As in this series’ other volumes, the editors have stayed near the literalist ends of the spectrum of policy on transcription and have, for the most part, stuck to a minimalist approach to annotation. Many of the footnotes consist mainly of quotations from contemporaneous sources. The criteria according to which these sometimes lengthy supplementary materials are included are not readily apparent. The quotations are always pertinent and informative, but their number could be greatly expanded or contracted with equal consistency. The survival of some recipients’ copies of Washington’s letters has enabled the editors to trace copyists’ slips in letterbook versions, which also reveal the older Washington’s tinkerings with his early prose. The complexities of wartime fighting, logistics, colonial politics, and Indian diplomacy present extraordinary challenges for the cross-referencing and annotating of documents that often are not self-explanatory and occasionally are fragmentary–challenges that the editors have surmounted impressively. Volume 6 contains more than one hundred pages of documents pertaining to the settling of the estate of Daniel Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s first husband. Presentation of these intricate affairs in a systematic, lucid arrangement is a remarkable achievement of editorial diligence and skill. The inventories and accounts of slaves, real property, finances, agricultural produce, implements, household possessions, and books constitute a detailed portrait of a Virginia planter’s manner of living. The goods that Washington ordered from the British mercantile house Robert Cary & Company give a glimpse of his aspirations, activities, and tastes. Though he called Virginia “an Infant Woody Country” (Vol. 6, p. 453), its most prosperous inhabitants set out to be–in the words of a title of one of Custis’s books–The gentleman instructed, in the conduct of a virtuous and happy life (ibid., p. 289).
Expeditiously yet meticulously, The Papers of George Washington as an editorial undertaking vindicates–even surpasses–its initial promise. In an army camp or at Mount Vernon, Washington was attentive to minute details. A concern with the concrete provided the structure for his life. In this quality he is being faithfully reflected and admirably served by his modern editors.