“I had no love letters to lose”

The letter in this post is the response of George Washington to the previous one from ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL in which she informs him that she had found a bundle of letters in one of the drawers of his writing desk which she had purchased and was returning it to him with three wax seals to be certain it would not be tampered with. The letters turned out to have been from Martha Washington to George. He makes light of the incident although he is pleased that Powel had found the letters not someone more “inquisitive,” although the reader would have been disappointed because they contained more evidence of friendship than amorous love. Hmmm. Perhaps. But we cannot confirm this as the letters were destroyed either by Washington himself or by Martha after his death.

Mount Vernon 26th Mar. 1797My dear Madam,
A Mail of last week brought me the honor of your favor, begun the 11th, and ended the 13th of this instant.

Had it not been for one circumstance, which by the bye is a pretty material one—viz.—that I had no love letters to lose—the introductory without the explanatory part of your letter, would have caused a serious alarm; and might have tried how far my nerves were able to sustain the shock of having betrayed the confidence of a lady. But although I had nothing to apprehend on that score, I am not less surprized at my having left those of Mrs Washington in my writing desk; when as I supposed I had emptied all the drawers; mistaken in this however, I have to thank you for the delicacy with which they have been treated. But admitting that they had fallen into more inquisitive hands, the corrispondence would, I am persuaded, have been found to be more fraught with expressions of friendship, than of enamoured love, and, consequently, if the ideas of the possessor of them, with respect to the latter passion, should have been of the Romantic order to have given them the warmth, which was not inherent, they might have been committed to the flames.

As we shall not relinquish the hope of seeing you in Virginia whenever it may suit your inclination & convenience, I am about to fulfil the promise I made, of giving you an Account of the Stages on the Road. . . .

Washington concluded by giving Powel the promised detailed account of his trip through the south as president of the United States.

“From George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powel, 26 March 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-01-02-0039. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1797 – 30 December 1797, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 51–53.]

posted September 25th, 2017 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Powel, Elizabeth Willing, Washington, George, Washington, Martha


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