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President Washington Signs a Land Patent
for “The Hero of Saratoga,” Conway Cabal Plotter
Major General Horatio Gates (SOLD)
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Gates is rewarded for his military service, the highlight of which was his leading America's Northern Army to defeat British general John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga in October, 1777. The victory turned the Revolutionary War in favor of the Americans, and convinced France to enter the war on the side of the United States.

Signed by the president during the last full year of his second term in office, this land patent brings Washington together with one of his most famous Revolutionary War rivals. Washington, who believed Gates had plotted to usurp his command as part of the 1777-1778 Conway Cabal, later characterized the general as having “an air of design, a want of candor…and even of politeness,” complaining that “this Gentleman does not scruple to take the most unfair advantages of me.”[1]

GEORGE WASHINGTON. Document Signed as President, Philadelphia, Pa., September 17, 1796. Countersigned by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering; with September 15, 1796 Endorsement Signed by Secretary of War James McHenry on verso. Engraved broadside on vellum, being a patent for Virginia Line land awarded to Major General Horatio Gates. With embossed paper seal of the United States. 14¾ in. x 12⅜ in.

Inventory #23197       SOLD — please inquire about other items


“In consideration of military service performed by the Honorable Major General Horatio Gates to the United States, in the Virginia Line on Continental Establishment, and in pursuance of an Act of the Congress of the United States … entituled, ‘An Act to enable the Officers and Soldiers of the Virginia Line on Continental Establishment to obtain titles to certain land lying north-west of the River Ohio, between the little Miami and Sciota;’ … there is granted by the said United States unto James Murray assignee of the said Horatio Gates a certain tract of land containing two thousand acres.” 

Historical Background

At the end of the Revolutionary War, the state of Virginia had agreed to cede its claims to western lands in exchange for military bounty land grants from the federal government. The state’s grant, the 4-million acre Virginia Military Tract, was located in the Northwest Territory between the Scioto and Little Miami Rivers, site of present-day Clinton County, Ohio. Gates received a total of 12,500 acres in the tract as compensation for his military service. He subsequently sold his portion to his son-in-law, Dr. James Murray. This arrangement is noted by Secretary of War James McHenry (a former aide-de-camp to Washington) in his endorsement, on the verso of the document: “Horatio Gates was originally intitled to the Bounty land within described as granted to the within named James Murray who claims under the said Horatio Gates.” Murray, taking advantage of ever-increasing western expansion, sold the land to settlers in the early 19th century at the rate of $1.75 per acre.[2]

Below McHenry’s endorsement is a contemporaneous note signed by [George] Taylor, Jr. as chief clerk of the Department of State, indicating that the warrant had been recorded in department records. This is followed by an 1841 note attesting to the recording of the information in Clinton County, Ohio records, signed by recording clerk Amos T. Sewell. Also on verso, the statement “Patent for Survey No. 1554” appears along the right margin, followed by the name James Murray, penned in a different hand.

Horatio Gates (1727-1806), a British veteran of the French and Indian Wars, had returned to America in 1772 and settled in Virginia. In 1775, he was commissioned a brigadier general and adjutant general of the Continental Army. An outstanding administrator, Gates sought a field command and, in 1776, was promoted to major general. Appointed to command American forces in Canada, Gates quickly superseded General Philip Schuyler as head of the entire Northern Army. In that position, Gates led American forces to victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. Burgoyne’s surrender marked a turning point in the war: It boosted American morale and resolve, and led France to ally with the Americans against its longtime nemesis, Britain. Congress dedicated a gold medal to Gates to celebrate his signal achievement, and appointed him president of the new Board of War.

Tensions between Gates and his superior, George Washington, arose when the former notified Congress directly of his victory over Burgoyne at Saratoga. Gates’s delay in returning troops that Washington had sent to assist him further exacerbated the men’s relationship. Despite the conflict, Congress named Gates president of the new Board of War. In the winter of 1777-78, Gates was thought to have been involved in the “Conway Cabal,” an attempt to remove Washington as commander-in-chief and have Gates appointed in his place. Although he was never officially implicated for his role, the scandal damaged Gates’s reputation and led to his removal from the Board of War. Congress subsequently appointed Gates to command the southern army in July 1780. After his inexperienced militiamen were thoroughly routed by Lord Cornwallis at Camden, South Carolina, however, Congress demanded an investigation. Though no court of inquiry ever convened, Gates was replaced as commander of the southern department by General Nathanael Greene. After brief service on Washington’s staff at Newburgh, New York, Gates retired to his Virginia plantation in 1784. Six years later, Gates freed his slaves, sold his plantation and bought an estate, Rose Hill Farm, in New York. He went on to serve a single term in the New York state legislature, from 1800-1801.

Timothy Pickering (1745-1829) joined the militia in 1766 and served in the Revolutionary War under George Washington, as adjutant general from 1777–78 and as quartermaster general from 1780–85. He was appointed U.S. postmaster general in 1791, Secretary of War in 1795, and Secretary of State that same year, a post he held until 1800. Pickering served in the U.S. Senate from 1803 to 1811 and in the House of Representatives from 1813 to 1817. A leader of the Federalist Party, he was a member of the Essex Junto, and opposed the War of 1812. After retiring from politics, Pickering turned to experimental farming and education.

James McHenry (1753-1816) immigrated to America from Ireland in 1771 and studied medicine with Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia. During the Revolutionary War, McHenry served as surgeon to the 5th Pennsylvania Battalion. Captured by the British at Fort Washington in November 1776, McHenry resumed his service in early 1778 following his parole. He went on to serve as senior surgeon of the “Flying Hospital” at Valley Forge, as Washington’s secretary (1778-1780), and as the Marquis de Lafayette’s aide-de-camp. After the war, McHenry represented Maryland in the Confederation Congress (1783-86), and also at the 1787 Federal Convention. A staunch Federalist and a longtime friend of Washington, he was selected by the president in 1796 as Secretary of War. Disputes with John Adams led him to resign that post in 1800, and he retired to his estate, Fayetteville, outside Baltimore.


Slightest wrinkling, otherwise very fine.

[1]Washington to John Jay, April 14, 1779 (The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress).

[2]Pliny Durant et al, History of Clinton County (W.H. Beers Co., ca. 1870), Chapt. IV,