The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired a letter written by George Washington. The letter, among the few to reside in Texas historical collections, discusses the killing of three Indians by white settlers.
“This letter is an important acquisition for the center,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “It sheds light on Washington’s views on Indian relations and his care for his family. We are deeply grateful to the donors, Mr. and Mrs. Barron U. Kidd, whose generosity has brought this treasure to the university.”
UT Austin’s Briscoe Center is dedicated to fostering exploration of our nation’s past. By collecting, preserving and making available historical evidence, the center strengthens the university’s teaching and research missions. The center’s collections are vast, diverse and growing, enabling the university to promote historical literacy among students and faculty members on campus, and researchers and members of the public from around the world.
Washington’s letter, which was written to John Armstrong in 1769 before the Revolutionary War, describes the killing of three members of the Mingo tribe by settlers on the south bank of the Potomac River. Washington describes the incident as murder (“for it deserves no other name”), “villainy” and “mischief,” and he demands “justice.”
“Washington’s indignation over the unprovoked killing of the Indians is clearly genuine,” notes Carleton. “He also evidences concern over ‘the evils that otherwise must follow’ if similar incidents were to go unchecked. Both Washington and Armstrong had a vested interest in any developments in that region that might indicate serious trouble with the Indians and therefore inhibit western expansion by colonists.”
Armstrong was an Irish immigrant who worked as a land surveyor in Pennsylvania, as well as a justice of the peace. Washington relays the information he has on the incident to Armstrong, who advised and assisted Washington with his land dealings. Armstrong would later serve as a major general under Washington in the Revolutionary War.
The letter finds Washington between wars, actively pursuing his financial and domestic interests. During the period between his marriage in 1759 and the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775, Washington lived a busy life, serving as a vestryman and as a member of the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Va., purchasing land and managing his plantations.
Also of note in the letter is Washington’s keen awareness of colonial Virginia’s public sphere. Washington states, “It is lucky however that none escapd to carry the Intelligence, and we, in consequence, may represent it in as favourable a light, as the thing will admit of, having the knowledge of it confined to our selves.”
The letter helps illustrate that Washington’s attitudes were in line with those of his peers. During the Aug. 8, 1769, meeting of the Council of Colonial Virginia, it was resolved that “no injury or violence [should] be offer’d to the Indians” and that settlers should be “caution’d that if they wantonly draw on a quarrel they will not be supported.”
The letter was the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Barron U. Kidd. Barron U. Kidd graduated in 1958 from the university’s Plan II Honors program. With his wife, he acquired the Washington letter over 40 years ago.
“I had a wonderful experience at UT, and I’m appreciative of the opportunity I was given,” said Kidd. “This is a way for me to express that appreciation. I look forward to the fact that students, faculty and everyone may view the letter and see what Washington’s writing looked like, how he phrased sentences and how our language has evolved over time.”