George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Richard Varick, 1 January 1784

To Richard Varick

Mount Vernon Jany 1st 1784

Dear Sir,

From the moment I left the City of New York until my arrival at this place,1I have been so much occupied by a variety of concerns that I could not find a moment’s leizure to acknowledge the receipt of your favors of the 4th & 7th Ultimo.2

The public and other Papers which were committed to your charge, and the Books in which they have been recorded under your inspection, having come safe to hand,3I take this first opportunity of signifying my entire approbation of the manner in which you have executed the important duties of recording Secretary, and the satisfaction I feel in having my Papers so properly arranged, & so correctly recorded—and beg you will accept my thanks for the care and attention which you have given to this business. I am fully convinced that neither the present age or posterity will consider the time and labour which have been employed in accomplishing it, unprofitable spent.

I pray you will be persuaded, that I shall take a pleasure in asserting on every occasion the sense I entertain of the fidelity, skill, and indefatigable industry manifested by you in the performance of your public duties; and of the sincere regard & esteem with which I am—Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt & affe Servt

Go: Washington


Lt. Col. Richard Varick (1753–1831) of the 1st New York Regiment, who was Benedict Arnold’s chief aide at the time Arnold’s treason was discovered in the fall of 1780, became GW’s recording secretary in May 1781. On 4 April 1781 GW wrote to Samuel Huntington, president of the Congress, that because his papers—“valuable documents which may be of equal public utility and private satisfaction”—were still “in loose sheets; and in the rough manner in which they were first drawn,” he wished to employ “a set of Writers . . . for the sole purpose of recording them.” It must be done, he wrote, “under the Inspection of a Man of character in whom entire confidence can be placed” (DNA:PCC, item 152). After Congress gave its approval of the undertaking, GW wrote Varick, on 25 May 1781, putting him in charge of the project. He presented Varick with detailed and precise instructions for sorting into six classes, ordering, registering, and filing all of his official letters, orders, and instructions, as well as letters written to him, which were not to be transcribed. Varick was to hire “Clerks who write a fair hand, and correctly” to copy all of GW’s official papers except incoming letters. Varick was to return to GW the original documents, properly docketed and arranged, as well as the transcripts. Varick at Poughkeepsie in the summer of 1781 began sorting the documents, and by September 1781 he had three clerks hard at work. In August 1783, two years after the work began, Varick and his clerks finally brought the transcripts up to date, and Varick delivered to GW twenty-eight completed volumes: six volumes of letters to Congress, fourteen of letters and orders to his officers, four of letters to civil officers, one of letters to foreigners, two volumes of councils of war, and, finally, one volume of his private correspondence which Varick and GW had decided should also be transcribed. Varick and one or more clerks continued to sort and copy GW’s papers, which GW and his staff continued to send to Varick until December 1783 when Varick decided to “bid a happy Adieu to public Services & return to the pleasant, tho fatiguing, Amusement of a City Lawyer” (Varick to GW,18 Nov. 1783).

1GW bade an emotional farewell to his officers at Fraunces’s tavern in New York on 4 December. He did not arrive at Mount Vernon until Christmas Eve, having stopped at New Brunswick and Trenton and having spent a week in Philadelphia before finally attending Congress at Annapolis to resign his commission on 23 December. This was the first time he had been at Mount Vernon “since the 4th of May 1775,” except during the Yorktown campaign when he spent one day there going down and “took 3 or 4” in October 1781 on his way back north (GW to George William Fairfax, 10 July 1783).

2On 17 Nov. 1783 GW instructed Varick to “forward all his Papers, recorded and unrecorded, to New York before the first of Decr next” (David Humphreys to Varick, NHi: Richard Varick Papers). All of GW’s papers dated before 1 Oct. 1783, along with Varick’s transcripts of them, had recently been sent to Mount Vernon (see note 3). The bundle of papers for 1 to 23 Oct. sent to Varick for transcribing had not arrived at Poughkeepsie and were thought to have been stolen. On 18 Nov. Varick reported “that the Packet of lost letters was found in a Swamp, but that the Letters were too wet” to be brought to GW, and so Varick went into New York from Poughkeepsie with what of GW’s papers were still in his possession. On 4 Dec. Varick wrote GW that he had copied the drafts of the indexes to 1 Oct. for the last seven volumes of the transcripts and had “folded, sorted & properly endorsed & packed up in several Bundles” the papers still in his hands. He promised to submit his final account as soon as he could settle with the clerk, Taylor. Three days later Varick wrote that the “lost papers are just come to Hand & I have folded but not had Time to number them; they are in their respective Bundles. The Letter to me was not open’d, but in perfect order & Muddy.” By 13 Dec. these papers too were on their way to Mount Vernon (see note 3).

3GW began preparing to transport his papers to Mount Vernon as early as 18 June 1783, at which time he wrote to Daniel Parker in New York from Newburgh: “For the purpose of Transporting my Books of records & Papers with safety, I want Six strong hair Trunks well clasped and with good Locks” as well as “a label (in brass or copper) containing my ⟨na⟩me, & the year on each.” Determined from the beginning to send his papers by land and not risk shipping by sea, GW in early October 1783 had at his headquarters near Princeton six wagons with teams to transport his papers, thinking it “probable that not less than 4 or 5 will do” (GW to Timothy Pickering, 8 Oct. 1783). Not until 9 Nov. did GW order Lt. Bezaleel Howe to conduct the wagons loaded with the papers, “which are of immense value to me,” to Philadelphia and Wilmington, “& thence through Baltimore, Bladensburgh, George Town, and Alexandria to Mount Vernon.” It is not known what day Howe got to Mount Vernon, but the remaining papers dated after 1 Oct. (see note 2)probably did not arrive long before GW did on 24 Dec. and may have arrived even shortly after that (see GW to Samuel Hodgdon, 13 Dec, and Hodgdon to GW, 18 Dec. 1783).

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