Letters of Washington, Franklin, and Lafayette, 1744-1830 [bulk 1777-1799]

Collection Number: 4600 Bd. Ms. 548++

Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
Cornell University Library


Letters of Washington, Franklin, and Lafayette 1744-1830 [bulk 1777-1799]
Collection Number:
4600 Bd. Ms. 548++
30 items
Forms of Material:
Original documents, mostly autograph signed letters or ALS
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library
Manuscript documents and correspondence about the American and French Revolutions, covering the period 1744-1830
Collection material in English and French


Jared Sparks (1789-1866) was a prominent American historian, educator, and Unitarian minister who served as President of Harvard University from 1849 to 1853.
Sparks is mostly remembered today as a historian of the America Revolutionary War. After extensive researches at home and in London and Paris, he wrote his most important work, "The Life and Writings of George Washington" (12 volumes, 1834-1837), and separately, "The Life of George Washington" (2 volumes, 1839-42.) His Herculean achievements also include "The Writings of Gouverneur Morris" (3 volumes, 1832), "The Writings of Benjamin Franklin" (10 volumes, 1840), and a "Life of Benjamin Franklin" (1857.) Additionally, Sparks compiled "The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution : Being the Letters of Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, John Adams, John Jay, [...], M. de Lafayette, M. Dumas, and Others, Concerning the Foreign Relations of the United States During the Whole Revolution" (4 volumes, 1829-30.)
His interest in France is less known, though not surprising, considering that the history of the two countries in the second-half of the 18th-century is intrinsically linked. Sparks had a regular correspondence with General Lafayette from 1827 to 1834 (see The Arthur H. and Mary Marden Dean Lafayette Collection at Cornell #4611, box 83.) He also met with Alexis de Tocqueville during his 1831–32 visit to the United States. Their extensive conversations and subsequent correspondence informed Tocqueville's book "Democracy in America," and in return they impacted Sparks's views about the American and French Revolutions.
In the course of his editorial and historical work, Sparks copied and collected thousands of documents; the focus of his collection was the American Revolution. Most original documents now constitute the Jared Sparks Collection of documents concerning the American Revolution at the Houghton Library in Harvard University :http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~hou00303
Containing spectacular autographs of Washington, Franklin, and Lafayette, the Cornell volume was prepared by Sparks himself ; each item is verified by his hand (directly on the documents!), reserved for private sale, and purchased by Cornell University in January 1872 [*]. The catalogue of the Library of Jared Sparks, written by Harvard librarians and edited by Charles Ammi Cutter (1837-1903), then the Librarian of the Boston Atheneum, provided us with basic information for this online finding aide. However, a couple of manuscript documents listed here were not in the 1871 catalogue, and we know with certainty that some of them were acquired later and added to this collection(for example, the Washington letter to Lafayette in folder 6.)
The autographs were part of a much larger acquisition by Cornell President Andrew D. White and Cornell trustee Henry W. Sage: Cornell also bought Sparks's superb collection of books, which was intended "to be the nucleus of Cornell's collection in the history of the United States." As usual with White, this major acquisition for the Library was consistent with his educational plans for Cornell as a whole. Acquiring the library and best manuscripts of Jared Sparks was part of a strategy of promoting the teaching of American history, at a time when it was something of an innovation. When he was appointed in 1881, Prof. Moses Coit Tyler observed with delight that "Cornell is the pioneer in recognizing American history as worthy of a separate chair." [**] Though many letters are now published in digital collections of the papers of the Founding Fathers -- for example, http://resolver.library.cornell.edu/misc/6701841 -- retaining original documents is essential.
The first series "WASHINGTON" contains: 1/documents related to Washington's early career as public land surveyor and mapmaker in Virginia. After considering the prospect of a career in the British Royal Navy, George Washington began studying geometry and surveying, using a set of surveyor's instruments from the storehouse at Ferry Farm, taking many notes and making many drawings. Though his political and military involvement put an end to his career as a public land surveyor in Virginia, he made maps during his entire life, from his first survey exercise in 1747 to his last survey of the Mount Vernon lands [folders 1-3]; 2/ documents related to the Revolutionary War, with the order of battle and chain of command for light infantry set up by Washington for the Virginia campaign in 1781 [folders 4-6]; 3/ documents related to his tenure as President of the United States, including one important document about the Whiskey Rebellion, a popular uprising that had its beginnings in 1791 and culminated in an insurrection in 1794 in the Monongahela Valley in Western Pennsylvania [folders 7-8]; 4/ documents related to the management of his plantation at Mount Vernon, including the issue of slavery [folders 9-11]; 5/ signatures of Washington [folder 12.]
The second series "FRANKLIN" contains: 1/documents related to his personal and family life before the Declaration of Independence, especially "the religious Franklin," but also his relation with his wife who passed away in 1774 [folders 13-17]; 2/ the French-American alliance and Franklin's ambassadorship to Paris (1776-1785), including a witty "bagatelle" sent to his neighbour in Passy, composer and society hostess Anne Louise Brillon, whose salon Franklin frequented on a regular basis; instructions sent concerning a secret mission involving Franklin's 18-year-old grandson William Temple Franklin, who worked as secretary to the American diplomatic mission in Paris; and a 1780 letter from Franklin's daughter, Sarah "Sally" Franklin Bache, to George Washington, documenting the active role of women: both letters confirm that the whole family took part in the war [folders 18-24]; 3/Franklin's draft of his last speech in the Convention for forming the Constitution of the United States: Franklin stated his pragmatic support of the Constitution: "There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them... I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution... It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies." The result of many corrections, Franklin's speech "is perhaps the best ever written by anyone about the magic of the American system and the spirit of compromise that created it." [***] At some point (?) this final draft was addressed and passed to Daniel Carroll, an active member of the Constitutional Convention and one of only five men to sign both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States [folder 25.]
The third and last series "LAFAYETTE" contains: 1/ major documents related to Lafayette's captivity and exile during the French Revolution (1792-1799), including the famous letter of March 15, 1793 written with a tooth-pick (!), a painful sketch of the suffering and exhaustion of the General and his companions, illegally detained in a dreary state prison in the fortified city of Magdeburg, Prussia, before their transfer to another citadel in Olmütz, Austria. The Princess d'Henin confided the letter to John Barker Church, a well-connected businessman and former English Member of Parliament who had befriended the cause of the American Revolution and married the daughter of Philip Schuyler, a General and U.S. Senator, with the request that Church convey it to President George Washington -- which he did; she gave him the precious letter with the request that Church would convey it to President George Washington -- which he did. As Church wrote, "The Marquis' friends have no hope of procuring his liberation... I heartily wish it may be in your power to effect it" [folders 26-28]; 2/ a 1830 letter to Jared Sparks which accompanied copies of Lafayette's correspondence with Washington during the 1781 Campaign, and contains an account of recent revolutionary events in Paris [folder 29.]
[*] Catalogue of the Library of Jared Sparks, with a List of the Historical Manuscripts Collected by Him and Now Deposited in the Library of Harvard University, Cambridge: University Press, 1871, p. 211-2; Robert Morris Ogden (ed.), "The Diaries of Andrew Dickson White," Cornell University Library, 1959, p. 169. In a "job offer" to Tyler dated June 17, 1871, Andrew D. White already named the library and its growing collections as one of the great advantages of being at Cornell (Tyler Correspondence, Bd. Ms. 52++, vol. III.)
[**] Michael Kammen, "Moses Coit Tyler: The First Professor of American History in the United States," in "The History Teacher," Vol. 17, Nov. 1983, pp. 61-87.
[***] Walter Isaacson, "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life," New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003, p. 457.

Adams, John, 1735-1826.
Anderson, John, 1745-1807.
Bache, Sarah, b. Franklin,1744-1808.
Barnes, Richard, of Richmond County, Virginia.
Brillon de Jouy, Anne Louise Boyvin d'Hardancourt, 1744-1824.
Carroll, Daniel, 1730-1796.
Church, John Barker, 1746-1818.
Fleury, François Louis Teissèdre de, 1749-1794.
Damas d'Antigny, Joseph-François-Louis-Charles-César de, 1758-1829.
Estaing, Charles Henri, comte d', 1729-1794.
Fleury, François Louis Teissèdre de, 1749-1794.
Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790.
Franklin, Deborah, 1708-1774.
Franklin, William Temple, 1760-1823.
Heath, William, 1737-1814.
Hénin, Eiennette de Montconseil, princesse d'.
Howe, William, 1729-1814.
Knox, Henry, 1750-1806.
Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, marquis de, 1757-1834.
Lafayette, Adrienne de Noailles, marquise de, 1759-1807
Lafayette, George Washington, 1779-1849.
Lally-Tollendal, Trophime-Gérard, marquis de, 1751-1830.
Lameth, Alexandre de, 1760-1829.
La Tour Maubourg, Charles de, 1757-1831.
Louis XVI, King of France, 1754-1793.
Madison, James, 1751-1836.
Parkinson, Richard, 1748-1815.
Pinkney, Thomas, 1750-1828.
Platt, Zephaniah, 1735-1807.
Plessis, Thomas-Antoine, chevalier de Mauduit du, 1753-1791.
Pulaski, Casimir, 1747-1779.
Randolph, Edmund, 1753-1813.
Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866.
Washington, George, 1732-1799.
Wayne, Anthony, 1745-1796.
Whitefield, Rev. George, 1714-1770.
Whiting, Anthony.

United States --History --1783-1815.
United States --History --Revolution, 1775-1783 --Personal narratives.
United States. Constitution.
French Revolution, France,1789-1799.
Mount Vernon (Va. : Estate).
Brandywine, Battle of, Pa., 1777.
Yorktown (Va.)--History--Siege, 1781.
Constitutional history --United States.
United States. Army --Supplies and stores.
United States--Foreignaffairs--France.
Slavery--United States.

Form and Genre Terms:


Cite As:
Letters of Washington, Franklin, and Lafayette, 1744-1830, 4600 Bd. Ms. 548++
Access Restrictions:
By appointment only.


Related archival collections at Cornell include the Susan H. Douglas Collection of Political Americana #2214 (esp. boxes 86, 89, and 171); the Carpenter Wharton Collection #4656 (for the history of supplies to the American Army during the Revolutionary War); the Collection of Historical Manuscripts #4600 (which contains two original letters from Washington about French and American officers, 1778 and 1798); the Trumbull Papers Bd. Ms. 61++; the Lafayette Collection #4611 (esp. box 16); and the Pamphlets and Manuscripts components of the French Revolution Collection.

Series I: Washington
Washington before the Revolutionary War
The Revolutionary War
Washington's Presidency
Gentleman Farmer at Mount Vernon
Signatures of George Washington
Series II: Franklin
Before the Declaration of Independence
The French-American Alliance
The U.S. Constitution
Series III: Lafayette
Captivity and Exile During the French Revolution
Correspondence with Sparks


Folder 1
"Chain and Poles"
1 leaf
Original drawing, from one of George Washington's "schoolbooks," dated "Aet. 14."
Folder 2
Title Page of a Book of Surveys
1 leaf
Title page of a book of surveys for the period 1749-1750, dated "Aet.17." With a hand-drawn map and Washington's annotations: "Then surveyed for Mr. Richard Barnes of Richmond County a certain tract of waste and ungranted land situate[d] in Culpeper County"
Folder 3
Mathematical and Geological Drawings and Figures
c. 1750
1 leaf
Page from a book of surveys for the period 1749-1750, dated "Aet.18".
Folder 4
Washington, George, to William Heath
10 November 1780
1 leaf
ALS in English, plus a modern transcription (tapuscript).Washington asks General William Heath, commander of the Highland Department of the Continental Army, to "send forward the articles most essential to the convenience and comfort of the men. [...] the articles most wanted will be Blankets, Waistcoats, Woolen Overhalls, and Stockings... to rub thro' the Severity of Winter."
Folder 5
[Orde]r of Battle for 1781 -- Light Infantry
1 leaf
Order of battle and chain of command for the Virginia Campaign. General Lafayette is the commander of the U.S. light infantry.
Folder 6
Washington, George to Lafayette
28 November 1783
1 leaf
ALS in English, not listed in the 1871 catalogue. Washington sends a letter of recommendation for Mr. [Zephaniah] Platt, a member of the New York State Senate, and his wife, who are going to England "and probably to France."
Folder 7
Washington, George, to Edmund Randolph
6 October 1794
1 leaf
ALS in English. This is the draft of the letter to the former U.S. Attorney General and current Secretary of State, reproduced in John C. Fitzpatrick (ed.), "The Complete Writings of George Washington From the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799," 1932-1940, vol. 33, p. 521-2. Washington evokes the departure of the First Lady from the federal city of Washington because of the epidemic of yellow fever; the existence of " a faction in the Army of the United States [that] is attempting the ruin of General Wayne"; and his intention to move his troops to Fort Cumberland, Maryland, before their march to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania.
Folder 8
Washington, George, to James Madison
6 March 1796
1 leaf
ALS in English. This is the draft of the letter reproduced in John C. Fitzpatrick (ed.), "The Complete Writings of George Washington...," vol. 34, p. 485-6; it concerns the situation in the United States of "Mr. Fayette" [sic], that is, of George Washington Lafayette "and his family." While her husband was held in foreign captivity, and she herself was in the prisons of the Terror, the Marquise de Lafayette entrusted the safety of their 17-year-old son to the Washingtons.
Folder 9
Washington, George, to Anthony Whiting
26 March 1793
1 leaf
Envelope addressed to Whiting, of of the farm manager at Mount Vernon. Letter is missing. Authenticated by Sparks: "Washington's Handwriting."
Folder 10
"Terms on Which the Farmers at Mount Vernon May be Obtained"
February 1796
1 leaf
Autograph with a table of rotation of crops. Washington also stipulates gis conditions with respect to slaves: "lthough the admission of Slaves with the Tenants will not be absolutely prohibited; It would, nevertheless, be a pleasing circumstance to exclude them; If not entirely, at least in a great degree: To do which, is not among the least inducements for dividing the farms into small lots."
Folder 11
Washington, George, to James Anderson
9 November 1798
1 leaf
ALS in English. In this letter to his new farm manager and business partner, Washington discusses the sojourn in America of agriculture expert Richard Parkinson, who came to America to rent one of the farms of Washington, and published a detailed account of his experience in his "Travel in America" [complete title: "Tour In America In 1798, 1799, And 1800: Exhibiting Sketches of Society and Manners, and a Particular Account of The America System of Agriculture, With Its Recent Improvements," London: 1805. Cornell Rare Books E164 .P24 1805]
Folder 12
Five signatures
1 leaf
Marked by Jared Sparks: "[The last signature was applied] four days before his death."
Folder 13
Fragment on the Parable of the Good Samaritan and Articles of Faith
1751 (?) and n.d.
2 leaves
Autograph, authenticated and dated by Jared Sparks. The document described as "Articles of Faith" in the 1871 catalogue contains the statement "God governs the world." .
Folder 14
Franklin, Benjamin, to Rev. George Whitefield
2 July 1756
1 leaf
Facsimile of a letter, on religion and ethics.
Folder 15
"The Mother Country"
n.d. [circa 1765]
1 leaf
Lyrics of a patriotic song, perhaps written by Benjamin Franklin. Annotation by Sparks: "Franklin's hand-writing. J.S."
Folder 16
Franklin, Benjamin, to Mrs. Franklin
5 October 1768
1 leaf
ALS in English. From London, sends his love to his wife, his daughter and son-in-law, "cousin [Timothy] Folger," "and all Friends."
Folder 17
Franklin, Benjamin, to Mrs. Franklin
n.d. [before 1774]
1 leaf
Envelope of a letter to "Mrs. Franklin, Philadelphia."
Folder 18
News from "The Boston Gazette"
October 1777
1 leaf
Autograph authenticated by Jared Sparks: "Dr. Franklin's Handwriting." The article contained an account of the Battle of Branywine, and praised the military accomplishments of foreign officers, especially Lafayette, Pulaski, and Fleury.
Folder 19
Draft for the Declaration Annuling the Eleventh and Twelth Articles of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce Between the United States of America and France
1 leaf
Autograph authenticated by Jared Sparks: "Dr. Franklin's Handwriting."
Folder 20
n.d. [August 1778]
1 leaf
Autographed document, not listed in the 1871 catalogue. List of questions regarding the war, and especially the role played by the French Navy under Vice-Admiral d'Estaing.
Folder 21
Franklin, Benjamin, to Mme Brillon
20 September 1778
1 leaf
Autograph with the title "Ephemera." According to the 1871 auction catalogue, "this is perhaps the most graceful of the author's jeux d'esprit."
Folder 22
Adams, John, and Franklin, Benjamin, to William Temple Franklin
1 leaf
ALS in English, containing instructions to young Franklin regarding a diplomatic mission.
Folder 23
Adams, John, and Franklin, Benjamin, to William Temple Franklin
26 November 1778
1 leaf
ALS in English, containing instructions to young Franklin regarding a diplomatic mission.
Folder 24
Bache, Sarah, to George Washington
26 December 1780
1 leaf
ALS in English, authenticated by Jared Sparks, regarding military supplies made and sent by the wives and daughters of revolutionary fighters, and the general conduct of the war by Washington: "we packed the shirts in three boxes... they are two thousand and five in number.. we wish them to be worn with as much pleasure as they were made [...] My father says... that all the old generals amuse themselves in studying the accounts of [your] operations, and approve highly of [your] conduct."
Folder 25
Franklin, Benjamin, to Daniel Carroll
n.d. [September 1787]
1 leaf
Franklin's final draft of his last speech in the Federal Convention for forming the Constitution of the United States of America, addressed to "D. Carrol [sic], Esq." This spelling of Carroll's name appears frequently through the records of the Federal Convention. Authenticated by Jared Sparks. The same text appears in the digital edition of "The Papers of Benjamin Franklin" (Packard Humanities Institute) as follows: "From Benjamin Franklin: Speech in the Convention on the Constitution [...] Addressed: D. Carrol Esqr. / Endorsed: D Carrol Draft of Franklin’s last Speech in the Convention for forming the Constitution of the United States, September, 1787."
Folder 26
Lafayette, Marquis de, to the Princesse d'Hénin [and to his wife]
15 March 1793
1 leaves
Autograph in French, authenticated by Jared Sparks-- marked "Written by Lafayette in Prison." The letter begins: ""Je vis encore, ma chère princesse, et je puis vous le mander ; mais ce sont les deux seules choses satisfaisantes que vous devez attendre de mon journal..." (Louis Gottschalk [ed.], "Lafayette: A Guide to Letters, Documents and Manuscripts in the United States," 1975, p. 105.)
Folder 27
Church, John Barker, to George Washington
16 August 1793
1 leaf
ALS in English, marked by Jared Sparks: "with a letter from Lafayette to the Princess d'Henin."
Folder 28
Lafayette, Marquis de, to George Washington
20 August 1798
1 leaf
ALS in English, marked by Jared Sparks: "(Duplicate) (Letter to Washington.)" This letter was written during the sojourn in Holstein, after Lafayette's liberation. "However uncertain of the fate of my letters, I am happy to let you hear from me, and altho' the filial and grateful sentiments which from my youth have animated my heart need not being remembered to you, it is to me, while so unwilllingly separated from you, a great and necessary consolation to express them." (Gottschalk, p. 112.)
Folder 29
Lafayette, Marquis de, to Jared Sparks
28 March 1830
1 leaf
ALS in English ALS in English, marked by Jared Sparks: "From General Lafayette. Rec[eive]d June 3, 1830. Jared Sparks." "La Grange. My dear friend/This letter will be transmitted by our fiend Mr. Low..." (Gottschalk, p. 235.)