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Revolution and Founding Fathers (1765 - 1784)
Revolution and Founding Fathers (1765 - 1784)

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George Washington’s “Justice and Public Good” Letter, Written Just Before Becoming the First President of the United States

GEORGE WASHINGTON, Autograph Letter Signed, to Frederick Phile, March 15, 1789, Mount Vernon, Virginia. Washington’s retained copy, written on blank leaf of Phile’s letter to him as evidenced by partial address on verso: “[George] Washington / [Moun]t Vernon.” 1 p., 8 x 6¼ in.

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“I will go into Office totally free from pre-engagements of every nature whatsoever, and in recommendations to appointments will make justice & the public good, my sole objects.”

The still unofficial President-elect George Washington writes in March 1789 about his determination to go into the presidency with no pre-existing commitments, ready to purely judge the“justice & the public good” of every appointment. He would extend that sentiment to every aspect of his presidency.

Washington referred to the standard of “justice & the public good” only a few times, and the present letter is the only example we know of that has ever reached the market.

Item #27734, $550,000

New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves – 1794 Land Deed from John Jay’s Brother for First African Free School in New York City

FREDERICK JAY, Manuscript Document Signed, Deed to African Free School Trustees Matthew Clarkson, William Dunlap, Elihu Smith, and William Johnson, July 22, 1794. Endorsed by Master in Chancery John Ray and witnessed by John Keese and John Tyson. 1 p. on vellum, 27 x 24¼ in.

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“Whereas many respectable and benevolent Persons in the City of New York have associated under the denomination of ‘the Society for promoting the Manumission of Slaves and protecting such of them as have been or may be Liberated,’ and have Instituted a School in said City, called the African free School for the humane and charitable purpose of Educating negro Children to the end that they may become good and useful Citizens of the State...”

The New-York Manumission Society was founded in January 1785. The 19 initial founders included Future federal judge Robert Troup, prominent Anti-Federalist Melancton Smith, and John Jay, who was elected as the Society’s first president. Alexander Hamilton joined at the second meeting ten days later.

On November 2, 1787, the Society voted to establish the African Free School.  In 1794, by this deed, Frederick Jay – John Jay’s brother – donated lower Manhattan lot 635 on Hester Street to support the school, one of the first nondenominational charity schools in the United States.

Item #27319, $125,000

General Washington Orders Declaration of Independence Read to Army in New York

[DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE], Manuscript Orderly Book. Headquarters [New York City], [July 8, 1776 – August 21, 1776]. Containing two overlapping sequences in different hands: one 145-page sequence runs from July [9], 1776 to August 21, 1776, and another 13-page segment (written from the other end of the book) runs from July 8-13, 1776. 158 pp. 7½ x 6 in. Both versions vary slightly from the published text of Washington’s General Orders of July 9. This volume, with Brigade and Regimental orders, was either kept by battalion adjutant Aaron Comstock or an orderly sergeant in one of Gold S. Silliman’s eight companies enlisted in Connecticut shortly before. This is likely the battalion’s first orderly book after arriving in New York with approximately 415 men.

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the Honble Continental Congress … haveing been plead to Desolve Connection Between this country & great Britain & to declare the united Colonys of North America free & Independent States the Several Brigades are to be Drawn us [up] this Evening on their Respective Parades at 6 oclock when the Deleration of Congress Shewing the grounds & Reasons of the Measures to be Read with Laudable [audible] Voice the genl [George Washington] Hopes that this important Point will serve as a fresh incentive to Every officer and soldier to act with fidelity & courage as knowing that now the Peace and Safety of this country Depends under god solely on the success of our arms....” (July 9, 1776)

the gel being informed to his great surprize that a Report prevails & Industrously spread far and wide that Lord how [British General Lord William Howe] has made <145> Propositions of Peace Calculated by disguiseing Persons most Probably To Lull us into a fatal Security his Duty obliges him to Declare that No such offer has been made by Lord how but on the Contrarary from the Best inteligence he can Procure the army may Expect atack as soon as the wind and tide proves favorable He hopes theirfore every mans mind & arms may be Prepared for action and when caled to it shew our enemies & the whole world that free men Contendin for their own Land are Superior to any Mercenaries on Earth.... (August 20, 1776)

Remarkable manuscript book containing two separate versions of Washington’s General Orders of July 9, 1776, announcing to the Continental Army in New York that Congress had formally declared the 13 colonies to be independent of Great Britain. Of course, Washington’s name is notably absent on the Declaration of Independence, as he was in New York preparing to face the music of the inevitable British invasion.

Item #21461.99, $115,000

Charles Thomson (One of Only Two Men to Sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4) Sends Treaty of Paris Proclamation Officially Ending the Revolutionary War

CHARLES THOMSON, Manuscript Letter Signed, to Georgia Governor John Houstoun, January 16, 1784, Annapolis, Maryland. 1 p., 6¼ x 7¾ in.

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Charles Thomson of Pennsylvania served as Secretary of the Continental and Confederation Congresses throughout their entire fifteen-year existence, from 1774 to 1789. In that position, he signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th. With a very small executive department, the role was much more than clerical; especially when Congress was not in session, he essentially acted as the prime minister of the pre-Constitutional United States.

This letter to the governor of Georgia transmitted printed copies of the Proclamation of the Treaty of Paris and Congressional Resolution (both no longer present), written by Thomas Jefferson, recommending that the states restore the confiscated property of all British subjects who had “not borne arms against the...United States” in a “spirit of conciliation.” The recipient, John Houstoun, had taken office as governor of Georgia one week earlier.

Item #27680, $37,500

General Hugh Mercer’s Will—Noting the Plantation he Purchased from George Washington (Ferry Farm, Washington’s Boyhood Home), and Instructions to Executors to “hire negroes” to Work the Plantation for the Benefit of his Wife and Children

[REVOLUTIONARY WAR. SLAVERY. GEORGE WASHINGTON]. HUGH MERCER, Manuscript Document, Contemporary Copy of Last Will and Testament, March 20, 1776, Fredericksburg, Virginia. 4 pp., 7½ x 11⅝ in.

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I direct that after my decease my dear Wife Isabella (if she survive me) and my children do reside on my plantation in King George County adjoining to Mr James Hunter’s Land which Plantation I purchased from General George Washington and that my Executors hereafter named out of my personal Estate purchase or hire negroes as they shall think best to work the said Plantation....

I further direct my Books Drugs surgical Instruments shop utensils and Furniture to be sold and also such Household Furniture Negroes or stocks of Cattle and Horses as may appear to my Executors hereafter named to be for the benefit of my Personal Estate....

Written shortly after Hugh Mercer became the colonel of the 3rd Virginia Regiment of the Virginia Line, his last will and testament disposed of his real and personal property, including slaves among his wife Isabella Gordon Mercer and children, including one yet to be born.

After playing a key role in the Battles of Trenton, in January 1777 at the Battle of Princeton, Mercer’s horse was shot from under him, and he was mortally wounded. Vastly outnumbered and mistaken by the British for George Washington, he was ordered to surrender. Instead, he drew his sword, and was bayonetted seven times. He died nine days later.

Item #27335, $12,500

Eyewitness Account of the Battle of Bunker Hill from a Loyalist Perspective

[BUNKER HILL], Loyalist Account of the Battle of Bunker Hill Broadside. June 26, 1775, Boston. Boston: John Howe, 1775. 1 p., 8¾ x 14 in.

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This Action has shown the Bravery of the King’s Troops, who under every Disadvantage, gained a compleat Victory.... But they fought for their King, their Laws and Constitution.

Nine days after the British drove the Americans from the heights above Boston, Loyalist printer John Howe issued this broadside/handbill. Although the account of the battle is quite accurate, it inflates the number of Patriot troops and distorts the number of casualties. Although it claims the British troops were outnumbered three to one, other estimates suggest that approximately 2,400 Patriots faced 3,000 British troops. The Americans suffered approximately 450 casualties, including 140 dead, while the British lost 1,054 killed and wounded, a casualty rate of about 45 percent. The casualty rate among British officers was particularly high. This broadside’s emphasis on the courage of the British forces makes it an unusual account of the battle and an interesting piece of British propaganda.

Item #26495, $12,500

Continental Congress Address to Inhabitants of the Colonies Urging Unity Against British Tyranny, also prints Letter to Inhabitants of Quebec

[CONTINENTAL CONGRESS], Newspaper. Pennsylvania Gazette, November 9, 1774 (No. 2394). Philadelphia: David Hall and William Sellers. Front-page printing of Memorial “To the Inhabitants of the Colonies of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode-Island, and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Counties of New-Castle, Kent, and Sussex, on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina” (October 21, 1774); and Letter “To the Inhabitants of the Province of Quebec” (October 26, 1774). Copy sent to Thomas and John Fleet, Boston printers. 4 pp. 10 x 16¼ in.

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Friends and Countrymen:... we find ourselves reduced to the disagreeable alternative, of being silent and betraying the innocent, or of speaking out and censuring those we wish to revere. In making our choice of these distressing difficulties, we prefer the course dictated by honesty, and a regard for the welfare of our country....

it is clear beyond a doubt, that a resolution is formed, and now is carrying into execution, to extinguish the freedom of these colonies, by subjecting them to a despotic government…

Item #30035.20, $12,500

After Yorktown Victory, Samuel Huntington Congratulates French Foreign Minister

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON, Draft Autograph Letter, to Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes, Minister of France, November 7, 1781, Norwich, Connecticut. On laid paper watermarked “I Taylor.” 2 pp., 8 x 13¼ in.

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Also see the Alexander Hamilton Collection: The Story of the Revolution & Founding.

The conduct of Count de Grasse so far as it hath come to my knowledge charms me; his drupping the British fleet sufficient to Convince teach them they might not & could to keep at due distance & not enter the Cheasapeake or again attempt to Interrupt the siege, & at the same time not suffering himself to be too far diverted from his first & main object…

Item #24776, $7,500

The Psalms of David, Carried in a Rhode Island Revolutionary War Unit in 1776

[REVOLUTIONARY WAR; RHODE ISLAND]. ISAAC WATTS, Book. The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament: and Applied to the Christian State and Worship (title supplied). Norwich, [Connecticut]: Alexander Robertson, James Robertson, and Trumbull, 1774. Approx. 300 pp., 3 x 5 x 1¼ in.

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Bibles, psalm books, or other printed works carried during the Revolution are rare on the market. This edition appears to be scarce: the last offering we find was by Goodspeed’s in 1934.

Item #24693, ON HOLD

Connecticut Governor’s Proclamation Calling for a Day of Thanksgiving to Commemorate the Defeat of the French in Canada, and the Taking of Quebec

THOMAS FITCH, By the Honourable Thomas Fitch Esq; Governor ... of Connecticut ... A Proclamation for a Public Thanksgiving ... Thursday the sixth day of March next .... New Haven: by James Parker & Company, February 21, 1760. 12 x 14.5 inches.

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Broadside with a woodcut vignette of royal British arms at the top and woodcut initial. Some loss to upper right corner, a few nicks to the left and right margins. Penned inscription on the back.

Reference: Evans 8568; ESTC W34681 (locating only 2 copies)

Item #26605, $6,500

An Early Olive Branch Petition - Continental Congress Implores King George III for Relief

[CONTINENTAL CONGRESS], Newspaper. The Pennsylvania Gazette, January 18, 1775 (No. 2404). Philadelphia: David Hall and William Sellers. “Petition of the Continental Congress To the King’s Most Excellent Majesty” (October 25, 1774). 4 pp., 10 x 16¼ in.

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“We your Majesty’s faithful subjects...beg leave to lay our grievances before the throne… an act was passed for blocking up the harbour of Boston, another impowering the Governor of the Massachusetts-Bay to send persons indicted for murder in that province to another colony, or even to Great-Britain, for trial… a third for altering the chartered constitution of government in that province; and a fourth, for extending the limits of Quebec, abolishing the English, and restoring the French laws… To a sovereign, who ‘glories in the name of Briton,’ the bare recital of these acts must, we presume, justify the loyal subjects who fly to the foot of his throne and implore his clemency for protection against them.… We ask but for Peace, Liberty, and Safety.”

Item #30035.24, $6,500

Continental Congress July 1775 Message Asserting American Sovereignty & Rejecting Parliament’s Appeal for Peace. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, Printed at Harvard. With Reports from London on Battles of Lexington and Concord

[SECOND CONTINENTAL CONGRESS], Newspaper. The New-England Chronicle, or the Essex Gazette. August 31-September 7, 1775 (Vol. 8, No. 371). Printed at Stoughton Hall, Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall. Includes front-page printing of Opinion of Congress in Response to Lord North’s Conciliatory Proposal (July 31, 1775), written by Thomas Jefferson, signed in type by John Hancock; and Resolution of Congress Clarifying Non-Importation Agreement (August 1, 1775). The original subscriber to this issue was Dr. John Wingate (1743-1819) of Hallowell, Maine (Massachusetts), who served as an army surgeon in the Revolutionary War. 4 pp., 10 x 15½ in.

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The colonies of America are entitled to the sole and exclusive privilege of giving and granting their own money...It is a high breach of this privilege for any body of men, extraneous to their constitutions...to take to themselves the authority of judging of their conditions.

it is the DESPOTISM of the CROWN and the SLAVERY of the people which the ministry aim at. For refusing those attempts, and for that only the Americans have been inhumanly murdered by the King’s Troops.

Historic background

On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere rode to Lexington to warn that the British were coming. 700 British troops were met on Lexington Green by local minutemen; the skirmish left eight Americans dead. As the British continued to the armory at Concord, hundreds of minutemen and militiamen responded. The British were forced to march back to Boston; on the way, American snipers took a deadly toll. The war had begun in earnest.

Item #30034.05, $6,500

1778 Muster List, Including Rejected African American Recruit

[REVOLUTIONARY WAR; AFRICAN AMERICAN SOLDIERS], Autograph Document Signed, Muster Rolls for Norton and Attleboro, Bristol County, Massachusetts. 2 pp., 8¼ x 13 in.

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This rare descriptive list of men enlisted for Continental service from Massachusetts includes an African American who served in the militia. The first page lists eight men belonging to three companies in Colonel John Daggett’s regiment of Massachusetts militia. The list gives each man’s age; height; color of complexion, hair, and eyes; and town. All are from Norton in Bristol County, approximately thirty miles south of Boston. Among the militiamen who were forwarded for Continental service was 26-year-old London Morey, “a Negro,” but according to his military records, he was “rejected” at Fishkill, New York.

The verso contains a tabular list of twenty men recruited from Colonel John Daggett’s militia regiment for nine months’ service in the Continental Army. They were from Attleboro, Easton, and Mansfield. The table lists each man’s company, name, age, height, complexion, eye color, town, and county or country. The last four listed are from France. Several served in the 12th Massachusetts Regiment under the command of Col. Gamaliel Bradford.

Item #26532, $4,500

Dutchess County Militia Members Receive Their Pay in December 1776

[REVOLUTIONARY WAR], Manuscript Document. Soldier’s pay register for a Dutchess County militia unit at Fort Constitution. Garrison, New York, December 30, 1776 to May 20, 1777. 9 pp. on 3 folded sheets.

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Revolutionary War soldiers who had been called for a short period of garrison duty at Fort Constitution signed or made their “x-mark” on this register as they received pay from Captain Barnardus Swartwout. More than 100 soldiers, part of the 4th Dutchess County Regiment of the New York militia, signed this document as having received ration money, advances, and other accounting at both Fort Constitution and Wappinger’s Creek.

Item #23008, ON HOLD

Acquittal of Printer John Peter Zenger in Colonial New York Establishes Foundation for American Freedom of the Press

[JOHN PETER ZENGER], The Trial of John Peter Zenger, Of New-York, Printer: Who was charged with having printed and published a Libel against the Government; and acquitted. With a Narrative of his Case. To which is now added, being never printed before, The Trial of Mr. William Owen, Bookseller, near Temple-Bar, Who was also Charged with the Publication of a Libel against the Government; of which he was honourably acquitted by a Jury of Free-born Englishmen, Citizens of London, 1st ed. London: John Almon, 1765. Three-quarter olive calf, red morocco spine label, stamped in blind and in gilt, over marbled paper-covered boards; some sunning to leather; all edges trimmed. 60 pp., 5 x 8.25 in.

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It is not the cause of a poor printer...it is the cause of liberty.

This volume, printed in London three decades after John Peter Zenger’s trial, illustrates the continuing relevance of his acquittal to the freedom of the press. The volume also includes the story of William Owen, a London bookseller, who had been prosecuted for libel at the request of the House of Commons in 1752. Like Zenger, Owen was also acquitted by a jury.

John Almon, a publisher and bookseller known for his commitment to the freedom of the press, printed the volume as part of his challenge to governmental censorship of the press. In the same year that Almon published this pamphlet, the attorney general prosecuted him for the publication of a pamphlet entitled Juries and Libels, but the prosecution failed.

Item #27745, $3,500

The King’s Attorney Bills Connecticut – including cost of putting down a church riot (over tithing and ecclesiastical conflict between MA. & CT.) – and Suing Stamp Tax Collectors

JEDEDIAH ELDERKIN, Autograph Document Signed (“Jeda Elderkin”), Hartford, November 9, 1768, being an accounting of monies owed to and collected by Elderkin in Connecticut for services rendered as King’s attorney from December 1754 to 1766. 2 pp., recto and verso, double-folio.

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To Trouble & Expence against Rioters at Woodstock £1… To my Trouble & Expence to bring Actions agst the Collectors of Excise pr order of Assembly, £3.10

Item #23409, $3,500

Defending Georgia Against the Spanish in War of Jenkins’ Ear. Scarce Example of the Oldest Regularly Published Newspaper in America

[EUROPEAN AND COLONIAL NEWS], Boston Weekly News-Letter, January 31, 1740. Boston: John Draper. 2 pp., 13½ x 18½ in. Includes handwritten “Revd Mr Samll Cooke (at Bridger’s)” inscription in margin of first page.

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This issue of the Boston Weekly News-Letter features a report of early conflicts between the British and French empires in coastal Georgia in the early stages of the War of Jenkin’s Ear.

Item #27367, $3,250

Documenting Declaration of Independence Signer
Robert Morris’s Financial Troubles

ROBERT MORRIS, Partially-Printed Document Signed. Promissory Note. Philadelphia, Pa., May 12, 1795. 1 p., 4 x 6¾ in. Endorsed on verso by Morris. Ink burn through the “R” and “b” in “Robt.” Left edge irregularly cut.

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Item #23148.01, $2,950

Robert Morris Promissory Note,
Used As Evidence In His Bankruptcy Trial

ROBERT MORRIS, Autograph Document Signed, December 12, 1794. 1 p., 7⅛ x 3¾ in.

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Financier of the Revolution forced into bankruptcy court: “Sixty days after date, I promise to pay unto Mr. Mathias Kurlin Junr or Order Thirteen Hundred & forty six Dolls & Sixty Seven Cents for value recd.”

Item #20892, $2,800

Return for Lt. John Hicks’s Company at West Point

[WEST POINT], Manuscript Document Signed (John Hicks Lt), West Point, N.Y, December 3, 1781, 1 p. “A Return of Lt. Hicks Comp” listing the names of 38 men; missing lower right corner professionally restored. Verso: notation “Rye Brooks,” possibly the day’s password.

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Item #20639.12, $2,600
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