George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Gordon, 24 September 1788

From William Gordon

London Sepr 24. 1788

My Dear Sir

I send under cover to Mr Hazard,1 that so it should not be known at the Coffee house, that I correspond with your Excellency; & pray you not only to have any direction to me written in some other hand than your own, but the letter sealed with the seal of another. When you write again, introduce the Key in some sentence when it may appear natural, with a stroke underneath it. The reason of the request is, my not being absolutely certain about it, though I conceive it has some relation to the persons who surrendered at York Town.2

I have been laboring hard for near a year, but have not yet completed the History so as to be in readiness for sending by the present vessels. The Index is printing, but the paper will require some time drying before the books can be bound. The delay for a few months will admit of their being more closely & better bound. At the end of the fourth volume, I have insertd Extracts of the Virginia act for the establishing of religious freedom as also the New Constitution, which I conclude will soon take place. May it prove a blessing to the United States in particular, & the world of mankind in general! Let me suggest, that could it be made fashionable through the Continent, to have one fish day in every week, your fishery would be thereby promoted. The introduction of coals for firing at Boston, & elsewhere when wood is dear, would probably employ a few vessels in carrying them from Virginia. The American hemp, when grown upon rich ground & well cured is far better than the Russian; cannot the raising of it in places affording water carriage produce a staple to exchange for European goods? Could not sugars be raised to advantage in the southernmost parts of the country? While Mifflin was president, I hinted to him, that Congress should possess the sovereignty of all gold & silver mines through the States, & not any individual state or person. None should be permitted to be wrought but with their leave, & only to such an extent, as to stock the country with a bare currency, without reducing its value, by a redundancy. The communication of these thoughts to your Excellency, I am persuaded you will consider as tokens of my abiding affection for America;3 & I am persuaded that the voice of the country will show that they have been addressed to the right person. I am sensible your attachment to domestic happiness, will render you averse to appearing again in public life. But the good of your country is a law that you must submit to when you are called to possess a power in the most honorable way by all professions & ranks of people, & which, to your everlasting credit when known, you honestly declined with the truest patriotism, when offered in an irregular manner. This is a secret which will remain till you are dead, unless I could be certain of not offending through the publication of your letter, with the suppression of the party to whom it was addressed.4

When the New Constitution is adopted, many will endeavour to supplant the possessors of present places. I most sincerely wish that my friend Mr Hazard, the post master general may be continued. His fidelity & regularity I apprehend cannot be exceeded; & it is I conjecture almost his sole support, while his duty obliges him to maintain an aged mother.

I have forgotten whether you sent me only thirty pounds for the thirty subscribers, or forty for forty sets. When I can look over my papers, which have been much deranged, shall be able to determine; but as I may possibly not find your or Mr Mason’s letter soon enough, pray you to mention it.5

I most sincerely pray, that your honor & happiness in this world may be only the forerunners of more substantial ones, in that future & better world which remains for the people of God, & the living & true way to which—the Lord Jesus—has been revealed to us by the gospel. Mrs Gordon joins in affectionate regards to your Excellency, & your Lady.6

Pray present my respects to your young gentleman, who by this time is a fine youth,7 I hope—Mr & Mrs Lund Washington,8 Dr Stewart & family,9 & others with whom I had the honor of being acquainted while at Mount Vernon. Am not yet settled, please to direct therefore as before. I remain with the truest professions Your Excellency’s sincere friend & very humble servant

William Gordon


The Rev. William Gordon (1728–1807) was born in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England. Educated for the ministry, he held several livings in England, spending some thirteen years at Ipswich. His increasing sympathy for the colonies and his antigovernment political views probably influenced his decision to go to America in 1770. In 1772 he was named pastor of a Congregational church at Roxbury, Mass., and there warmly embraced the Patriot cause. In the same year he also received an appointment as chaplain to the Massachusetts legislature. As early as 1776 Gordon determined to write a history of the American Revolution and sought the support of many of its leading figures, including GW, for his project. In June 1784 he visited Mount Vernon and examined GW’s Revolutionary correspondence, making copies and extracts of “thirty and three folio volumes of copied letters of the General’s, besides three volumes of private, seven volumes of general orders, and bundles upon bundles of letters to the General” (Gordon to Horatio Gates, 31 Aug. 1784, “Letters of the Reverend William Gordon, Historian of the American Revolution, 1770–1799,” in Mass. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, 63 [1929–30], 506). See also Gordon to GW, 19 Dec. 1776, 25 April, 23 July 1778, 30 Aug. 1781, 18 June, 13 Aug. 1783, 4 Feb. 1786, and GW to Gordon, 23 Oct. 1782, 8 July 1783, 8 May 1784, 31 Aug., 6 Dec. 1785, 20 April 1786. In 1786 Gordon went to England to complete work on his history and two years later published a four-volume work: The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America: Including an Account of the Late War; and of the Thirteen Colonies, from Their Origin to That Period (London, 1788). An American edition was published in New York in 1789 by Hodge, Allen, and Campbell. GW subscribed for two sets of the London edition. The History was criticized in the United States on the grounds of “errors and omissions . . . which if designedly made, ought to discredit him as an historian; or if necessarily omitted for the want of information, will serve to show his dilatory disposition in obtaining a proper statement of facts” (Daily Advertiser [New York], 9 July 1789). Later historians have observed that Gordon, like his American contemporary David Ramsay, borrowed heavily from the Annual Register. Gordon also incorporated into his own work numerous passages from Ramsay’s History of the Revolution of South Carolina, published in 1785 (Orin Grant Libby, “A Critical Examination of William Gordon’s History of the American Revolution,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1 [1900], 382).

1Ebenezer Hazard (1744–1817), one of the most memorable of eighteenth-century historical editors, was appointed postmaster at New York City in 1775 and became postmaster general of the United States in 1782. For a suggestion that GW may have believed erroneously that Hazard opposed the Constitution, see Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 19:288. Although Hazard apparently managed his office with considerable efficiency, GW did not reappoint him postmaster general under the new government and earlier this year had strongly criticized some of his policies (GW to John Jay, 18 July 1788). During Gordon’s years in America he and Hazard were close friends.

2Gordon warned GW in 1786 that it should “not be known at the Post Office that we correspond, lest the runners of government should suppress or peep into your letters. I have learnt, that one of the former secretaries gave me the name of arch-rebel, & that the letters in my hand writing were stopt” (Gordon to GW, 28 Sept. 1786). Earlier in 1786, shortly before his departure for England, Gordon sent a cipher to GW for use in their correspondence (Gordon to GW, 16 Feb. 1786, GW to Gordon, 20 April 1786). By 1788 GW had mislaid the cipher. See GW to Gordon, 23 Dec. 1788.

3In MS this word reads “American.”

4Gordon is undoubtedly referring to GW’s letter of 22 May 1782 to Col. Lewis Nicola (1717–1807), at that time commander of the Corps of Invalids. Nicola, in the course of drawing up a scheme to insure justice to the army, suggested that the United States would be well advised to adopt a monarchy as its form of government and place GW at its head (Nicola to GW, 22 May 1782). Outraged, GW replied that “no occurrence in the course of the War, has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the Army as you have expressed. . . . I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address which to me seems big with the greatest mischiefs that can befall my Country. . . . you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable.” Nicola immediately apologized for the suggestion (Nicola to GW, 23, 24, 28 May 1782).

5GW helped collect subscriptions in Virginia for Gordon’s History (GW to James Mercer, 20 Jan. 1786). In April 1787 he forwarded £433.8 Virginia currency to Gordon’s friend Jonathan Mason (1725-1798), a Boston merchant and former selectman (GW to Gordon, 10 April 1787). GW sent payment for forty-two sets. See Gordon to GW, 28 Oct. 1788.

6Gordon’s wife was Elizabeth Field Gordon, daughter of a leading London apothecary.

7Gordon is probably referring to either George Steptoe Washington or Lawrence Augustine Washington, the youngest sons of GW’s deceased brother Samuel Washington. See Francis Willis, Jr., to GW, 24 Sept. 1788, source note.

8Lund Washington (1737–1796), the son of Townshend and Elizabeth Lund Washington, was a distant cousin of GW. He had considerable experience in managing the Ravensworth estates of Henry Fitzhugh (1723–1783) before GW made him manager of Mount Vernon in 1765, a post he held in GW’s absence during the Revolution. In 1779 Lund married his cousin, Elizabeth Foote of Prince William County, Va., and the couple lived at Mount Vernon until they moved to their newly built home Hayfield, 5 miles south of Alexandria, in 1784.

9Dr. David Stuart (1753–c.1814), the son of the Rev. William Stuart of St. Paul’s Parish, Stafford County, Va., attended the College of William and Mary and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. In 1783 he married Eleanor Calvert Custis, the widow of Martha Washington’s son John Parke Custis. In 1788 the Stuarts lived at Abingdon, on the Potomac about four miles above Alexandria, and Stuart was serving as a delegate from Fairfax County to the Virginia assembly. Elizabeth Parke (Betsy) Custis (1776–1832) and Martha Parke (Patsy) Custis (1777–1854), the two eldest children of John Parke Custis, lived with their mother and stepfather at Abingdon. The two younger children, Eleanor Parke (Nelly) Custis (1779–1852) and George Washington Parke Custis (1781—1857), made their home with their grandparents, and GW usually spoke of them as “adopted” by him and Mrs. Washington. When GW left Mount Vernon for New York in 1789 to assume the presidency, the two children accompanied their grandparents.

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