George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Judith Sargent Murray, 29 March 1798

From Judith Sargent Murray

Boston Franklin Place March 29th 1798


Emboldened by your past condescension, I presume to hope that the Gleaner may possibly occupy a proportion of those moments of relaxation from more important contemplations, which, (such is the constitution of humanity) are indispensably requisite, even to the most luminous, and persevering intellect.

One copy of the Gleaner, will accompany this letter, as a Candidate for your attention; and as the regulations respecting package by the stage will not permit me to send more than one set, at one time, the volumes for Mrs Washington, are in reserve untill the next post. You will have the goodness to tender my most respectful Compliments to that admired Lady, and to your lovely, and amiable grandaughter.

As I shall experience an anxiety relative to the safe arrival of the parcel, in some degree proportioned to the perfect esteem which I cherish for the illustrious personage to whom it is addressed, I have to request, that I may be advertised of this event as soon as is convenient.1 I am, honored Sire, with all possible veneration your very devoted, and most obedient Humble servant,

J. Sargent Murray


Judith Sargent Stevens Murray (1751–1820), sister of Winthrop Sargent and wife of the Rev. John Murray (1741–1815) of Gloucester, Mass., early in 1798 published in Boston a collection of her poems, plays, and essays in three volumes, entitled The Gleaner. Mrs. Murray wrote GW on 5 Nov. 1796 about her forthcoming publication, and on 24 Nov. 1796 GW replied, sending her $5 to subscribe for two copies.

1Receiving no response to her letter of 29 Mar., Judith Murray on 28 May sent this missive, from Franklin Place, Boston, without salutation or closing, to GW: “J. Sargent Murray—author of the Gleaner—possessing a heart glowing with admiration of, and the most profound respect for, the Father of her Country, would have deemed herself inexcusable if, immediately upon the publication of that production, she had neglected to transmit to the august personage, who had given dignity to the volumes by his patronage, the copies engaged for himself, and Mrs Washington—and accordingly, nearly two months since, they were adressed to him, at his seat in Mount Vernon—together with an earnest request that she might be advertised of their receipt. Understanding that the volumes might be franked by post, she judged that the surest made of conveyance—and yet when she considers the never impeached condescension of the American Hero, in combination with the importunate petition which she was emboldened by past indulgence to urge, she is apprehensive that some adverse circumstance must have arrested the progress of the volumes, and that they have never reached Mount Vernon. The two copies were forwarded by successive posts, and the Author entertains a hope that her anxiety respecting them, may induce from some kind pen in the family at Mount Vernon, the desired responses—She suppresses the warm, and grateful effusions of her bosom relative to that family, untill she is ascertained whether her former expressions of attachment have not been deemed impertinent” (DLC:GW).

GW responded from Mount Vernon on 4 June: “Madam, Strange as the relation of it may appear, it is not less true that, your letter of the 29th of March did not get to my hands until yesterday; at which time your other favour of the 28th Ulto was also received—for they came by the same Mail.

“The Books—which were received in very good order, and have been read with very great pleasure—came at the times, and in the manner you directed, and are entitled to my best thanks. This acknowledgment would have been made at an earlier period had I not waited expecting to be advised, to whom, or how, I should make payment (having forgot the terms of the Subscription) & request now to be informed.

“Had I received your favour of the 29th of March with the first set of the Gleaner, I should, however I might have been indebted to your goodness for an excuse, have reproached myself severely for any delay in the acknowledgment of it, and of those favourable sentiments which on all occasions that have occurred, you have been pleased to express in behalf of Madam Your Most Obedt Hble Servt Go: Washington.

“P.S. Mrs Washington and Miss Custis are grateful for your kind remembrance of them & request that their compliments may be presented to you in acceptable terms” (letterpress copy, DLC:GW; LB, DLC.GW).

Upon receiving GW’s letter Mrs. Murray wrote a letter to him on 15 June, which begins: “Sire Two dollars, which are all that remain due upon the two copies of the Gleaner (best paper, and binding,) forwarded to Mount Vernon, could not possibly be considered an object of sufficient importance, to apologize for my again pressing upon your recollection—But exhilarated, to a degree of extacy, by the distinguishing privilege of being permited once more to trace the characters of a personage, before whom every sentiment of admiration, and profound respect, of which my bosom is susceptible, has long since prostrated, I spontaneously exclaim T will speak yet again’ to the friend, the deliverer, the Father of my Country” (DLC:GW). And continues in the same vein for four paragraphs. (The complete letter has been transcribed for CD-ROM:GW).

GW waited until 20 July to answer: “Madam I have been duly honoured with the receipt of your obliging favour of the 15th Ulto, and should have presented you with my acknowledgement of it sooner, but for the interesting event (to me) which has lately occurred, and has occupied all my time and attention.

“For the highly flattering sentiments with which your letter is replete, and for the good wishes you are pleased to bestow on me, I render you all my gratitude, & reciprocate them with great cordiality, in doing which I am joined by Mrs Washington and Miss Gustis. I have the honour to be—Madam Your Most Obedt Servt Go: Washington” (letterpress copy, DLC:GW; LB DLC:GW).

In her even lengthier reply of 13 Aug. (transcribed for CD-ROM:GW), Judith Murray wrote, in part: “The event, to which you refer, is fraught with precious interest, not only to the Columbian World, but to the civilized Nations of the Earth in general—Washington again in the field, will appal the daring, and sanguinary spirit of Anarchy, and of Despotism—The work of death will know a period—and while the efforts of the panick struck foe, are palsied in every movement, America will again be animated to deeds of heroism, and, led on to victory, we shall once more triumph, in that name, which will continue to latest ages the boast of humanity” (DLC:GW). GW chose to leave these effusions unanswered.

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