Raab Announces Discovery of Previously Unknown Letter of George Washington

The Raab Collection announces today the discovery of a letter of George Washington, which sheds unique light on the financial plight of the nation’s founding father on the cusp of the great Constitutional Convention in 1787.  The letter, valued at $50,000, shows his need to sell land to raise cash. This unpublished letter has heretofore been unknown to scholars. For generations, it has been in a small private collection in coal country in rural West Virginia, an inheritance from a now-deceased collector. 

“This powerful letter, coming as it does on the doorstep of one Washington’s great moments, gives us a glimpse into the financial stresses and concerns of Washington, a man we think of in mythic terms but really had many of our own, very human issues,” said Nathan Raab, principal at The Raab Collection and author of the recently published book, The Hunt for History.

Historical background

George Washington, who at one time owned as many as 70,000 acres of land across what is now seven distinct states, found himself short of money in 1787. He hoped to sell a 1,644–acre tract of land called Washington’s Bottom, on the Youghiogheny River in western Pennsylvania. In March of that year, he began a correspondence on the subject with Israel Shreve, a retired colonel who had been with him at Valley Forge, who attempted to use a form of credit. Washington, however, needed cash. 

Just months later, he would arrive in Philadelphia as Chairman of the Constitutional Convention. At the time of writing this letter, however, he was still adamant he would not attend. 

Letter signed, Mount Vernon, March 20, 1787,  to Israel Shreve, on the subject of a land sale. “Your favor of the 5th inst. came duly to hand. The land you mention is for sale, & I wish it was convenient for me to accommodate you with it for military certificates; but to raise money is the only inducement I have to sell it… My price is 40/ Pennsylvania money per acre if sold altogether, which is one third less than small tracts of land in the vicinity, of less intrinsic value, have sold for. One fourth of the money to be paid down – the other three fourths in three annual payments, with interest… If therefore you have any inclination to purchase upon the terms here mentioned (which I shall not deviate from), I should be glad if you would signify it without delay, as I was about to write to him on this subject, but will delay doing it now till I hear from you, if this shall happen in the course of a post or two.” 


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