George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Lovell, 31 December 1777

From James Lovell

Decr 31st 1777.


A Course of Disappointments has attended the printing of the Journals of Congress. Good progress was indeed making in Sepr last when Mr Aitkin had nearly finished a second Volume with December 1776. This Work he has sent out of the city of Philadelphia, and buried.1

By all the Scrutiny I can make, I gain no other Knowledge about the Spot where the Books are deposited than a high probability that Frederic Bicking a paper-maker has the Care of them.2

Having tarried myself in Philada after the other Delegates left it, I procured of Col: Hamilton a Security of some Waggons from Impressment for the Use of Mr Aitkin which he did not appear to me afterwards to have been spirited to make use of; and in Fact he remained in the City.

Bicking is an honest timorous Man and lives in the Neighbourhood of John Roberts a Miller 10 Miles from Philada which Roberts is a Tory, and yet tis probable his Team brought the Journals out for Mr Aitkin.

I beg your Excellency to communicate these Circumstances to some active pensylvanian Officer, who, being acquainted with the Spot of Ground mentioned, will take a proper speedy Method of gaining the Journals & forwarding them to Lancaster or York. I imagine the Types are also buried at the same place with the Journals. They would be a valuable Acquisition at this Time, tho’ they are not absolutely necessary to carry on the Journals.3

I am not insensible of the great Affairs which press your Excellency on every side; but, I really thought this Business of recovering the Journals was important enough to warrant the Freedom I now take of applying to you for Orders respecting the pursuit of it. I had intended to do this in person, but the Absence of three of my Colleagues and other Gentlemen4 has thrown such additional Committee Business upon me as to make it impossible to assure you, otherways than by Letter, that I am Your Excellency’s Obliged Friend & Humble Servant

James Lovell


1Robert Aitken (1734–1802) arrived in Philadelphia from Scotland in 1769 and established a bookselling and printing business on Front Street (Pennsylvania Gazette [Philadelphia], 18 May 1769). During 1775 and 1776 he printed the Pennsylvania Magazine, or American Monthly Museum, and he printed two volumes of the 1775–76 journals of Congress before being superseded by Robert Dunlap in May 1778 (see Pa. Mag. description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 138 vols. to date. 1877—. description ends , 21 [1897], 170–77). In 1782 Aitken began printing the first complete edition of the Bible produced in America and the only Bible ever authorized by Congress, but it was a venture on which he later claimed to have lost a considerable amount of money (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 23:572–74; see also Aitken to GW, 9 June 1790).

2Frederick Bicking (1730–1809) of Lower Merion Township in what is now Montgomery County, Pa., had been active as a papermaker as early as 1761. Bicking was also a regular supplier of paper to Congress for currency and bills of credit.

3On 18 Sept. 1777, shortly before the British occupied Philadelphia, Congress ordered Maj. Gen. John Armstrong “to cause all the printing presses and types in this city and Germantown, forthwith to be removed to secure places in the country, excepting Mr. [William] Bradford’s press in this city, with English types,” and on 17 Oct. 1777 Congress directed the committee of intelligence to “take the most speedy and effectual measures” to have a printing press erected at York (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 8:754, 9:817). Although GW wrote Lovell on 9 Jan. 1778 announcing the recovery of the journals “without difficulty,” it is unclear when, if ever, the types were located.

4A committee appointed in July 1776 to supervise the printing of the journals of Congress included Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Lynch, Jr., and Francis Hopkinson; at various times in the following two years, Thomas Heyward, William Hooper, William Williams, George Walton, John Witherspoon, Jonathan Bayard Smith, Nathan Brownson and James Lovell were added to the committee (ibid., 5:572, 710, 7:101, 212).

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