Where’s Washington? Judging by the number of search results when using the terms “George Washington” in HSP’s online catalog, Discover, the answer is: Everywhere!
For college students such as myself, search “George Washington” and prepare to be overwhelmed by several thousand results. Granted, not all of them refer to the Virginia planter-turned-President, George Washington (1732-1799), son of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington. Many mothers and fathers found it fit to name their sons after the former Commander-in-Chief (George Washington Carver, George Washington Bartram, the list goes on.)
Narrowing the search to the Washington in question, however, there are still thousands of results. HSP holds materials ranging from Washington's pocket diary, letters in his own hand, artwork, published materials, accounting records, ephemera, to even a locket of his hair! While the bulk of Washington’s papers and other records are now scattered across several institutions, HSP holds several items offering a unique insight into Washington, the man and his legacy.
Upon performing my own quick search of Washingtoniana, or papers, books, letters, and relics relating to George Washington, I too was overwhelmed. To help other students and those interested in the first POTUS, I’ve compiled a list – by no means comprehensive! – of several materials I’ve found particularly revealing of Washington’s time as a general, president, and private citizen.
HSP collection of Washington family papers (#Am.001)
- This is the first place anyone looking to do Washington research at HSP should begin. In this collection you will find a volume of hand-written letters by Washington’s parents, his father’s will, and letters in Washington’s own hand. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery is also a part of this collection, along with Washington’s 1796 diary - which he kept when the family was living in Philadelphia during his presidency.
Tobias Lear diary (#Am.09238)
- Lear was the personal secretary to the Washington family at Mount Vernon, a position he dutifully served during Washington’s final moments, caring for his every need. Lear recorded these experiences in his diary, the only handwritten account of Washington’s death. In moving passages Lear recounts Washington’s stoic poise until the end, and Martha’s reaction. In later life, Lear – after a political scandal and unrequited love – committed suicide, leaving no note.
Clement Biddle (1810-1879) papers (#0049)
- Clement Biddle served as Quartermaster General of the Pennsylvania Militia as well as United States Marshal for Pennsylvania. Biddle frequently corresponded with Washington during and after the Revolution, with letters covering matters from issues related to Biddle’s time as Commissary General of Forage, to business dealings with Washington after the general had retired to Mt. Vernon. General orders and warrants signed by Washington are also included. Miscellaneous letters and documents from other familiar names appear in the collection as well: John Quincy Adams, Aaron Burr, Nathanael Greene, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Timothy Pickering. Colonial paper money and samples of cloth also make cameos in the collection.
Christopher Marshall papers (#0395)
- Christopher Marshall, a Philadelphia druggist during the Revolution, kept several detailed diaries with observations on the political life of the Early Republic as well as daily life in the bustling then-capital of the country. Marshall’s diaries offer a glimpse into how ordinary folks viewed Washington during the Revolution.
Washingtoniana case (#Am.00151)
- This is perhaps HSP's most intriguing piece. Assembled by Howard Edwards, it is more of a shrine to George Washington than a simple case. Included are a personal letter signed by Washington written to his brother-in-law, Burwell Bassett, two images of Washington – one a watercolor – and much more. There is even a locket of Washington’s hair, alleged to have been “Presented by John Perrie, son of Martin Perrie, Washington’s Hair Dresser, in 1781, to my Relative, the late Anthony M. Buckley.” Now, Edwards is someone whose Washington passion might parallel my own!
Cadwalader family papers
- The Cadwalader family, “Old Philadelphians” in the truest sense, is extremely influential in Pennsylvania history. This is a massive collection, with five family members receiving their own series: General John Cadwalader (1742-1786), Thomas Cadwalader (1779-1841), John Cadwalader (1805-1879), George Cadwalader (1806-1879), and Charles E. Cadwalader (1839-1907). Gen. John Cadwalader is our focus in terms of connections to Washington. His papers contain important materials on the Trenton-Princeton campaign and letters of George Washington dated 1776-1778.
- One item in particular caught my eye, a letter from Washington to Gen. John Cadwalader dated Christmas Day, 1776. The letter concerns Washington's plans to lead his troops across the Delaware River and commence an attack on Trenton, with the beleaguered Washington asking Cadwalader to create a diversion while the Continentals crossed the river. The Battle of Trenton was the army’s first military victory in the Revolutionary war.
William Spohn Baker collection of Washingtonania (#V67)
- Baker was another collector of Washingtoniana. Contained in the collection are images of Washington, mostly engravings. There are volumes written and annotated by Baker discussing how Washington was represented in art, handwritten copies of Washington's diaries (now, that’s some dedication!), and a steel engraving of the bust of Washington.
George Washington’s Account book, 1793-1797
- Select pages from Washington’s account book are published on HSP’s Digital Library. These accounts cover Washington's second presidential term,written by Tobias Lear and Bartholomew Dandridge, another of Washington’s secretaries during his presidency.
George Washington to Thomas Mifflin, October 2nd, 1789
- You may recognize the name Mifflin from Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River, a Revolutionary battlefield and fort. In the letter, Washington refers to the "amendments proposed to be added to the Constitution of the United States," which were originally enclosed. These amendments would become known as the "Bill of Rights.
George Washington to Christopher Ludwick
- Here’s a little-known fact I discovered in researching this letter: Christopher Ludwick was Baker-General for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. This German immigrant attempted to persuade Hessians to abandon the British army and join the Continentals. In his role as Baker-General, Congress instructed Ludwick to return one pound of bread for every one pound of flour. He was frequently invited to dine with Washington. After Yorktown, Ludwick promptly baked 6,000 loaves for Cornwallis’s men, as per Washington’s request.
Like most passions, I have trouble explaining exactly where my Washington-mania comes from. It may be as simple as the Liberty’s Kids program I watched every day growing up, featuring three teenage journalists working for Benjamin Franklin. I viewed Washington at a young age as most of his contemporaries seem to have viewed him: as a dashing yet earnest figure. Washington continues to fascinate me, making his way into my college studies as a history major at Temple University. In my courses as well as through my internship at HSP, I’ve had the privilege of learning about the Washington that textbooks minimize, or forget to include altogether: Washington as a man, in all his complexities and contradictions. Through his letters, I’ve been privy to Washington's thoughts and feelings, his anxieties and his principles. HSP puts a world of Washington at the fingertips of researchers and students like me, with this brief survey serving as a helpful port of call as you explore one of the most important figures behind the founding of our country.
If you’ve stumbled upon a piece of Washingtoniana that has impacted you, please feel free to comment below - I'd love to hear about it!