left 13 French men dead, including Joseph Coulon de Villiers, sieur de Jumonville, the detachment’s leader. The French accused the Americans of an unwarranted attack on what they claimed was a diplomatic mission. That action would turn out to be the opening battle of the French and Indian War.

Realizing that the French would retaliate, Washington returned to his base camp and immediately began construction of Fort Necessity. Having learned that Captain Fry had died in an accident on May 31, Washington assumed command of the regiment. On July 3, overwhelmed by French and Indian forces at the Battle of Great Meadows, Washington was forced to give up the fort and sign articles of surrender, for the first and last time in his career. He would later learn that the surrender document to which he subscribed claimed that Jumonville had been assassinated by the Americans. Washington responded, denying the claim and stating that the translator had not revealed it was in the text.

Despite this loss, Washington went on to earn a considerable military reputation during the war. He was dubbed the “Hero of Monongahela” for his valor in that battle, led Virginia forces in the capture of Fort Duquesne, and gained stature as an able and reliable leader. If Washington hadn’t signed this document in 1754, he could not have assumed his first military leadership position. Would America then have won the War for Independence? 

Washington and Religious Freedom
At the close of the first session of the First Federal Congress, on the day they approved the Bill of Rights, they also asked Washington to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation. He did so on October 3, 1789, being careful not to favor any particular denomination. He recommendedthat the new nation set aside a day (November 26, 1789) to give thanks to God for “affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness...for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness...for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge.[1]

Even before George Washington arrived in New York in 1789 to assume the presidency, he started receiving congratulatory addresses from state and local leaders, fraternal organizations, and representatives of diverse religions throughout America. Each praised his deeds in war, peace, and politics, and offered prayers on behalf of their congregations or constituents, and more praise for what he would yet accomplish as president. Washington’s replies justly count among his most famous pronouncements, setting a boldly inclusive tone that helped our new nation survive and expand.  His most celebrated statement, responding to the Jewish Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, proclaims:

“All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” [2]

Though less well-known than his “to bigotry no sanction” letter, in March of that year, he had responded to a letter from the American Catholic community. Bishop John Carroll, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Daniel Carroll, Thomas FitzSimons, and Dominick Lynch, had written encouraging respect for religion and furthering the ideal of religious liberty. Washington’s response validated their optimism and defined his understanding of equal treatment under the law:

“As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow, that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the Community are equally entitled to the protection of civil Government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality. And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their Government: or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed.”

Exhibited (partial list): National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, PA. George Washington’s Mount Vernon, VA.

Provenance: Acquired by Seth Kaller, Inc., 2018. < Private collector, 1998 < Kaller’s America Gallery, Inc. < acquired at Sotheby’s, May 19, 1997, lot 309. < intermediate holders, if any, unknown < Dr. Joseph E. Fields, Joliet, Ill. (1966) < Charles Hamilton Auction, 03/25/1965, lot 206 < intermediate holders unknown < according to recently discovered information, likely removed from colonial record book during the Civil War < The Fairfax County Court and Archives was the original repository.

SELECTED BIOGRAPHIES (in order of signing)
John Colvill (d. 1756). Signed on Feb. 23, 1754, as a commissioner of the peace (i.e., justice of the peace) and dedimus (i.e., empowered to administer certain oaths, etc.). A prominent Tidewater Virginia businessman, who acquired 22,000 acres during the era of land speculation from 1725 to 1742, much of it among the Potomac shoreline.

William Ramsay (1716-1785). Signed on Feb. 23, 1754, as a commissioner of the peace and dedimus. Scottish-born co-founder of Alexandria; business partner of John Carlyle. Captain in the militia in the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars; supplied the Virginia regiment during the former conflict.

John Carlyle (1720-1780). Signed on Feb. 23, 1754, as a commissioner of the peace and dedimus. Scottish-born merchant; business partner of William Ramsay. A wealthy landowner with three plantations. He joined the Virginia Regiment as a commissary beginning on January 25, 1754.

Hugh West (1705-1754). Signed on Feb. 23, 1754, as a commissioner of the peace and dedimus. Colonel in the Virginia militia. Member of Alexandria’s first board of trustees, member of the House of Burgesses from 1752 until his death.

George William Fairfax (1724-1787). Signed on Feb. 23, 1754, as a commissioner of the peace and dedimus. Served in the House of Burgesses from 1752 to 1755 and in the Assembly from 1756 to 1758. Would flee to England not long before the Revolutionary War. Good friends, but there were complicated overtones to the friendship between the two Georges; Washington was reputedly in love with Fairfax’s wife, Sally.

Thomas Colvill (d. 1766). Signed on Feb. 23, 1754, as a commissioner of the peace and dedimus. Washington, as one of his executors, was plagued for decades with the settling of Thomas’ estate.

Bryan Fairfax (1736-1802). Signed on March 19, 1754, as a deputy clerk of the court. Like his brother, another lifelong friend of George Washington. Served as a lieutenant in the Virginia Militia during the French and Indian War. During the revolution, he tried to act as a mediator between the warring sides, but was distrusted by both for his inability to commit to either.

George Washington Signed on March 19, 1754, as a lieutenant colonel. (Recorded in the Fairfax County Court Order [Minutes] Book for 1754: “Lieutenant Colo. George Washington, Lieutenants John West, jr. & James Towers pursuant to their Military Commissions from the Honourable the Governor took the oaths according to Law repeated & subscribed the Test.”)

John West, Jr. (1726-1777). Signed on March 19, 1754, as a lieutenant – took the oath at the same time as Washington. Served under Washington as a fourth lieutenant in the French and Indian War, starting on February 27, 1754. Fairfax County surveyor, sheriff, justice of the county court, and clerk of Truro Parish.

James Towers Signed on March 19, 1754, as a lieutenant – took the oath at the same time as Washington. Served in the French and Indian War under Washington’s command; resigned his commission at the end of 1754.

Charles Broadwater (1717-1806) Signed on March 19, 1754, as a justice. A captain, and later major, in the French and Indian War. Served the American cause during the Revolutionary War, Member of the House of Burgesses; served with GW in the provincial conventions of 1774 and 1775.

George West (1727?-1786?). Signed on March 19, 1754, as a county surveyor. Served as surveyor for both Loudoun and Fairfax Counties. Son of Hugh West and brother of John West, Jr.

John Mercer (1735-1756). Signed on April 16, 1754, as an ensign. Later promoted to lieutenant and captain. Killed at the Battle of Great Cacapon on April 18, 1756.

Fairfax County Order [Minutes] Book, 1754, entry for March 19, 1754

The George Washington Financial Papers Project,

George Washington’s Mount Vernon,

The Papers of George Washington,

Seth Kaller, Inc. George Washington’s Proclamations of Religious Freedom, 2017

[1]We have had the honor of selling one of the two Washington-signed manuscripts of the Thanksgiving Proclamation.

[2]Nineteen religious congregations wrote to and received responses from Washington. A collection we gathered of sixteen original newspaper printings of those letters is now held by the library of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. 


Complete Transcript

I A. B. do declare that there is no Transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lords supper or in the Elements of Bread and wine at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.

22 May 1754                          

Anthony Russell John Colvill
17. July 1754 Wm Ramsay
Stephn Lewis John Carlyle
19 Sept. 1754 Thos Bullock
Nicho: Minor Hugh West
18 March 1755 GW Fairfax
Go: Mercer John Wolf
John Carlyle Thos. Colvell
Lee Massey Bryan Fairfax
15 July 1755 G:o  Washington
G W Fairfax  
John Wolf John West Jr.
John Carlyle James Tower
Charles Broadwater  
  Charles Broadwater
John West Jun. Go: West
Wm Ramsay The mark of  ES
Friedling Turner Francis Summer
Thos Colwell Friedling Turner
17 July 1755  
Samson Turly John Mercer
Samson Darrell Henry Begess Jun.
  Willian De Peyrain



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