George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Earl of Buchan, 28 June 1791

From the Earl of Buchan

Dryburgh Abbey [Scotland] June 28th 1791.


I had the Honour to receive your Excellencys letter relating to the advertisement of Dr Andersons periodical publication in the Gazette of the United States which attention to my reccomendation I feel very sensibly and return you my gratefull acknowledgment.1

In the 21st No. of that literary miscellany I inserted a monitory paper respecting America which I flatter myself may if attended to on the other side of the Atlantick be productive of good consequences.2

To use your own emphatic words may that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe—who presides in the Councils of Nations—and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, consecrate to the Liberties & Happiness of the American People a Government instituted by themselves for publick & private security upon the Basis of Law & equal administration of Justice preserving to every individual as much civil & political freedom as is consistent with the safety of the Nation. And may He be pleased to continue your Life and strength as long as you can be in any way usefull to your Country!

I have entrusted this sheet enclosed in a box made of the Oak that sheltered our Great Sir William Wallace after the Battle of Falkirk to Mr Robertson of Aberdeen a Painter with the hope of his having the honour of delivering it into yr hands, reccomending him as an honest artist seeking for bread & for fame in the New World.3 This Box was presented to me by the Goldsmiths Company at Edinburgh, to whom feeling my own unworthiness to receive this magnificently significant present, I requested & obtained leave to make it over to the Man in the World to whom I thought it was most justly due. Into your hands I commit it requesting of you to pass it on the event of your decease to the Man in your own Country who shall appear to yr judgment to merit it best upon the same considerations that have induced me to send it to Your Excellency.4 I am with the highest Esteem, Sir, Yr Excellencies most Obedt & Obliged humble servt


I beg yr Excellency will have the goodness to send me your Portrait that I may place it among those whom I most honour. Whether Mr Robertson may be equal to the task I know not but I beg leave to reccomend him to yr countenance as he has been mentioned to me favourably by my worthy friend Professor [William] Ogilvie of Kings College Aberdeen.5

ALS, PHi: Gratz Collection.

1For GW’s role in the publication of James Anderson’s prospectus of the Bee, or Universal Literary Intelligencer, see Buchan to GW, 27 Mar. 1790 and notes 1 and 2. David Steuart Erskine, eleventh earl of Buchan, was referring to GW’s letter of 30 June.

2Buchan’s essay “On America” was published under his regular pseudonym “Albanicus” on 4 May 1791 in the Bee, 3, no. 21, pp. 96–101.

3Archibald Robertson (1765–1835) was educated at King’s College in Aberdeen, Scotland, and studied painting at Edinburgh before returning to Aberdeen to operate a “Drawing Academy.” He left for London in 1786, became a student of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and also took lessons from Benjamin West. Robertson soon attracted the attention of the court with his skillful miniatures and earned the appellation of “The Reynolds of Scotland” before returning to his homeland. Robertson decided to settle in the United States and arrived at New York on 2 October. He was presented to GW by Tench Coxe on 30 Dec. and delivered this letter and relic from Buchan (Robertson, Letters and Papers of Andrew Robertson, description begins Emily Robertson, ed. Letters and Papers of Andrew Robertson, A.M., Born 1777. Died 1845. Miniature Painter . . . Also A Treatise on the Art by his Eldest Brother, Archibald Robertson, Born 1765. Died 1835. of New York. London, 1895. description ends 9, and Stillwell, “Robertson,” description begins John E. Stillwell. “Archibald Robertson, Miniaturist, 1765–1835.” New-York Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin 13 (1929): 1–33. description ends 1, 16). See also Virginia Gazette and Alexandria Advertiser, 12 Jan. 1792.

4The hinged wooden snuffbox, about four inches long, three inches wide, and two inches deep, was constructed of six pieces of one-eighth-inch-thick finely polished oak, elegantly bound with silver. Mounted upon the inside of the lid was a silver plate bearing the inscription, “Presented by the Goldsmiths of Edinburgh to David Stuart Erskine, Earl of Buchan, with the freedom of their Corporation, by their Deacon, 1791” (described and quoted in Robertson, Letters and Papers of Andrew Robertson, 9). Not having received an acknowledgment, Buchan wrote GW on 15 Sept.: “Sometime ago I did myself the pleasure to transmit to you by Mr Archibald Robertson of Aberdeen a testimony of my sincere respect contained in a Box made of the venerable oak which sheltered our great Wallace after his defeat at Falkirk, which Box was cut out of the Tree by the propreter & Sent to the Corporation of Goldsmiths at Edn. & by them presented to me with the freedom of their Company in the Box abovementioned and which I hope you will receive. It is a respectable curiosity & will I flatter myself be a relique of long endurance in America as a Mark of that Esteem with which I have the honour to be Sir, Yr Obedient humble Servt” (PHi: Gratz Collection; the docket on the Sprague transcript [DLC:GW] notes that the letter was received on 15 June 1792—the address cover of the original receiver’s copy is missing). Buchan later referred to GW as “the modern American Wallace” (quoted in Lamb, “Unpublished Washington Portraits,” description begins Martha J. Lamb, ed. “Unpublished Washington Portraits.” Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries 19 (1888): 272–85. description ends 278). Sir William Wallace (c.1272–1305) led a Scottish uprising against Edward I from 1297 until 1305. He was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk in the summer of 1298 by Edward and his forces and retreated with the remnant of his army to Stirling before seeking aid abroad. After his capture and execution by the English in 1305 Wallace became the best-known champion of Scottish liberty.

In his final will of 9 July 1799, GW wrote: “Whether easy, or not, to select the man who might comport with his Lordships opinion in this respect, is not for me to say; but conceiving that no disposition of this valuable curiosity can be more eligable than the re-commitment of it to his own Cabinet, agreeably to the original design of the Goldsmiths Company of Edenburgh, who presented it to him, and at his request, consented that it should be transfered to me; I do give & bequeath the same to his Lordship, and in case of his decease, to his heir with my grateful thanks for the distinguished honour of presenting it to me; and more especially for the favourable sentiments with which he accompanied it” (ADS, ViFfCh). His executors transmitted the box to Buchan in February 1800 by British minister Sir Robert Liston, with a copy of GW’s will, and the earl noted on 16 Aug. 1800 at the bottom of their letter that he himself wished to bequeath the box to “Washingtons University in Columbia” (Papers of the Earl of Buchan, William Salt Library, Stafford, United Kingdom). Buchan provided details in the “Observations respecting the Will of General Washington,” drafted on 6 May: “With respect to the fourteenth Clause by which the General recommits to me the Box . . . , I destine it for the University of Washington with a Golden Pen to which there may be annually offered medals by the States to the honour of such young Citizens Students therein as shall be found in comparative trial to have made not only the greatest progress in useful knowledge during the whole of their course of Education but shall at the same time have been found to be most exemplary in their conduct & most preeminently posessed of the Principles & knowledge ‘most friendly to Republican Government & to the true & genuine liberties of Mankind’ to use the words of the great Founder himself & I deposit this expression of my Will & intent concerning this Relique Wch you Dr Robert Anderson of Her riots Green Edinburgh Author of the respectable Edition of the British Poets & other useful works to the end that in case of my Decease without any other extant declaration of my will in this respect that my Executors may comply with the same for which this writing will be their sufficient warrant” (Papers of the Earl of Buchan, William Salt Library, Stafford, United Kingdom). The box was stolen in transit in the nineteenth century, and advertisements of a reward for its return proved unavailing (Cleveland, “Robertson, and His Portraits of the Washingtons,” 9). It apparently was in the possession of Ian Keith Mackintosh of Wadhurst, Sussex County, England, in 1958 (Country Life, 123 [9 Jan. 1958], 74).

5For GW’s reply and Robertson’s portrait of GW, see GW to Buchan, 1 May 1792. William Ogilvie (1736-1819) was professor of humanity at the college. GW owned a copy of his 1781 Essay on the Right of Property in Land (Griffin, Catalogue of the Washington Collection description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends , 529).

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