Rare Washington letter to be on view in Phila.
George Washington lived in Philadelphia in the 1790s as president of the United States, but his duties as commander in chief of the Continental Army had also brought him to the city. In December 1778, Washington came to Philadelphia to discuss the army and its future campaigns.
Congress had just returned to Philadelphia from York. The British occupation of Philadelphia, from Sept. 26, 1777, to June 18, 1778, had forced the government to vacate the Pennsylvania State House – now Independence Hall – and move to Lancaster, then York.
The British troops left Philadelphia in June for New York City, and Congress returned to Philadelphia. Washington and his troops, who had spent the winter of 1778 in Valley Forge, followed the British to New York, settling in the next winter at West Point.
Washington, however, came to Philadelphia in December. He was enthusiastically welcomed by the citizenry and Congress. City magistrates issued a proclamation on the 29th, praising Washington for the return of the capital from a "cruel, invading army." Providing rare insight into his thoughts, Washington responded by extolling national character as the key to winning the war:
"I congratulate you Gentlemen that this State is again in possession of its capitol; and I sincerely hope that a persevering exercise of the same national virtues which have hereto frustrated the designs of the enemy will perpetuate to this city a full enjoyment of all the blessings which have been the objects of the present glorious and important contest."
This letter, owned by a private collector and never before seen by the public, will be on view at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania as part of a special Presidents' Day exhibit. The display will include gems of the society's Washington collection, such as his pocket diary, his wife's cookbook, and his secretary's account of his death. The display is free and open to the public during regular library hours.