Trove of Revolutionary War Letters Coming to Auction

Swann Handwritten letter signed by David Hume to the Ambassador of Great Britian to France, the Earl of Hertford, discussing the repeal of the Stamp Act, 27 February 1766. Later this month Swann Galleries in New York will conduct a sale of Revolutionary Americana from the Allyn Kellogg Ford Collection. The Ford collection contains some of the most significant Revolutionary War letters ever to come to auction.

In 1927 Minnesota manufacturer Allyn Kellogg Ford acquired what would become the core of his collection, more than 100 letters to Brigadier General George Weedon, acting adjutant general to General Washington and later a major figure on the northern front in the Siege of Yorktown. The letters had been kept by Weedon as souvenirs of his service, and had been passed down by his family.

After acquiring the Weedon papers, Ford further developed his collection, mostly from the late 1920s through early 1950s—including at least two letters acquired from Swann in the 1940s. In 1948, Ford became a founder and director of the National Society of Autograph Collectors, now the Manuscript Society.

Swann Letter signed by Benedict Arnold as Major General in the Continental Army to Delaware Governor Caesar Rodney, hoping to clear his good name, Philadelphia, 20 March 1780. The year after Ford’s death, the collection was donated by his widow to the Minnesota Historical Society. For more than 40 years, the Ford collection has been referenced in numerous histories of the American Revolution. The Minnesota Historical Society microfilmed the collection to insure its continued availability to scholars. In a statement from the Minnesota Historical Society said, “The Minnesota Historical Society is deaccessioning portions of the Allyn Kellogg Ford Collection of Historical Manuscripts that are not connected to its mission of chronicling Minnesota’s history through its holding of manuscripts, artifacts, and other materials. The funds generated from the sale of these items will be placed into an endowment dedicated to the care of items in the Minnesota Historical Society collections and new acquisitions, in accordance with the highest standards of professional integrity.”

Highlights of the Weedon letters include seven from George Washington, among them a 15 March 1778 letter urging Weedon to “return to camp as soon as possible,” ($10,000 to $20,000); an unpublished letter from 15 September 1781 calling for an “immediate stop” to the stealing of cattle by Queens rangers ($20,000 to $30,000); and a 4 October 1781 letter congratulating Weedon the day after a skirmish with British General Banastre Tarleton ($20,000 to $30,000).

There are five letters from Thomas Jefferson, as Governor of Virginia, three of which relate to Benedict Arnold’s raid on Richmond, the first from 10 January 1781 contains a lengthy description of the raid ($30,000 to $40,000); the next, written a day later, warns, “they have had the winds at their command and . . . are at this moment either past Burwell’s ferry on in Williamsburg . . .” ($15,000 to $25,000); the third about rebuilding after the raid, 21 January 1781 ($15,000 to $25,000).

The sale also contains two letters from Arnold himself, one to Delaware Governor Caesar Rodney trying to save his reputation, claiming, “my character has been most cruelly and unjustly aspersed,” Philadelphia, 20 March 1780 ($10,000 to $20,000).

More Weedon material includes the document appointing him as Colonel, signed by John Hancock, as President of the Continental Congress, Philadelphia, 19 June 1776 ($3,000 to $4,000); Yorktown campaign letters from Lafayette, including an announcement of Cornwallis fortifying troops in Yorktown, 6 August 1781 ($4,000 to $6,000); 13 letters from Thomas Nelson, a Virginia signer of the Declaration of Independence; and letters from Horatio Gates, Nathaniel Greene, Richard Henry Lee, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben and others.

Swann Letter signed by Thomas Jefferson to Brigadier General George Weedon, informing him of the British fleet's arrival and requesting that lookouts keep Lafayette informed of developments, Richmond, 21 March 1781. Among other Revolutionary War material of note are David Hume’s Autograph Letter Signed recounting William Pitt’s speech before the House of Commons defending the American reaction to the Stamp Act, 27 February 1766 ($25,000 to $35,000); additional Documents Signed by John Hancock, one written on behalf of his uncle Thomas Hancock, concerning the transportation of a corpse, along with a shipment of rum, wine and beef, Boston, 11 February 1760 ($4,000 to $6,000), another, as President of the Continental Congress, informing Colonel Hugh Mercer of his appointment as Brigadier General, Philadelphia, 6 June 1776 ($10,000 to $15,000); and a 1794 Document Signed by Samuel Adams as Lieutenant Governor and Commander in Chief ($1,500 to $2,500).

All together, 26 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence are represented, as well as soldiers, politicians, and ordinary citizens. Ford’s interest was not limited to the American Revolution, and some of his other prizes, such as presidential and literary letters, appear in the Autographs section of this sale.

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