George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Sarah Cary Fairfax, 12 September 1758

To Sarah Cary Fairfax

Camp at Fort Cumberland 12th Septr 1758.

Dear Madam,

Yesterday I was honourd with your short, but very agreable favour of the first Instt.1 how joyfully I catch at the happy occasion of renewing a Corrispondance which I feard was disrelishd on your part, I leave to time, that never failing Expositor of All things.—and to a Monitor equally as faithful in my own Breast, to Testifie. In silence I now express my Joy.—Silence which in some cases—I wish the present—speaks more Intelligably than the sweetest Eloquence.

If you allow that any honour can be derivd from my opposition to Our present System of management,2 you destroy the merit of it entirely in me by attributing my anxiety to the annimating prospect of possessing Mrs Custis.3 When—I—need not name it.—guess yourself.—Shoud not my own Honour, and Country’s welfare be the excitement? Tis true, I profess myself a Votary to Love—I acknowledge that a Lady is in the Case—and further I confess, that this Lady is known to you.—Yes Madam, as well as she is to one, who is too sensible of her Charms to deny the Power, whose Influence he feels and must ever Submit to. I feel the force of her amiable beauties in the recollection of a thousand tender passages that I coud wish to obliterate, till I am bid to revive them.—but experience alas! sadly reminds me how Impossible this is.—and evinces an Opinion which I have long entertaind, that there is a Destiny, which has the Sovereign controul of our Actions—not to be resisted by the strongest efforts of Human Nature.

You have drawn me my dear Madam, or rather have I drawn myself, into an honest confession of a Simple Fact—misconstrue not my meaning—’tis obvious—doubt it4 not, nor expose it,—the World has no business to know the object of my Love, declard in this manner to—you when I want to conceal it—One thing, above all things in this World I wish to know, and only one person of your Acquaintance can solve me that, or guess my meaning.—but adieu to this, till happier times, if I ever shall see them.—the hours at present are melancholy dull.—neither the rugged Toils of War, nor the gentler conflict of A——B—s5 is in my choice.—I dare believe you are as happy as you say—I wish I was happy also—Mirth, good Humour, ease of Mind and.—what else? cannot fail to render you so; and consummate your Wishes.

If one agreable Lady coud almost wish herself a fine Gentleman for the sake of another; I apprehend, that many fine Gentlemen will wish themselves finer, e’er Mrs Spotswood is possest.—She has already become a reigning Toast in this Camp; and many there are in it, who intends—(fortune favouring)—to make honourable Scar’s speak the fulness of their Merit, and be a messenger of their Love to Her.6

I cannot easily forgive the unseasonable haste of my last Express, if he deprivd me thereby of a single word you intended to add.—the time of the present messenger is, as the last might have been, entirely at your disposal.7—I cant expect to hear from my Friends more than this once, before the Fate of the Expedition will, some how or other be determind, I therefore beg to know when you set out for Hampton; & when you expect to Return to Belvoir again8—and I shoud be glad to hear also of your speedy departure, as I shall thereby hope for your return before I get down; the disappointment of seeing your Family woud give me much concern.—From any thing I can yet see ’tis hardly possible to say when we shall finish—I dont think there is a probability of it till the middle of November. Your Letter to Captn Gist I forwarded by a safe hand the moment it came to me.—his answer shall be carefully transmitted.

Colo. Mercer to whom I deliverd your message and Compliments,9 Joins me very heartily in wishing you and the Ladies of Belvoir the perfect enjoyment of every Happiness this World affords.—be assured that I am Dr Madam with the most unfeigned regard, Yr Most Obedient & Most Obligd Hble Servt

Go: Washington

N.B. Many Accidents happening (to use a vulgar saying) between the Cup and the Lip, I choose to make the Exchange of Carpets myself—since I find you will ⟨n⟩ot do me the honour to accept of mine.

ALS, MH. The text of this letter appeared in the New York Herald on 30 Mar. 1877, and on 31 Mar. the Herald reported that Bangs & Co. in New York had sold it and another letter from GW, one for $13 and the other for $11.50. Because of its contents, the authenticity of the letter was questioned until the manuscript, undeniably in the writing of GW, surfaced in Houghton Library, Harvard University, in 1958.

Sarah Cary Fairfax, called Sally, married George William Fairfax in 1748.

1George William Fairfax wrote GW on 1 Sept. (first letter) that he was writing in answer to GW’s letter to him of 27 Aug. and that his wife Sarah Cary Fairfax was answering GW’s letter to him of 22 Aug., both of which letters had just been brought by a messenger to Belvoir. Mrs. Fairfax’s letter of 1 Sept. has not been found. GW wrote on 12 Sept. not only this letter to Mrs. Fairfax but also a letter to her husband, both at Belvoir (see George William Fairfax to GW, 15 Sept.).

2GW did not make a practice of making copies of his letters to his family and friends, and very few of the personal letters he sent to people in Virginia from Fort Cumberland during the summer of 1758 have survived; but judging from the letters written to him by friends GW never missed an opportunity to criticize Bouquet’s and Forbes’s management of the campaign.

3This is the first and only allusion to Martha Dandridge Custis in GW’s surviving correspondence before 16 Jan. 1759 when Capt. Robert Stewart congratulated GW on his recent “happy union with the Lady that all agree has long been the just object of your affections.” GW visited the recently widowed Mrs. Custis in New Kent County three times earlier in the year, twice in March and once during the first week of June. It has been assumed that on one of these visits GW proposed marriage to Mrs. Custis and that Mrs. Custis accepted his proposal. It is not certain, however, despite some suggestive evidence, at precisely what time the young colonel made his proposal or at what time the young widow gave her acceptance, whether one or both was done during his first visits, or by letters during the summer or fall, or upon their reunion in December after GW’s return from the Forbes campaign. Whatever letters that may have been exchanged between GW and Mrs. Custis in 1758 have, like nearly all of the rest of their correpondence, disappeared; but in the numerous letters filled with personal allusions which GW’s devoted friend Robert Stewart wrote to him during the summer, fall, and early winter of 1758, not once does Stewart give any hint of knowing of an engagement between GW and Mrs. Custis. If, as is possible, GW was in September still in pursuit of the prize, this letter to Mrs. Fairfax may be read as little more than an ineptly facetious piece of banter. If, on the other hand, there was an engagement that remained something of a shared secret between him and the Fairfaxes, one is left to wonder whether GW intended in fact to direct some of his awkward gallantries to Mrs. Custis or, as is generally assumed, only to give the impression to prying eyes that his words were all meant for his betrothed though in truth intended for Mrs. Fairfax alone.

4GW wrote “in” instead of “it.”

5If this refers to Assembly Balls, as it seems to, his reason for not spelling it out remains a mystery.

6Charles Smith wrote GW on 7 Sept. of John Spotswood’s recent death. In his early thirties when he died, Spotswood left a very large estate to his two young sons and his widow, Mary Dandridge Spotswood, Martha Dandridge Custis’s first cousin. The rich widow chose none of the eager officers for her second husband; she later became the wife of John Campbell of Williamsburg and Jamaica.

7Thomas Burris delivered to George William Fairfax GW’s letters of 22 and 27 Aug. and returned to GW’s camp with the letters of Mr. and Mrs. Fairfax [1] [2] [3] written on 1 September.

8George William Fairfax wrote on 15 Sept. that it had been decided that they would leave on 25 September. They were to visit his wife’s parents Wilson and Sarah Cary of Ceelys in Elizabeth City County near Williamsburg.

9George Mercer, formerly GW’s aide-de-camp, was now lieutenant colonel in William Byrd’s 2d Virginia Regiment.

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