Historical Letters & Documents Hitting The Auction Block November 12th, 2020

Alex Cooper is proud to present an important collection of  historical letters and documents in the upcoming November 12th Gallery Auction. Headlining the collection are lots 801 and 802, which were written to George Washington by his stepson, John Parke Custis, during the Revolutionary War.  Parke was a member of the Virginia Assembly and was providing George with inside information on the politics of raising and maintaining an army and other issues of the day.


Lot 801 was written at Mt. Vernon early in 1779.  In addition to news about the legislature’s recently closed session, Parke talks at length about his purchase of land from the Alexander family, which would later be the site of Arlington National Cemetery.  He also talks about the business of the farm at Mt. Vernon.  The second letter (lot 802)  was written from Richmond in March, 1781.  It has rich commentary on politics and the continuing issue of keeping soldiers in service.  Soon after, Custis accompanied his father to Yorktown, where he fell ill and died shortly after the surrender of Cornwallis.

Other items include good letters from Andrew Jackson, Sam Houston, Zachary Taylor, James Buchanan,  and Jefferson Davis.  All of these are associated with Edward George Washington Butler, a notable officer in the Mexican War and Civil War (Confederate). His wife was doubly related to George and Martha Washington. Don’t miss out on these incredible pieces of history, make them yours and bid now!

Want to read the letters? Both letters can be found on the National Archives “Founders” website, and are transcribed below.

Lot 801:

Mt. Vernon  Jany. 9th. 1779
Hond. Sir /
In my last dated at Williamsburg, I promised to send you a Copy of the act for recruiting the Army, but am disappointed by the Tardiness of our Printer, who had not printed the acts, that were ordered for the Press immediately, when I left Town;  Colo. Mason promised to bring Me several Copes, but according to his normal Custom, He has not yet arrived at Gunston, although the Assembly broke up the 20th. Ulto.  The Assembly have exploded the Draft, and have increased the Bounty in Money to four hundred dollars, during the War,and three hundred for three years, the Bounty in hand remains as It wa.  This Bounty is extended to those in Camp who will reinlist, and to those who have Inlisted for the SWar, their Bounty will be made up to four hundred Dollars.  If this exorbitant Bounty answers the desired Purpose, I shall
not think It misapplied, but I do assure you I have but little Hopes that Men can be purchased even at so high a Price.  Our Money is so depreciated, and the Minds of the People are so depraved by Gaming and every other species of Vice, that Virtue seems to have taken her Departure from Virginia in general; and It is with much real Concern and Shame, that I confess, there are but very few of my Countrymen who deserve the Glorious Appellation of Virtuous. – The Assembly have laid an assessment of one pr. Cent. On all Property, which is to be valued as it will sell for, thus We shall pay seven or eight Pounds for every Negro that is likely; as they now sell for as many hundreds.  Land and every Taxable article in Proportion.  This Assessment is supposed to bring into the Treasury two Millions.  I hope this sum being taken out of Circulation, will stamp a value on what remains.  The Expenses of Government amount to eight Hundred thousand pounds [two abbreviations illegible].  An Act was also past which will aid the former, in restoring the value of our  Money, and will be fatal to many of the
Counterfeiters. Sixteen of that Fraternity had been committed to the Public Goal, since the passing of the Act, and before I left Willms.burg, and I do not doubt but the Number is increasd.  Most if not all will suffer Death, as the Act construes, Counterfeiting the State, or Continental Currency, or passing the same knowing it to be bad,, Death without benefit of Clergy. – I have now mentioned the principle Acts past, that are not altogether local, in hopes this Information may be agreeable to you.—
I have at length the Satisfaction to acquaint you, that I have concluded all Matters with the Alexanders respecting their Lands, and have got Possession.  I had but little trouble with Gerard, and met with much Vexation, and perplexity in settling with Bob for L48,000 payable at the Expiration of twenty four Years, and as Security, have been obliged to Mortgage my two Tracts in Fairfax, and the tract I lived on in N [illegible word].  These Lands I intend Nothing shall induce Me to part with, and I intend to keep a sum sufficient to discharge the Bond always in the Loan Office.  By these Precautions, I hope, I shall make this Bar
p. 4
gain less disagreeable, than at first Sight it appears to be.  And I have some small Expectation, that Bob’s fickle and unstable Temper will not allow, to permit the Money to lay in my Hands so long a time —   I a day or two past, receiv’d a Letter from Price Posey informing Me, that Colo. Bassett and Hill had not sold the cattle and sheep at Davenport’s.  they were to be sold the Day before I set off four Home.  I have taken forty seven Head of Cattle, which was all that was worth the Expence and trouble of driving up, and had engaged all the Provender at Daven’s. I understood from Price, that the Cattle which were left were very poor, and worth but little.  What c’d induce Colo. Bassett to put off the sale I cannot tellbut I think they would sell for full as much then, as in the Spring.  I am at a loss what to do, as by AgreementI must drive my Cattle from Willms.bg. in the Spring, and it will be dangerous to mix them, on account of the Distemper, and they will be too poor to drive up to Mt. Vernon in the Spring, and there will be Danger of bringing up the Distemper.  You will please to inform what you would have done with them. – With love to my Mother if with you  I remain Hond. Sir Your most Affecte. John Parke Custis

Lot 802:
George Parke Custis to George Washington:
Richmond March 16th, 1781
Dear & Hond. Sir /
It would render Me happy could I inform you, that the Assembly which was calld on the first instant, for the purpose of recruiting the Army, and Treasury; were likely to adopt plans which would prove efficacious for either purpose, but alas, the reverse I fear will happen.  P- H—y who possesses the most unbounded Influence over the House, is in my Opinion the most absurd Politician in the World.  He moved the other Day, that the Draft which has taken place in many Counties, and would have taken place in the whole in the course of this Month should be reduced from eighteen to twelve months.  absurd as this Motion must appear to every reasonable Man, it did not want espousers.  Tho ultimately the Number was too small, and the motion was lost.  He declared that from the Behavior of the Militia in the actions of King’s Mountain and the Cowpens, He was convinced that the Independence of America could be establish’d by then, and He could wish to see a Draft for twelve Months.  to have peace by that Means we should in time have our Militia equal to regulars.  I am happy to inform you that I have not heard of any opposition to the Draft being made in any County.  I am sorry that there will be a Necessity of drafting in most of the Counties, more from the Neglect of the Officers, than any disinclination in the Men to inlist, as it is apparent that where the Law has been well executed more or less Men have inlisted for the War on three
Years.  He is also desirous that half of the Tax which was laid, to furnish Bounties for the recruits should be remitted, although half of the state or two thirds have paid it or are prepared to do it.  this matter is not Yet determined, and I am afraid He will succeed, if He does, We may never expect to have a Law which will bear hard on the people executed, the people will rwadily conceive that if the assembly of their own accord remit half their Tax that they will certainly do it on their Petitions, and will not obey a Law expecting that the next assembly will repeal it.  by this means all authority will be lost, and the State thrown into the greatest Confusion.  a Law was passed Yesterday making all the Money that hath been emitted, or shall be emitted by Congress or this State a Legal Tender in discharge of all Debts and Contracts whatsoever, except specific Contracts expressing the contrary.  it is also proposed to emit Ten Millions of Pounds more, this tender act iniquitous as it is, was carried by a Majority of two to one, and will for ever cast a reflection on the Justice of the State:  The only Acts that can be productive of advantage to the State are, for subjecting the militia while in the actual service to the Continental Rules of War, and for raising two Legions of Six Hundred Infantry and a hundred Horse each, on a plan resembling the Minute plan, the whole will be under Command of a Brigadier [“who will be” crossed out] Spotswood who laid the plan before the Assembly will be appointed to the command of them. – I fear I have tired your patience by tis tedious and disagreeable detail of Matters, and as I have nothing pleasing to communicate, presuming that You receive regular Intelligence from the armies in the south, I must conclude with assuring You that I am with the greatest Sincerity Your most Affectionate J P Custis
Endorsed at the top left of page 1 by George Washington:
From / Jno. Parke CVustis Esq / 16 Mar 1781.