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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Saturday, May 25, 2019

“I am My Dear Marquis with the truest affection…”

portrait of the rosy-cheeked young Lafayette painted for Jefferson, now at the Massachusetts Historical Society
There was a lot of news coverage earlier this month about locating a letter from Alexander Hamilton to the Marquis de Lafayette that was stolen from the Massachusetts State Archives sometime around 1940.

Fortunately for the study of history, the archive had made a photostat of the document before it disappeared. The text of the letter was therefore available to be included in the printed edition of Hamilton’s papers and at Founders Online. That in turn led to a document dealer recognizing that the original had been stolen when it came back onto the market. Now the state is taking legal steps to get that document back.

Here’s the text of the 21 July 1780 dispatch:
My Dear Marquis

We have just received advice from New York through different channels that the enemy are making an embarkation with which they menace the French fleet and army. Fifty transports are said to have gone up the Sound to take in troops and proceed directly to Rhode Island.

The General is absent and may not return before evening. Though this may be only a demonstration yet as it may be serious, I think it best to forward it without waiting the Generals return.

We have different accounts from New York of an action in the West Indies in which the English lost several ships. I am inclined to credit them.

I am My Dear Marquis
with the truest affection
Yr. Most Obedt
A Hamilton
Aide De Camp
The letter highlights some of the relationships depicted—indeed exaggerated—in the Broadway musical Hamilton: the close friendship between these two young officers and young Hamilton’s willingness to act on Gen. George Washington’s behalf.

Another link to recent popular culture: The warning Hamilton sent on had come from the Culper Ring on Long Island, inspiration for the recent television series Turn: Washington’s Spies. The rumor about a Caribbean naval battle, which was false, had come through Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, another character on that show.

The mystery I can’t figure out is why this letter was in the Massachusetts archives in the first place. It has nothing to do with Massachusetts.

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