As the Washington Papers editor headquartered at Mount Vernon, I live and work in the community where George Washington spent his happiest times as an adult. Along with physically being on Washington’s estate during the week, I also serve as a docent at Christ Church in Old Town Alexandria on some weekends.1 Originally part of the Church of England (the Anglican Church), today Christ Church is part of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (formed after the American Revolution).
Reading Charles Francis Adams diary entry for May 9, 1850 in the editor in chief’s office at the Adams Papers made me smile. With three brief sentences Charles Francis Adams perfectly described what we strive to do as documentary editors.
George Washington’s 20 February 1797 letter to John Adams is an interesting document for many reasons. The president and vice president rarely corresponded by letter in the last months of Washington’s administration, presumably having most of their exchanges in face to face interactions. The letter is also of a private—not public—nature, with Washington giving his personal opinion of Adams’ son. Perhaps most remarkably, the letter has the first president writing to the incoming second president about the future sixth president, John Quincy Adams.
Among the special collections owned by the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon are nearly 500 documents written by George Washington. And not surprisingly, there are also some known forgeries, one of which is attributed to Robert Spring, and another of which is likely the work of Joseph Cosey.
While Washington Custis’s letters to his grandfather during his first months away at school have not survived, George Washington’s letters to his grandson provide insight into his role as father figure to the young man. Both the president and the grandson lost their fathers at an early age: George Washington at eleven, and George Washington Parke Custis at only six months. By writing these letters of advice the father of our country was imparting wisdom similar to what he might have received from his own parent.
By Neal Millikan February 23, 2015 Neal is an Assistant Editor for The Papers of George Washington. She is currently editing volumes for the Presidential Series. On 19 September 1796 Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser in Philadelphia published the document that became known as George Washington’s Farewell Address. The work that […]