George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Charles Willson Peale, 31 December 1786

From Charles Willson Peale

Phila[delphi]a Decr 31 1786

Dr Sir

I have lately undertaken to form a Museum and have acquired the means of preserving in the natural forms, Birds, Beasts and Fish, my Intention is to collect every thing that is curious of this Country, and to arange them in the best manner I am able, to make the Collection amusing and Intructive, thereby hoping to retain with us many things realy curious which would other wise be sent to Europe.

Having heard that you have been presented with some beautiful Birds of China I take the liberty of requesting in Case of the death of any of them, to have them packed in wool and put in any sort of packing Case, and sent by the Stages to me, and I will preserve them in the best manner I am able, and either send them back to you, or place them in my Museum, as your Excellency may please to direct.

The Object with me is, that such beautiful and rare things should not be wholly lost, and which too often are, even when undertaken to be preserved by Persons not sufficiently skilled in the manner of preserving.1 Please to present my best respects to your Lady, and believe me with much respect and Esteem Dr Sir your very Hble Servant

C. W. Peale

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, PPAmP: Charles Willson Peale Papers.

Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827) in 1782 built a large gallery onto his house in Philadelphia in which to show his paintings. On 7 July 1786 he announced that he was making a “part of his House a Repository for Natural Curiosities” so that he could give the public “the sight of many of the Wonderful Works of Nature which are now closeted and but seldom seen” (Miller, Peale Papers, description begins Lillian B. Miller, ed. The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family. 4 vols. New Haven, 1983–96. description ends 1:448).

1Peale himself had not yet perfected his technique for preserving animals (Peale to GW, 31 Dec. 1786, n.2, ibid., 464–65). For future correspondence regarding the carcasses of the birds sent by Lafayette to GW, see GW to Peale, 9 Jan., 16 Feb., 13 Mar. 1787, and Peale to GW, 27 Feb., 31 Mar. 1787.

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