The Raab Collection, autograph dealers, have announced that it has discovered, acquired, and is offering for sale for the first time a letter written by George Washington in October, 1777, just days after the Battles of Saratoga ended.
The Raab Collection was unable to find any other such letter of Washington having reached the market in which he directly ties a great American victory to “Heaven.” This original letter, signed by Washington, was not believed to have survived. Raab recently acquired it directly from descendants of the recipient and has listed it for sale at $275,000.
The letter was written to Brigadier General James Potter and signed by Washington at his headquarters at Peter Wentz’s farm house near Philadelphia in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, on October 18, 1777, the day after the British surrendered at the Battle of Saratoga on the grounds of abandoned Fort Hardy in Saratoga, NY.
Nearly 6,000 British and German troops had surrendered their arms, showing that the Revolutionaries were capable of beating the experienced professional British Army.
James Potter (1729–1789) was a brigadier general of the Pennsylvania militia during the War, and served as Vice-President of Pennsylvania from 1781–1782.
Two weeks before the letter was written, on October 4, 1777, revolutionaries under Washington had suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Germantown, near Philadelphia. Washington’s outlook was bleak, until news arrived of the victory at Saratoga.
The defeat of the British at Saratoga helped persuade the French to join the Revolutionary War against the British, who were defeated finally with their help at Yorktown, Virginia. The surrender at Yorktown occurred on October 19, 1781.
In the lead up to the Valley Forge encampment, Washington’s letter instructs General Potter, who was monitoring British troop movements, to try to cut off the supply chain between the British fleet at New York Harbor and occupied Philadelphia and to urgently raise troops
“Sir, I congratulate you upon the glorious successes of our Arms in the north, an account of which is inclosed – 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 – it is incumbent upon every man of influence in his Country to prevail upon the Militia to take the field with that energy which the present crisis evidently demands. I have no doubt of your exerting yourself in this way – In the Post which you now occupy you may render the most important Services by cutting off the Enemies Convoys and Communications with their Fleet, for this purpose you should strain every nerve. There is another thing which I would suggest and leave you to judge of the practicability of it – I think that you might harass the parties of the Enemy on Province Island in such a manner as to produce a great Diversion in favour of Fort Mifflin – 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 – I am Your most h’ble Servt., G. Washington.”
While the content of the letter has been known to scholars, the original was not thought to have survived. Raab recently acquired it from descendants of General Potter.
Illustrations, from above: Letter from George Washington October 18, 1777 to James Potter (Rabb Collection); Peter Wentz Farmstead; and a portrait of James Potter.