Book Excerpt

(Washington, George).


From the Original Papers in the Library of Congress and in the National Archives
(San Bernadino): William R. Coleman, 1983. folio. stiff paper wrappers. not paginated. From the Original Papers in the Library of Congress and in the National Archives. Limited to an edition of 1783 copies. This book reproduces a facsimile first printed in 1833. Covering the period from June 1775 to June 1783, these records detail Washington's day-to-day expenditures in his official capacity as Commander-in Chief of the Army of the United Colonies. This beautiful facsimile was..... READ MORE

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  On June 16, 1775, George Washington wrote to the President of the First Continental Congress accepting the position of General and Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the United Colonies. "As to pay, Sir," he wrote, "I beg leave to Assure the Congress that no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to have accepted this Arduous employment at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make a profit from it: I will keep an exact Account of my expenses; these I doubt not they will discharge and that is all I desire."

  Having promised to keep "an exact Account," this is what Washington proceeded to do. Interestingly, not all his charges would pass muster under twentieth century accounting procedures. For instance, his charge of three pounds, six shillings, and fourpence on October 1, 1775, "To Blacksmith's act. at sundry times," might appear a bit vague today. Other entries are fascinating, like that of July 15, 1775, in which Washington omits the name of a spy paid "to go into the Town of Boston, to establish a secret Correspondence for the purpose of conveying intelligence of the Enemy's movements & designs." There is a poignant note to the final entry, in which the General decided to bill the government for Mrs. Washington's travel to and from his winter quarters. He considered this a legitimate expense, Washington wrote, since he had been prevented from visiting Mount Vernon by "the peculiar circumstances attending to my command, and the embarrassed situation of our Public affairs."

  To characterize this unique volume as a book of accounts is somewhat misleading. Although it is a list of expenditures, it is also a day-by-day chronicle of Washington's activities throughout the Revolution. The datelines, including Valley Forge and Yorktown, are milestones in the progress of the American armies. The great majority of the entries are in Washington's graceful hand, but a few were made by aides. Most entries are in two currencies - that of the colony in which the expense was incurred, and pounds sterling, the most accepted medium of exchange during the Revolution and for some years thereafter.

  It might seem odd that the Manuscript Society, an organization dedicated to the collection and preservation of original autograph material, would underwrite a facsimile, however interesting. Washington's accounts, however, have long held a special appeal. Facsimile editions have been produced on several occasions since the first one, in 1833, sought to raise funds for the Male Orphan Asylum in Washington.

  This Manuscript Society edition represents the initiative of one person - a prominent collector of Americana and a long-time member of the Manuscript Society Board of Trustees, William R. Coleman. On his recommendation, and with his support, the Manuscript Society is pleased to offer this commemoration of George Washington and his great victory at Yorktown two hundred years ago.

John M. Taylor
McLean, Virginia
March 1982