Revolutionary War-dated ALS signed "Go: Washington," one page, 7.5 x 10.5, September 14, 1775. A highly unusual letter, written from "Camp at Cambridge" during the eight months' siege of Boston. Washington evidently is responding to Miss Anna Maria Clifton's complaint that a letter addressed to her from one Captain Ellis had been opened and read before being delivered. In conciliatory tones, Washington explains the need for military censorship, even of his officer's letters. In full: "I am sorry that the cruel necessity of the time should cause you to receive a Letter thro' my hands, open,—the only appology I can make for it is, that all Letters which pass the Lines in, or out, of Boston, do, in consequence of general orders to the officers Commanding at those Posts, undergo an Inspection; and that Captn. Ellis's Letter to you had met with this fate before it got to my hands. I have only to add, that with the greatest respect & esteem I have the honr. to be Yr. most Obedt. & Most Hble. Servt." Reverse bears an address panel in Washington's hand to "Miss Anna Maria Clifton, Fourth Street, Philadelphia," and still retains Washington's red wax seal, which has several small cracks, but is almost entirely intact. Nicely cloth-matted in a dual-pane display so that both sides are visible, and hinged against a 23.25 x 26 frame. In very good condition, with several small repaired areas of paper loss slightly affecting a few letters of text, a repaired vertical tear near the bottom lightly affecting the first couple letters of the signature, intersecting folds, and scattered creases.
In July of 1775, Washington had arrived outside of Boston and assumed command. In addition to an inexperienced, undisciplined army, he struggled with numerous problems; his greatest challenge was to organize the Continental Army as it laid siege to the British-held Boston. Although Washington is deeply apologetic in his writing, postal censorship at this time was certainly a necessity. To monitor communications for any hints of espionage, as well as a means of gathering intelligence, all letters were inspected, as explained here by Washington. Miss Clifton was a friend of Benjamin Franklin, and looked after his home while he was abroad in Europe. The "Captain Ellis" who had written to her may be Paul Ellis, who commanded the 15th Massachusetts Foot under Washington during the Boston siege, and was killed in the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778. A genuinely sincere letter from the Commander-in-Chief, apologizing to a Philadelphia socialite for an irritating, but necessary, invasion of privacy.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.