MHS for the Media

George Washington Letter Donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society

Washington thanks Lincoln for gift of cheese and cranberries in letter donated to the Society

Washington letterA letter Pres. George Washington wrote to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln on 5 February 1785 from Mt. Vernon was recently donated to the Society by Dr. Susan C. Scrimshaw in memory of her grandmother, Clara Crosby Ware Goodrich. The letter was published in The Papers of George Washington from a letterbook copy at the Library of Congress; however, the location of the original was not known. In the letter, Washington provides news of recent legislation in the assemblies of Virginia and Maryland regarding efforts to make the Potomac River navigable. Washington was instrumental in getting the legislation passed that led to the formation of the Potomac Company. He also thanks Lincoln for “two cheese’s, & a barrel (wrote thereon Major rice) of Cranberries.”

Dr. Scrimshaw, a Lincoln descendant, notes that the letter was passed down through the women in her family for eight generations. She recollects that it spent much of its time hidden in closets or drawers, and was taken out and admired for special occasions. As a scholar, Dr. Scrimshaw came to realize that the letter should be in a place where it could be cared for professionally and where it would be accessible to scholars. After consultation with her parents and siblings, and careful research on the best home for the letter, Dr. Scrimshaw made the decision to donate it to the MHS, which houses the Benjamin Lincoln Papers. Lincoln served with Washington in the Continental Army and as the first secretary of war under the Articles of Confederation.

“I feel relieved that the responsibility for the stewardship of a piece of our history is now in competent professional hands," explains Dr. Scrimshaw. "In addition, I found the Society a treasure trove of information on my New England ancestors. I know my grandmother would be pleased as well to know that future generations will have access to this letter, no longer a family secret.”