Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Presidents Day Blog Project: George Washington

"To Colonel Benedict Arnold, Commander of the Detachment of the Continental Army destined against Quebec."
           With February commemorating Presidents Day, it seems fitting to feature some of the artifacts in our collection here at Morristown National Historical Park relating to past presidents. With the help of Lloyd W. Smith, MNHP has in its collection artifacts pertaining to the first thirty-two presidents, from George Washington to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With several hundred items to choose from, it was difficult on deciding which to showcase this month. Naturally, we begin with George Washington, whose 280th birthday is celebrated on the 22nd of this month and officially commemorated on Presidents’ Day on the 21st this month.
            Before jumping into this week’s article, let’s take a moment to review a note from our curator, Jude Pfister, D. Litt.:
"As with most prominent individuals of the time, and especially someone of Washington's prominence, he had a small army of copyists and writers who would prepare letters and correspondence for his signature and in some routine matters even sign for him. This was not unusual; in fact, it is even done today. This particular letter in the Morristown collection is an example of one of those letters. Naturally, this practice makes it difficult to determine what is an actual Washington letter. Fortunately, in terms of intrinsic, historical importance, we don't need to worry about whose pen this particular letter came from. The importance of this letter lies in its content."

Pictured above you will see the headline “To Colonel Benedict Arnold Commander of the Detachment of the Continental Army destined against Quebec.” This intriguing document is a contemporary copy of a letter written from General George Washington to Colonel Benedict Arnold on September 14, 1775.

Washington makes note that Arnold’s command is “of the utmost consequence to the interest and liberties of America…” and the entire document is symbolic of the wider goal of attracting other British colonies to the cause of American independence. Washington warns Arnold to observe the strictest discipline and order in the ranks, and to “avoid all disrespect or contempt of the religion of the Country.” With religion a hotbed of tension between the Protestant colonies on the eastern seaboard and the French Catholics in Quebec (and throughout North America), it was clearly pertinent for the army to avoid all conflicts on the issue.

To the right is an image of another letter sent by Washington on that date of Arnold’s exact orders, “You are by every means in your power to endeavor to discover the real sentiments of the Canadians towards our cause, and particularly as to this expedition.”
In fourteen separate points, Washington details instructions for Arnold and his officers. For instance, Arnold is instructed to pay full price for all provisions (a task hardly accomplished throughout the war) so as not to insult or deprive the Canadians. In essence, Arnold needs to take extreme care in this expedition, as its aims are sensitive to the direction of the war. The last thing Washington wants is to “irritate our fellow-subjects against us.” If these inhabitants (Native Americans are included in this address) do not seem open to cooperation with the cause, “The expense of the expedition and the disappointment are not to be put in competition with the dangerous consequences which may ensue from irritating them against us, and detaching them from that neutrality which they have adopted.” High hopes were placed on Canada, and though history would play out differently, these documents attest to the important Washington and Congress placed on incorporating other British colonies in the cause of liberty.

Post by:
Bruce Spadaccini (Museum Technician)
Jude Pfister, D. Litt (Curator)

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