Rare Revolutionary War Period Signature of George Washington Contained in an Early 19th Century Military Manual


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Rare Revolutionary War Period Signature of George Washington Contained in an Early 19th Century Military Manual – This original and completely authentic clipped signature of George Washington was cut from a well known letter, written by Gen. Washington, in April of 1776, from New York, to his brother, Augustine. Sometime in the early 19th century, the signature was cut from the letter and pasted into “Regulations to be Received and Observed for the Discipline of Infantry in the Army of the United States” by William Duane, the 8th edition, published in Philadelphia, in 1814. The signature reads as follows:

“Yr Most affect Brother

G Washington

New York 29th of April 1776”

In the letter, Washington discusses moving his entire army to New York, from Boston, as well as adding more troops to come to New York. He mentions that things are not going well, at the time, with the “Canadians and Indians”. He also states that he has directed a high degree of fortification to be constructed for the City of New York and along the Hudson River, thereby inducing the “King’s Ships” to flee, as they had been within “Pistol shot of the Wharves, & their Centrys (sic) conversing with ours …” He indicates that he has “prevaild (sic) upon the Commee (sic) of safety to forbid every kind of Intercourse between the Inhabitants of this Colony and the Enemy…” Washington mentions that Mrs. Washington is with him and has indicated that “she will take the Small Pox …” (assumedly meaning the recently introduced vaccination).

We have had the signature authenticated by Becketts; their certification will accompany the signature and book. We have included the entire text of the original letter, as enumerated below. We have also placed links to the National Archives web site that discusses the letter, indicating that the letter now resides in the Library of Congress. The book in which the signature is pasted, is a rare edition of an early military manual. There is no research to indicate how the clipped signature came to be put into this manual.

Following the American Patriots’ answer to the call of alarm from Lexington and Concord and their subsequent defeat at Breed’s Hill, George Washington was given command of the American forces by the Continental Congress on June 19, 1775. At that time, the British occupied Boston but were under siege by the American forces that surrounded the city. By the fall, frustrated by the stalemated siege, Washington endorsed a bold plan by Boston bookseller Henry Knox, to move cannons that had been captured by patriots Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, in May, at Fort Ticonderoga, to the heights surrounding Boston, some 300 miles distant, to force the British from the city. Over the winter, the Knox Expedition moved 60 tons of artillery and ammunition from Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point south down the Hudson River shore to cross the river at Albany and then east across the frozen Berkshires to Boston. The subsequent placement of this artillery at Dorchester Heights forced the British to evacuate Boston, retreating to Halifax on March 17. 1776. General Washington then led the bulk of his volunteer army to leave Boston, on April 4, arriving in New York City on April 14, to protect that strategic city from British attack. It was against this backdrop that George Washington wrote to his younger brother, John Augustine Washington, on April 29, 1776:

I wrote you a pretty full Acct just before I left Cambridge of the movemts of the two Armies, and now refer to it—since that, I have brought the whole Army which I had in the New England Governments (five Regiments excepted, & left behind for the defence of Boston and the Stores we have there) to this place; and Eight days ago, Detached four Regiments for Canada; and am now Imbarking Six more for the same place, as there are reasons to believe that a push will be made there this Campaign, and things in that Country not in a very promising way, either with respect to the Canadians or Indian’s.”

The closing and signature block of this very letter, available in this posting, provides a chance to own a highly significant piece of American History. The original copy of this letter (sans the clipped block now available) is in the collection of George Washington’s Papers at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC:


Adding to the importance of this historic artifact is the fact that it is attached to the inside cover of an extremely rare military manual authored and printed by William Duane, notable journalist and editor of the Aurora newspaper in Philadelphia which was founded by Benjamin Franklin’s grandson Benjamin Franklin Bache. William Duane married the widow of Benjamin Franklin Bache after he died of yellow fever at age 29 in 1798. Duane was appointed to a Lieutenant Colonelcy by President Thomas Jefferson and, by the War of 1812, had been promoted to Adjutant General.

The following online article, from Antiques and Auction News – May 6, 2014 more than likely indicates by whom and when this signature was clipped from the original letter; in all likelihood, the “snipper” was Jared Sparks, president of Harvard in the mid-19th century and author of “The Life and Writings of George Washington”, compiled in between 1834 and 1837.


“Snippets of History”

May 6, 2014

Autographs are vestiges of history. They tell their stories to the attentive listener more completely when they remain a part of their original context. Thus, complete documents are preferable to fragments and archives of related items are more desirable than individual documents. Critics may point to auction houses and dealers in autographs as the primary “culprits” in the crime of rendering history into incoherent fragments. Yet one could also argue that the same actors are equally responsible for the preservation of items that would have been destroyed, had they not been redistributed to collectors with the will and means to preserve those snippets of history.

In Swann Auction Galleries’ Thursday, May 22, Autographs Auction, there are a number of items that have been clipped out of their original context, but for many of these, we know enough about their origins to recover their intriguing places in history.
One such item is a fragment of George Washington’s draft of his discarded first inaugural address. It would surprise many to learn that this important document was the victim of someone’s scissors, especially as the person responsible had no intention of profiting from the act, except insofar as he felt satisfaction in pleasing an autograph collector. Jared Sparks, before becoming president of Harvard in 1849, was given the papers of George Washington, so that he might publish them in his Life and Writings of George Washington, 1834-37. When his work was completed, Sparks complied with the growing requests for samples of Washington’s writing, and when he had sent nearly all the trifling items, he began cutting into strips the remaining “trifles,” so as to please as many collectors as possible. Today, it is not difficult to recognize the historical importance of many of the items Sparks seemed to view as being sufficiently insignificant to send to collectors. The incomplete phrases that can be read in the fragment being offered in the auction do not seem especially important in themselves, but with some scholarship and imagination, the humility, duty, struggle, and optimism expressed by the young country’s first president can be reconstructed. If no collectors had pestered Sparks for autographs, one might wonder whether Washington’s first inaugural draft would have been neglected and lost altogether, like countless other items whose value was not recognized by their early protectors.
Every little stitch of history that has been left to us can be a blessing for the collector, even those bits that have little more to them than a signature. Sometimes, close attention can unlock some of the story behind such a scrap. For instance, on the verso of a clipped signature by Thomas Jefferson (little more than two inches long), a few printed words reveal that the signature was once part of a 1793 act of Congress establishing the first Federal maritime infrastructure, including lighthouses, beacons, buoys and piers. In rare cases, a collector can reunite a clipped signature with its complementary document, such as can be seen in an Alexander Hamilton letter that will be featured in the sale. In this letter, in which Hamilton writes from Morristown in 1777 as George Washington’s aide-de-camp, the signature in the closing had clearly been clipped out and later restored. One can only speculate whether the restoration was done by a remorseful scissor-wielder or an attentive collector who owned one part and happened upon the other. Although it is easy to see why the collector might prefer whole documents and undisturbed archives, the historical importance of an artifact is not always so obvious. For historians and collectors of the future, there will always be gratitude for the quiet heroism of today’s collector who harbors an appreciation for the snippets of history.

The closing, signature, and dateline at the end of the main body of this letter were cut off and are now at NIC. They are supplied within angle brackets from that source.


George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. IV (1776) [1889]


New York,


29 April, 1776


Dear Brother,

Since my arrival at this place, I have been favored with two or three of your letters, and thank you for your kind and frequent remembrance of me. If I should not write to you as often as you do to me, you must attribute it to its true cause, and that is, the hurry and multiplicity of business in which I am constantly engaged, from the time I rise out of my bed till I go into it again. I wrote to you a pretty full account, just before I left Cambridge, of the movements of the two armies, and now refer you to it. Since that time, I have brought the whole army, which I had in the New England governments (five regiments excepted, and left behind for the defence of Boston and the stores we have there), to this place; and eight days ago detached four regiments for Canada; [56] and am now embarking six more for the same place, as there are reasons to believe, that a push will be made there this campaign, and things in that country not being in a very promising way, either with respect to the Canadians or Indians. These detachments have weakened us very considerably in this important post, where, I am sorry to add, there are too many inimical persons. But as our affairs in Canada can derive no support, except what is sent to them, and the militia may be called in here, it was thought best to strengthen that quarter at the expense of this; but I am afraid we are rather too late in doing it. From the eastern army, (under my immediate command,) it was impossible to do it sooner.

We have already gone great lengths in fortifying this city and the Hudson River. A fortnight more will put us in a very respectable posture of defence. The works we have already constructed, and which they found we were about to erect, have put the King’s ships to flight; for, instead of lying within pistol-shot of the wharves, and their sentries conversing with ours, (whilst they received every necessary that the country afforded,) they have now gone down to the Hook, near thirty miles from this place, the last harbor they can get to, and I have prevailed upon the Committee of Safety to forbid every kind of intercourse between the inhabitants of this colony and the enemy. This I was resolved upon effecting; but I thought it best to bring it about through that channel, as I now can pursue my own measures in support of their resolves.

Mrs. Washington is still here, and talks of taking the smallpox; but I doubt her resolution. Mr. and Mrs. Custis will set out in a few days for Maryland. I did not write to you by the ’Squire, because his departure, in the first place, was sudden; in the next, I had but little to say. I am very sorry to hear, that my sister was indisposed when you last wrote. I hope she is now recovered of it, and that your family are well. That they may continue so, and that our once happy country may escape the depredations and calamities attending on war, is the fervent prayer of, dear Sir, your most affectionate brother.

Mrs. Washington, Mr. and Mrs. Custis join in love to my sister and the rest of the family.

George Washington

30 April, 1776

 New York