George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Mathew Carey, 27 October 1788

To Mathew Carey

Mount Vernon Oct. 27th 1788.


In reply to yours of the 20th of this month, I have to observe, that the fragment of the letter in question, supposed to be written by me, is spurious; and that there was a Pamphlet containing a great many letters of the same description published, in New York, at the same time. It should farther be observed that this publication was made soon after several of my letters were really intercepted with the Mail and that the pretended copies of them not only blended many truths with many falsehoods, but were evidently written by some person exceedingly well acquainted with my domestic & general concerns. Advantage was adroitly taken of this knowledge to give the greater appearance of probability to the fiction.1

From these circumstances you will perceive, Sir, how prudently you have acted in making an application to me previous to your meditated republication. Otherwise, I might have found myself under the necessity of denying that they were genuine; from an apprehension, that being thus preserved in a manner under my own eye and with my acquiescence, they must have assumed the seal of veracity in the estimation of Posterity. For whatever credit some of those letters might be thought to have done to my literary or political talents, I certainly cannot choose to avail myself of the imposition. With due regard I am—Sir Yr Most Obed. Hble Servt

Go: Washington


Mathew Carey (1760–1839), Philadelphia printer and bookseller, was at this time the publisher of the American Museum. Carey was born in Ireland and after a colorful career as a youthful political dissident fled to France in 1779 where he served a brief apprenticeship in a small printing office that Benjamin Franklin had established at Passy. Returning to Ireland the next year, Carey was involved in the publication of several newspapers rabidly critical of English rule. In 1784, after a brief term in Newgate prison for subversive activities, he sailed for America, one step ahead of further prosecution. In 1785, probably using funds loaned him by Lafayette whom he had known in France, he set up the Pennsylvania Herald. In 1786 he was concerned briefly with the publication of the Columbia Magazine before becoming the editor of the American Museum.

1Carey’s letter has not been found, but it undoubtedly concerned the series of spurious letters supposedly written by GW and published in England in the late spring of 1777 under the title Letters from General Washington. To Several of His Friends in the Year 1776. in Which Are Set Forth a Fairer and Fuller View of American Politics, Than Ever Yet Transpired, or the Public Could Be Made Acquainted with through Any Other Channel (London: Printed for J. Bew, no. 28, Pater-Noster-Row, 1777). It was reprinted in New York in 1778 by James Rivington with the addition of a letter from the Rev. Jacob Duché to GW and a reply by John Parke. The pamphlet contained seven letters purported to have been written by GW in 1776 to Lund Washington at Mount Vernon, to his stepson John Parke Custis, and to Mrs. Washington. The letters were designed to show that GW was disillusioned with the war and critical of the separation from England. Their compiler claimed that the letters had been taken from the person of GW’s body servant while he was supposed to have been a British prisoner. GW learned of the fabrication early in 1778 and suspected that the author might be Virginia’s former attorney general John Randolph, who had fled to England at the outbreak of the Revolution (Tench Tilghman to James Tilghman, 24 April 1778, in Memoir of T. Tilghman, description begins Memoir of Lieut. Col. Tench Tilghman, Secretary and Aid to Washington, together with an Appendix, containing Revolutionary Journals and Letters, Hitherto Unpublished. 1876. Reprint. New York, 1971. description ends 165–67).

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