George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Henry, 25 October 1786

From John Henry

Octobr 25th 1786.

A submission to intrusion is a tribute which exalted Characters must expect will be exacted from them, and that often founded in Ignorance, or Impudence, yet sometimes from admiration of the Character address’d. to this last, I shall rely on your Excellencys known Philanthropy to attribute the freedom of the person that now presumes to approach you, who flatters himself his mite of Respect, will not be the less welcome because cloathed in the garb of Humility.

Doctor Stewart, who does me the favour to take charge of this, will deliver to your Excelly in the shape of a Salt Cellar, a peice of antiquity; thought to be so, by the once possessor Oliver Cromwell; a great, but not a good man—happy he who unites both Characters, in the sweetest of all retribution, that which arises from within.1

I request your Excellencys acceptance of it, and trust to your gracious feelings to excuse this intrusion; Reverence and Respect guide the Pen, and your generous heart will let those plead my pardon—I shall have, I hope, the Pride to hand down to my Childrens Children, the Happiness of boasting when they open the Page of History, where this glorious revolution shall be recorded, that the amiable founder of it, amidst the applause of surrounding Millions, condescended to accept a trifle from their Humble Progenitor.

May the Almighty bless and preserve you and yours, may you live long and Happy, and when called from hence, may you enjoy an eternal seat in those mansions of the Good where reigns silence and peace for evermore, prays, with the warmest zeal, Your Excellencys devoted Hble Servt

John Henry


Patrick Henry’s son John was a captain in the Continental army when in June 1778 his “ill state of health obliged him to quit the service” (GW to Patrick Henry, 13 Sept. 1778), but it seems unlikely that it was he who sent Oliver Cromwell’s “Salt Cellar” to GW. Nor does it seem likely that the sender was John Henry (1750–1798) of Dorchester County, Md., who at this time was in New York attending Congress as a delegate from Maryland.

1David Stuart was in Richmond attending the session of the house of delegates as a representative from Fairfax County. The session ended on 11 Jan., and on 13 Jan. GW recorded that “About 8 Oclock in the evening Doctr. Stuart on his return from the General Assembly at Richmond . . . came in” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:94). GW wrote John Henry from Mount Vernon on 23 Jan. 1787: “Sir, Your letter of the 26th of October, & the piece of Antiquity accompanying it, I received by the hands of Doctr Stuart on the 13th inst: You will be pleased to accept of my thanks for your politeness in sending me the latter which, on account of it’s antiquity & having been once the property of so remarkable a character as Oliver Cromwell, would undoubtedly render it pleasing to almost any one, and to an antiquary, perhaps invaluable. I am Sir Your Most Obedt hble Servant G: Washington” (LB, DLC:GW).

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