George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Jeremy Belknap, 25 October 1790

From Jeremy Belknap

Boston Oct. 25 1790

Worthy Sir

It was my happiness to receive from under your hand, and afterward from your Mouth an approbation of the first Vol. of my history of New Hampshire1—After a long but necessary Interruption I have resumed & am continuing the work wch I hope will be ready for publication next spring.2

In searching for materials of information respecting the Controversy between N. Hampshire & Vermont toward the close of the late War, I have learned that some Letters written by your Excellency to the Vermonters were very influential to restore order & prevent that Controversy from being carried to the length which many people wished & many others feared. These Letters must contain arguments with which the historian of that period ought to be acquainted, & I do therefore request your Excellency to favour me with such Copies or abstracts of them, & such other remarks as you may think proper for my purpose, & you will thereby much oblige your most respectful & obedient servant3

Jeremy Belknap

ALS, MH: Jared Sparks Collection.

Jeremy Belknap (1744–1798), a Boston native and founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society, graduated from Harvard College in 1762 and became a minister of the Congregational parish in Dover, N.H., in 1767. A longstanding dispute over his salary and other conflicts with his congregation made his tenure there an unhappy one, and Belknap left in 1787 to become head of Boston’s Federal Street Church in Long Lane. Robert Aitken, a Philadelphia printer, published the first volume of Belknap’s three-volume History of New-Hampshire in 1784 (see Belknap to GW, 19 July 1784, source note).

1See GW to Belknap, 5 Jan. 1785. Although GW recorded his reception of the Boston clergy at 10:00 a.m. on 27 Oct. 1789 during his tour of New England, he did not mention Belknap by name in his diary. Belknap’s record of the occasion reads: “General Washington having appointed this day for the clergy of this town to wait upon him, we went at ten o’clock to his lodgings, and paid him our respects.

“When I was introduced to General Washington, he said to me,

“‘I am indebted to you, sir, for the History of New Hampshire, and it gave me great pleasure”’ (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:477; Jane Belknap Marcou, Life of Jeremy Belknap . . . [New York, 1847], 171).

2Isaiah Thomas and Ebenezer T. Andrews of Boston published the second volume of Belknap’s History of New-Hampshire in 1791, and Belknap’s son Joseph and Alexander Young published the third volume in Boston the following year. Both the first volume of the history, which Ebenezer Hazard sent to GW in December 1784 as a presentation copy from the author, and a three-volume edition appear in the inventory of GW’s library made at his death. Paine Wingate wrote to Belknap on 10 Jan. 1791: “It gave me much pleasure to find that you had so far advanced in the History of N.H. as to send out proposals for subscriptions for printing the last two volumes. The President when he subscribed expressed the pleasure he had of seeing the continuance. The Vice President did the same. They both subscribed for a compleat set, to be bound & lettered, & paid four dollars & half each” (Jeremy Belknap, Belknap Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, 4 [Boston, 1891], 474–75; see also GW to Belknap, 5 Jan. 1785, n.1; Decatur, Private Affairs of George Washington, description begins Stephen Decatur, Jr. Private Affairs of George Washington: From the Records and Accounts of Tobias Lear, Esquire, his Secretary. Boston, 1933. description ends 185. The subscription list with GW’s and John Adams’s names on it is in MHi: Belknap Papers).

3Although no reply from GW to Belknap has been found, the president did receive this letter postmarked Boston, 26 Oct., as witnessed by the endorsement on its cover in his own hand, and acted upon it, apparently requesting his secretary to look into the matter. In volume 2 of his History of New-Hampshire, Belknap notes, “A committee, who had under consideration the affair of admitting Vermont into the union and determining its boundaries, prevailed on General Washington, then at Philadelphia, to write to the Governor of Vermont, advising to a relinquishment of their late extension, as an ‘indispensible preliminary’ to their admission into the union; intimating also, that upon their non-compliance, they must be considered as having a hostile disposition toward the United States, in which case coercion on the part of Congress, however disagreeable, would be necessary.” The author also printed in an appendix to that volume a copy of GW’s 1 Jan. 1782 letter to Thomas Chittenden, “Certified by Tobias Lear, Esq. private Secretary to the President” (455, 490–93). The original of that copy, in Lear’s hand, is in MHi: Belknap Papers.

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