An Unpublished Letter of George Washington on the Nation’s First Inoculation Campaign Against a Deadly Virus

The Raab Collection announced today that it has acquired and will offer for sale a previously unknown letter of General George Washington during the American Revolution, which sheds important light on his campaign to inoculate his troops against Small Pox, the first mass inoculation campaign in American history. This letter, which does not appear in any of Washington’s published works and whose location and content was unknown to scholars, has been in the same family for generations. It is valued at $90,000.

“It is very uncommon to find an unpublished letter of Washington, let alone one of such importance and relevance to us today,” said Nathan Raab, President of The Raab Collection and author of “The Hunt for History (Scriber 2020). “We have never before seen such an important and unknown relic of this early battle of Washington against the viral scourge attacking his army.”

Rarity: This letter was not known to exist and appears in none of the published works of Washington, including the current online versions. There appears no other examples of Washington relating to inoculation efforts during the Revolutionary War having appeared at public sale. This letter has not been offered for sale in at least 86 years.

Provenance: This letter was given by parents to a son as a gift of graduation. It passed down in that same family and was acquired by Raab from the descendants of the graduate.

Washington wishes well to the family of his doctor, who was inoculating not only residents and troops but the slaves owned by Washington himself at Mount Vernon

Who received it: Dr. James Craik studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, went to the West Indies as a British army surgeon in 1751 and soon moved to Virginia, where in 1754 he was appointed surgeon of Washington’s Virginia Regiment. During the ensuing campaigns Craik and Washington became close friends. In April 1777, Washington offered him the post of Assistant Director General of the hospitals. Craik would be at Washington’s bedside for his death.

Historical Background

On May 13, 1777, Craik accepted Washington’s offer, but made it clear he hoped he could delay leaving to take up the post right away. The reason: He was inoculating patients against smallpox, and felt keenly the need to monitor their condition as they recovered.  Craik was also monitoring people being inoculated at Mount Vernon, Washington’s home, including his slaves.


Autograph letter signed, Camp at Middle Brook, May 31, 1777, to Craik, telling him he is sending on to the Director General his application for a late arrival, which meant that the application had Washington’s approval. Washington’s forces were encamped at Middlebrook in 1777 and again in 1778–79. The position provided a natural fortress not only protecting the Continental Army but also overlooking the plains towards New Brunswick, where the British forces were stationed.  He begins by announcing the arrival of a French officer to help the American cause.  “Doctor, I had just sat down to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 13th instant (which never reached my hand til yesterday), and to write pretty fully to you on the subject of it, when the arrival of Monsr. Coudrey, a French gentleman of military rank was announced. This, and the necessity of writing by the post, who is just setting out, will apologize for the shortness of this letter.”

Then he moves to the delay in reporting caused by the inoculation efforts.

“I have referred the request [to remain with your patients] contained in your letter to the Director General who knows how far it is in his power consistently with the good of the service to prolong your absence for an answer, & with best wishes for the health & felicity of Mrs. Craik and the rest of your family…”

About Raab & The Hunt for History: In 2020 (hardcover) and 2021 (paperback), Scribner published Nathan’s fascinating book about the rarified world of discovering and dealing in historical documents – THE HUNT FOR HISTORY: On the Trail of the World’s Lost Treasures—from the Letters of Lincoln, Churchill, and Einstein to the Secret Recordings Onboard JFK’s Air Force One. In the book by Nathan, whom Library Journal has compared to the Indiana Jones of historical document hunting, he shares amazing stories from the families and institutions who’ve called on him to sell, or authenticate, rare and revelatory letters that will often fetch high prices. Among these stories: powerful letters of President Reagan to his daughter, pleading for family unity; the discovery of an early version of the JFK assassination tapes with 40 minutes of new information; Theodore Roosevelt’s letter home from Yellowstone to his young son, who would die in World War I.

Raab has worked with the families of many great historical figures on the treasures that have descended to them, including Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James K. Polk, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson, Gerald Ford, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, senior leadership in the Civil War, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It has worked to bring to the market many unpublished historical archives from all over the world.

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