Washington’s Quill Blog

Did Martha Washington Really Hate Thomas Jefferson?

By Kathryn Gehred, Research Editor
May 18, 2018

Towards the end of her life, Martha Washington harbored no warm feelings for Thomas Jefferson. A guest at Mount Vernon in 1802 wrote that “she spoke of the election of Mr. Jefferson, whom she considered as one of the most detestable of mankind, as the greatest misfortune our country had ever experienced.”1 Connecticut governor John Cotton Smith wrote that “next to the loss of her husband,” Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 visit to Mount Vernon was “the most painful occurrence of her life.”2 Martha Washington’s granddaughter Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis did not care for Jefferson either. She joked after Jefferson’s election that perhaps now the world was ready for the apocalypse.3 Those familiar with the election of 1800 probably have a fair understanding of why Martha Washington felt this way; tensions between Jefferson and the Washington family had been building for some time. But it can still be somewhat shocking to see Martha Washington—who exists in much of the American imagination as a kind of benevolent, grandmotherly figure—be so sharp-tongued.

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George Washington and Parades in the Early American Republic

by Dana Stefanelli, Assistant Editor
May 14, 2018

Parades, feasts, and festivals were, in the words of historian Simon Newman, “essential components of early national popular political culture.” In the late eighteenth century, these activities allowed regular Americans to participate in politics to a greater extent than ever before. 1 In the nineteenth century, the public pageantry of parades became a more official and hierarchical (and more white and male) component of political party organization. However, in the 1780s and 1790s, participation in public political celebrations usually included a broad and diverse collection of citizens.

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Janet Livingston Montgomery, Part 2: “I Am Constantly at General Washington”

By Kim Curtis, Research Editor
May 4, 2018

In my blog post from this past March, I discussed the life of Janet Livingston Montgomery, a member of the wealthy and politically elite Livingston family of New York’s Hudson River Valley. This current post will explore Janet Livingston Montgomery in relation to her era’s traditional gender ideals.

Janet Livingston Montgomery demonstrated the traditional gender ideals of the early American republic by educating herself and her surrogate sons; embodying a sentimental view of courtship, marriage, and widowhood; and symbolizing republican virtues.1 In addition, she assumed a more progressive stance by surpassing these conventions, and actively engaging with and influencing the political culture around her.

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Postponing the Inevitable: Martha Washington’s Advice on Health

By Lynn Price, Assistant Editor
April 27, 2018

Martha Washington died on Saturday, May 22, 1802. She outlived two husbands, her four biological children, several siblings, her favorite niece, and many friends. Unsurprisingly, the editors of the forthcoming volume of Martha’s correspondence have discovered one theme that has continually appeared—concern for loved ones’ health and her subsequent advice. Martha was never far-removed from loss.

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The Dispersal of George Washington’s Library

By William M. Ferraro, Senior Associate Editor
April 20, 2018

George Washington’s interest in books has attracted increasing scholarly attention. Mount Vernon pulled together a major exhibition in 2013 to mark the opening of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.1 Adrienne M. Harrison’s dissertation on Washington’s self-improvement through reading became a book published in 2015.2 Noted literary biographer Kevin J. Hayes has written a study with even greater range and depth. His book is now a finalist for the 2018 George Washington Prize.3 It has taken time for this scholarship to come forward because George Washington’s impressive library scattered after his death, and it was not his habit to muse about or ponder his reading in his diaries or correspondence. Sustained effort has been necessary to overcome the inaccurate perception that Washington had little curiosity and limited literary ability.4

Joseph R. Hawley, from James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, eds., Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography, 7 vols (New York, 1888–1900).

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Washington and the Governors (Part III)

By Benjamin L. Huggins, Associate Editor
April 13, 2018

In this post, I continue my survey of George Washington’s relations with the state governors. A more complicated example of the contending interests involved in Washington’s relations with the governors than those I examined in my most recent post occurred when Washington sought increased militia support from Pennsylvania for the expedition against the Iroquois. The ensuing quarrel shows an important contrast in the different concerns of the general and the governors. The political context is crucial for understanding the controversy. The Pennsylvania government was operating under a contested constitution adopted in 1776 that gave the frontier counties increased representation in the unicameral assembly. Two political factions had developed around the constitutional question. The Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council and its president Joseph Reed were members of the more radical Whig Society. They were opposed by the Republican Society moderates led by Philadelphia merchants like Robert Morris. In May, riots led by militiamen supporting the radical cause would break out in Philadelphia.

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“One of the Severest Strokes that Could have been Meditated Against Us”: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, West Point, and British Strategy

By Jeffrey L. Zvengrowski, Assistant Editor
April 6, 2018

Benedict Arnold infamously schemed with Maj. John André, the British adjutant general, to help Britain take West Point in 1780. Yet, how did Arnold actually plan to betray the 11 Continental and militia regiments under his command at or near West Point’s fortifications? The British, moreover, had grander goals in mind than capturing West Point on a kind of large-scale raid. Indeed, when George Washington came to West Point on Sept. 25 after discussing strategy with Lieutenant General Rochambeau at Hartford, he not only foiled Arnold’s design but a British gambit to win the war.

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A Doomed Monument: Giuseppe Ceracchi in the U.S.A.

By Kathryn Gehred, Research Editor
March 23, 2018

In 1783, Congress passed an arguably frivolous resolution to construct a large copper equestrian statue of George Washington in the as-yet-unplanned federal city. Progress on the resolution was slow; more pressing issues (writing a constitution, for one) faced the young nation. But while a statue of Washington may not have been first priority, Congress largely agreed that symbolism and statuary serve an important role in nation-building. As founders such as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton tenaciously fought for their separate visions of the United States to take shape, it became clear that the location, design, and artist designated for the George Washington sculpture required careful thought.

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The Most Difficult Days of the Patriot Cause: Examining the Events of Revolutionary War Series Volume 29

By Dana Stefanelli, Assistant Editor
March 16, 2018

Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, engraving. Image courtesy of New York Public Library.

The winter of 1780-81 was one of the most difficult periods of the American Revolution for the Patriots, though the weather was only indirectly related to the challenges they faced. Coming in the aftermath of American defeats at Savannah, Ga., and Charleston and Camden, S.C., this was undoubtedly a military low point for the Americans. News of Benedict Arnold’s betrayal and suspicions about Ethan Allen’s loyalties raised concerns about popular support for the Patriot cause and the morale of the fighting men. The seeming unlikelihood of the situation improving further dampened spirits. Nothing describes this situation more vividly than the correspondence between Nathanael Greene and George Washington during the late autumn of 1780.

Greene was appointed to replace Gen. Horatio Gates as commander of the southern department after Gates’s defeat at Camden. A skillful general, Greene had earned Washington’s trust and is remembered as one of Washington’s most valued officers. But as he made his way south to assume his new command, the burden of leading a large force of men under such desperate conditions began to weigh heavily on Greene.

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Revolutionary War Series, Volume 26: An Interview with the Editors

By Katie Blizzard, Communications Specialist
March 9, 2018

Neither associate editor Benjamin L. Huggins nor assistant editor Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins could have anticipated the complexities involved in editing The Papers of George Washington’s Revolutionary War Series, volume 26. One such difficulty concerned the content of the documents, which included the communication of misleading or even false intelligence. And so, in anticipation of the volume’s publication later this year, I sat down with both editors—who collaborated on the volume—to examine the work behind the next installment of the series.

When Adrina began work on Revolutionary War Series, volume 26, which covers mid-May through early July 1780, she had hoped to call upon past experiences for insight into the material. Armed with a doctorate in French literature—specifically on the evolution of the enlightenments occurring in France, Britain, and the American colonies—Adrina had a strong understanding of the sociopolitical environment out of which the revolutionary ideals grew. Moreover, her experiences as an editor at The Papers of Benjamin Franklin—particularly on his papers during the year 1783—and as a project indexer for The Papers of George Washington had familiarized her with the events, people, and themes of the war. Despite such an informed contextual understanding, Adrina still found the volume 26 material challenging.

Co-editor Benjamin, who has long studied military history, encountered the same issue: the vocabulary from Washington’s Revolutionary War-era papers was obscure and particular. When editing past volumes in the series, for example, he had to learn how to discern between usage of the term “corps” in describing units of varying size.

Supplementary reading thus proved crucial to understanding the material. According to Adrina, she strove to learn more about those people, events, and terms with which she was less familiar and “looked into as many sources as possible until the job was done.” Obviously passionate about her work, Adrina poured over several primary and secondary sources in her free time in order to transcribe and annotate one of the most significant events for her portion of the volume: the surrender of Charleston, South Carolina.

Regardless of these efforts, certain documents took a considerable amount of time to annotate. For example, letters from Major General Robert Howe, which often included multiple items of intelligence, required research on each piece of news in order to contextualize and verify the information. Some of these rumors, Adrina found, could be corroborated by diaries from officers. Others could not be verified as the information was second- or third-hand, making it difficult to trace back to the original source. Occasionally, research confirmed that the intelligence was erroneous. In those instances, Adrina provided additional information as to why the intelligence had been shared with General Washington. And if all this does not sound difficult enough, Howe misspelled many of the names of individuals mentioned within these intelligences, adding an additional step to the verification process!

Faced with these cumbersome tasks, Benjamin and Adrina divided up the work by each assuming responsibility for the letters from one of the two months to be included in the volume. This required coordination of all research and annotation to ensure volume cohesion and to reduce repetition. Such logistics became particularly useful when Benjamin began writing editorial notes on the two battles that occurred in June 1780: Connecticut Farms and Springfield. In addition to working with Adrina to gather information from her half of the volume, Benjamin widened his scope of research beyond the documents and events included in the volume in order to get a broad perspective of the topics in question. According to Benjamin, he enjoyed writing these notes because they allowed him to use sources or extended quotes that typically would not be included in regular annotations. As a result, he could add commentary, such as “following this battle, the British never attempted an invasion of New Jersey again.”

Benjamin pointed out that preparing these documents for publication was rigorous and unforgiving. “It’s a complex endeavor,” he said. “The pace you have to maintain is probably even more so than a presidential volume. There’s more letters per day, and they’re sometimes very long.” Indeed, despite having only 19 days’ worth of letters, Adrina’s half of the volume alone included more than 200 documents. This is because some of those days had up to 10 letters, all of which she had to transcribe and annotate. Unfortunately, this intense production schedule was further complicated by unforeseen obstacles outside of the control of the editors, such as reduction in time allotted for editing as well as a delay in review of their volume.

Nevertheless, Benjamin and Adrina remained graceful under pressure. As Revolutionary War Series, volume 26 is slated for publication later this year, assistant editor Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins reflected on her experience: “Documentary editing is a lot like other things—the more you do it, you improve. I want to continue to improve and grow as an editor, [and] working on that volume did help me to grow, learn, and improve.…I’m grateful I had the opportunity to work on it.”

 

The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, volume 26 will be published by the University of Virginia Press in late 2018. To learn more about the volume in the meantime, read a summary of the volume and see the editors’ volume dedication.