A Long-Lost Letter Penned by George Washington During the Revolutionary War Hits the Market for $275,000

It is the only wartime document in which the President invoked "Heaven."

The October 17, 1777 letter written by George Washington to Brigadier General James Potter. Photo courtesy of Raab Collection.

Long believed lost, a historical letter written by George Washington during the throes of the American Revolutionary War has come up for sale in Pennsylvania. 

The letter was addressed to Brigadier General James Potter, dated October 18, 1777, and penned the same day the U.S. president received news about the surrender of British troops led by General John Burgoyne, at Saratoga in New York. The battle marked the first Revolutionary victory over the British. 

Potter served in the Pennsylvania militia during the war, when he maintained an intelligence network with a direct line to Washington. The artifact has been in the hands of his descendants for more than two centuries and is now being sold by Raab Collection, a private firm that deals with historical documents. It is valued at $275,000. 

The October 18, 1777 letter written by George Washington to Brigadier General James Potter. Photo courtesy of Raab Collection.

In the correspondence, the president, likely swayed by the victory, wrote to Potter with uncharacteristic emotion, mentioning both “Providence” and “Heaven” in its opening lines. It is one of the very few letters Washington wrote about the Saratoga outcome and the only one in which he invoked the divine during the war. 

“I congratulate you upon the glorious successes of our Arms in the North an account of which is inclosed,” the letter reads. “This singular favour of Providence is to be received with thankfulness and the happy moment which Heaven has pointed out for the firm establishment of American Liberty ought to be embraced with becoming spirit.” 

The Battle of Saratoga is long considered the decisive point in the war, a month-long series of maneuvers that turned the tide for the Revolutionary army. Following Burgoyne’s surrender, British troops withdrew from Ticonderoga, Crown Point, and Lake Champlain in New York. France also formalized a Treaty of Alliance with the Americans in February 1778 that further tipped the war in the Patriots’ favor. 

The October 17, 1777 letter written by George Washington to Brigadier General James Potter. Photo courtesy of Raab Collection.

Washington’s letter to Potter reflected his understanding of Saratoga’s significance in the New York theater. Besides providing instructions to further disrupt British communications—”For this purpose you should strain every nerve”—it provided hearty encouragement to the brigadier general. 

“Let me again entreat you and through your means every one of any influence among the Militia, to exert it to the utmost in exciting them to the field where by seasonable reinforcements the glorious work we have in hand will be completed,” he wrote, before signing off as “Your most h’ble Servt., G. Washington.” 

“This letter, in its beauty, draws together many of the threads of American experience: God, patriotism, victory, destiny,” said Nathan Raab, principal at The Raab Collection. “Its discovery is exciting, and proof that Washington’s words continue to inspire.” 

 

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