J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, March 02, 2018

Washington’s “Early notice” to Ward

On 2 Mar 1776, Gen. George Washington wrote a short note from Cambridge to his second-in-command, Gen. Artemas Ward:
After weighing all Circumstances of Tide, &c., and considering the hazard of having the Posts on Dorchester Neck taken by the Enemy, and the evil consequences which would result from it, the Gentlemen here are of Opinion that we should go on there Monday Night.

I give you this Early notice of it, that you may delay no time in preparing for it, as everything here will be got in readiness to co-operate.

In haste I am, Sir, etc.
The commander added a postscript on the back: “Remember [the?] Barrels.”

Evidently no copy of this note was made for the commander-in-chief’s files. He wrote it himself instead of working through aides, and he was “In haste.”

In 1849 the Cincinnati Gazette published the text of the letter and reported that the document, “neatly framed,” was on sale “in the show-window of our neighbor [art dealer William] Wiswell.” Someone had offered its owner the impressive sum of $200.

In 1887 Edward Everett Hale quoted the letter in The Life of George Washington: Studied Anew. By 1909 a copy had gone into the Artemas Ward Manuscripts in Shrewsbury, which Charles Martyn used for his 1921 biography of Ward. (Those papers are now at the Massachusetts Historical Society.)

As John C. Fitzpatrick prepared a new edition of Washington’s writings in 1930, he and his staff looked for the original document and couldn’t find it. All they could find was the report from Cincinnati. So Fitzpatrick published the text in his edition with a footnote.

By 1975, however, the letter in Washington’s hand had resurfaced and was in the collection of Dr. Paul R. Patterson, a professor of pediatrics and coin collector in Albany. That’s how the current edition of Washington’s correspondence refers to this note.

TOMORROW: The full plan.

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