George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James McHenry, 13 August 1798

From James McHenry

Philad. 13 Augt 1798

Dear Sir

I am happy to inform you that I was able to attend in the office to-day. To-morrow I set out with my family to Trenton where we propose to remain ’till we can return with safety to the City.

Mr Hodgdon has orders to send you press paper, writing paper, and press ink powder.1 I have also sent to Mr Law, the tin box received at New York from the East Indies, and directed to you.2 The colours ordered for Miss Custis is in great forwardness. I visited them to day.3 The devices for the colours directed for Mrs Washington has not yet been furnished the painter. I have thought of a medallion of the President borne towards the stars by our Eagle with some characteristic emblems, but I have determined upon nothing.4 I am very sincer[e]ly and affectionately yours

James McHenry


1GW wrote to McHenry on 2 Aug. about his need for stationery and for “copying Paper” for his letterpress. On 23 Aug. Samuel Hodgdon as “Intendant of Stores of the United States,” wrote GW: “By order of the Secretary of War, I have purchased and herewith send to your address, the Stationary inserted in the enclosed invoice. I have been very particular in making the purchase, and I hope the whole will answer your purpose; and meet your acceptance” (DLC:GW). An enclosed invoice indicates that Hogdon sent two reams of “extra large quarto gilt Post,” one ream of extra large “patent copying Paper,” and “4 Papers, copying Ink Powder” for the letterpress.

3Eleanor Parke Custis wrote to McHenry from Mount Vernon on 26 July 1798: “I shall now take the liberty of troubling you in regard to the Commission for a Standard, which you were kind enough to undertake for me. One of the Volunteer Dragoons [William Herbert] dined with us today, he mentioned that the Company had a colour Staff which from its antiquity & being used by the first Company in which Grandpapa was, in either the late War, or the French War (I forget which) they prized highly, and intended to honour my gift, by placing it on that Staff. If they send you the Staff for that purpose, will you be so obliging as to have placed on the tops of it—The American Eagle, hansomely carved, and gilt in the best manner in one talon an Olive Branch, in the other, implements of War. And also to have my favorite Motto—Conquer or Die—in letters of Gold on the Standard, which America is represented as presenting to the Dragoon. The uniform, I suppose you have been informed of My Company will, I think, be very respectable, therefore, I wish My Standard to be the hansomest ever seen in America. If the Antique Staff is not sent, will you have one, very hansomely made, with the ornament above mentioned.” On 6 Sept. she acknowledged the receipt of McHenry’s “entertaining letter” and declared that “My Troop are all uniformed and waiting for the Standard, which they are determined to defend with a bravery never excelled” (Steiner, Life and Correspondence of McHenry, description begins Bernard C. Steiner. The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry: Secretary of War under Washington and Adams. Cleveland, 1907. description ends 356, 357–58). See also GW to McHenry, 21 Oct. 1798, and McHenry to GW, 26 October.

4GW wrote McHenry on 20 Aug. saying that the “devise . . . for the Colours ordered by Mrs Washington is appropriate,” but on 14 Oct. GW drafted a letter for Martha Washington to Charles Simms as commanding officer of the “Silver Greys,” or “Greyheads,” which reads: “Sir, Conformably to my promise, I requested the favour of the Secretary of War (supposing it was more in his line than any other to cause them to be executed properly) to have the colours which I intended my self the honor of presenting to the Company under your Command, to be made and sent to me without delay.

“About a fortnight ago they arrived, but in an unfinished State—havg neither fringe nor Tassels. Of this Mr McHenry was informed, & requested to supply the deficency. His answer is just received, that the person who made them, has fallen a victim to the malignant fever which prevails in Phila.—unhappily to the interruption of all kind of business—but, that he would, as soon as it was practicable remedy the defect. He was asked too, if some mistake had not been made in sending Cavalry, for Infantry Colours; & in that case to forward as much suitable Silk as would accomodate them to the latter purpose—to which no reply has been made.

“Hearing that there is to be a grand parade on Wednesday, I send them up as they are—in order, that they may be completed—at my expence—in Alexandria, if there be materials or workmen to do it; of which you will be pleased to inform me—that Mr McHenry may be advised accordingly. I am Sir Yr Most Obedt Hble Ser. M.W.” (DLC:GW). The colors were still in an incomplete state on 30 Oct. when a celebration in Alexandria marked John Adams’s birthday. The 1 Nov. issue of the Columbian Mirror and Alexandria Gazette reported: “A stand of colours, presented by the respected consort of our venerable Cincinnatus to the Company of Silver Grays, was displayed for the first time on that day; and, although a variety of incidents prevented their being entirely completed, they had a very elegant appearance—The colours are composed of white silk; the device is, however, on an azure blue ground. The Golden Eagle of America has a portrait of General Washington suspended from its beak; in one talon a bunch of arrows, in the other a branch of Olive; and is surmounted by 16 stars, indicative of the number of States—The Motto—‘FIRM IN DEFENCE OF OUR COUNTRY.’ ” For the organizing of the company of infantry in Alexandria called the Silver Greys, see GW to McHenry, 27 July 1798, n.1.

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