George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Gordon, 8 March 1784

From William Gordon

Jamaica Plain [Mass.] March the 8th 1784

My dear Sir

It afforded me peculiar pleasure to learn, how your Excellency had secured your public character by your manner of retiring to the private walk of domestick happiness, after having been, in the hands of the Supreme Governor, a glorious instrument of establishing the rights of the American States. Your name will be mentioned with honor by all historians, whether Whigs or Tories: but my prayer is, that it may be found written in the Lamb’s book of life.

I am pursuing my plan with as much speed as the times will admit. Next monday I go for Newport, to inspect the papers of Genl Greene, who wishes me to do it ere he sets off for the southward, that he may explain to me certain anecdotes. When the roads are settled I shall push for Annapolis. I have not heard whether any resolution has been yet taken with regard to my petition. There is nothing like being present to solicit: but long absence from my people when at Princeton, the approaching winter, & the removal of Congress would not admit of my tarrying then to complete my business. I was therefore necessitated to conclude upon returning the morning of Nov. 3d, & reachd home with Mrs Gordon on the 20th after an agreeable journey, two or three days excepted.

Intend myself the honor of visiting You at Mount Vernon after leaving Annapolis. Can I get out early enough in April shall hope for the pleasure of seeing You at Philadelphia the beginning of May. Whether present or absent while in life, You will have my sincerest wishes for your peace & comfort, & that when leaving this world becomes desireable You may set without a cloud to shine with answerable lustre in the world of Spirits. Pray my regards to Dr Craig.1 Mrs Gordon joins in best respects to Self & Lady.2 I remain with the greatest truth your Excellency’s affectionate Friend & very humble Servant

William Gordon

The last Saturday our Friend Col. Quincy of Braintree was buried.3


The Rev. William Gordon (1728–1807), a dissenting English clergyman who settled in Roxbury, Mass., in 1772, wrote to GW often during the Revolutionary War and in October 1782 began pressing him for access to his papers, “in order to perfect my historical collections” relating to the American Revolution (Gordon to GW, 2 Oct. 1782). Gordon’s intention was to write a history of the winning of independence by the United States. GW replied on 23 Oct. 1782 that he could not make his papers available until after the war, “when Congress then shall open their Registers,—& say it is proper for the servants of the public to do so.” On 8 July 1783 GW wrote: “I can only repeat to you, that whenever Congress shall think proper to open the door of their Archives to you, ... All my Records & Papers shall be unfolded to your View.” After receiving this letter from Gordon in 1784, GW wrote Gordon from Philadelphia on 8 May finally agreeing to allow him to see his public papers if Congress approved. On 17 May 1784 Gordon petitioned Congress for permission to use the records in the archives of Congress. Congress’s journal for 25 May records that Congress agreed to allow Gordon access, with certain restrictions, and that “having the fullest confidence in the prudence of the late Commander in Chief,” it had “no objection to his laying before Dr. Gordon, any of his papers which he shall think, at this period, may be submitted to the eye of the public” (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 27:427–28). Gordon went to Mount Vernon in June and stayed for nearly three weeks. He wrote of his stay at Mount Vernon to Horatio Gates on 31 Aug. 1784: “I got to General Washingtons by breakfast on June the 2d; when he had read the Resolve of Congress, he told me that he should make no reserve and keep no papers back, but should trust to my prudence for the proper use of them. I sat [sic] into work and followed it closely, rising by day light and being at his books as soon as I could read, and continued it till evening, breaking off only for meals, and never went once to visit tho’ invited. By the 19th about two o’clock I had finished, having searched and extracted thirty and three volumes of copied letters of the General’s, besides three volumes of private, seven volumes of general orders, and bundles upon bundles of letters to the General” (“Letters of the Reverend William Gordon,” description begins “Letters of the Reverend William Gordon: Historian of the American Revolution, 1770–1799.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 63 (1929–30): 303–613. description ends 506). Gordon published, in four volumes, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America . . . in London in 1788. A three-volume edition was published in New York in 1789. For further information on the preparation and publication of Gordon’s History, description begins William Gordon. The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America: Including an Account of the Late War; and of the Thirteen Colonies, from Their Origin to That Period. 4 vols. New York, 1788. description ends see Gordon to GW, 24 Sept. 1788, source note.

1Dr. James Craik (1730–1814), GW’s friend since he joined the Virginia Regiment, acted as Gordon’s agent in selling subscriptions to the London edition of his History.

2Gordon’s wife was Elizabeth Field Gordon.

3Col. Josiah Quincy, of whom John Adams once wrote “he praises himself as much as other People censure him,” was a Boston merchant and the father of the noted patriot of the same name (Butterfield, Adams Diary and Autobiography, description begins L. H. Butterfield, ed. Diary and Autobiography of John Adams. 4 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1961. description ends 1:82).

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