Historical letters

Most readers will know that I am an antiques dealer and have been for over 45 years. My passion is early historical documents.

Being self-educated has its advantages, you study what you like. For me, I love historical documents. As the years passed I became known throughout New England as a collector/dealer of these old documents.

Occasionally I’m called in as a consultant by an auction gallery or a private collector to identify and catalog their documents. Such is the case here.

Recently, I was contacted by Bill Smith of Smith’s Auction Gallery of Plainfield, New Hampshire. I was asked to catalog a group of estate documents. The estate was in Corning, New York and was moved to Plainfield to be sold at auction.

When I saw these documents I got goosebumps. Below is an outline of what I discovered.

A handwritten three-page letter’s heading is Albany May 12, 1779. The letter was written by Philip Schuyler to Colonel Van Schaick.

General Washington directs Schuyler to have Col. Schaick organize a group of soldiers together with Oneida Indians to chart the Oswegatchie River. The Oswegatchie flows from the Adirondacks, north to the St Lawrence River. In 1779 the British threatened this area. The letter is signed Philip Schuyler. This letter and the relevant history could be an article by itself.

1779 55 dollar Continental currency. Photo provided.

Also is a collection of Continental paper currency, all dating from the 1770s. Continental Currency was circulated in all thirteen Colonies. While unpopular with the Colonists due to inflation and different values from colony to colony, there was a larger problem.

The British would sail into New York harbor and anchor. Then men were sent into the city to collect Continental Currency. Onboard ship they had printing presses and set about counterfeiting the ‘Continentals’ as they were known. The counterfeits were then distributed throughout the Colonies.

Ben Franklin said, “The artists they employed performed so well that immense quantities of these counterfeits which issued from the British government in New York, were circulated among the inhabitants of all the states, before the fraud was detected. This operated significantly in depreciating the whole mass.”

One way to determine a counterfeit bill today from a genuine bill is rather easy. Genuine Continental Currency notes have tiny flecks of mica imbedded in the paper. The counterfeits did not have mica.

Another item is a very rare 1782 Treasury Check for $120. It is signed M. Hillegas. Michael Hillegas was the first treasurer of the United States. Estimates range that there are only 75-200 of these checks in existence today.

Last page of Henry Young journal. Photo provided.

Included in this collection is a 125-page journal kept by Henry Young. The title page reads: A journal of East and West Florida with itineraries by H. Young, Cap’t of Topographical Engineers, 1818.

The first Seminole War was in 1818 and led by Andrew Jackson. Henry Young was with Jackson on this expedition and recorded latitude and longitude, topography, soils and rivers. Further he made accurate records of old Spanish roads and forts along with the many different Indian tribes.

In those early days slaves escaping from the southern states escaped to Florida, then a Spanish territory. Here the slaves were safe and established settlements which were recorded by Young. This journal is a major historical artifact.

There is a great 1802 Lord Nelson letter. You might know of the Battle of Trafalgar. This is where Lord Nelson onboard the Victory won what is considered one of Britain’s most important naval battles. On that day in 1805 Nelson was killed.

A Lincoln signature. Photo provided.

There’s an important Civil War letter regarding formation of a new regiment in New York. Many officers signed the letter. On the reverse side is a handwritten note approving the new regiment, and signed ‘A. Lincoln.’

Another letter is written and signed by U. S. Grant. Then there is on an 1862 New York Quartermaster letterhead the signature, ‘C.A. Arthur.’ Arthur is best known as the 21st president but during the Civil War he was Quartermaster for the State of New York. Not done yet, there is also a White House card with a bold signature, ‘Chester A. Arthur.’

Another letter is written and signed by Salmon Chase, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Chase was born in Cornish N.H. There is also a very rare 1761 Philadelphia lottery ticket, likely printed by Ben Franklin.

Very rare 1761 Philadelphia Lottery ticket. Photo provided.

There is much more I could write about this collection but I’m running out of room. Now perhaps you understand why I had goosebumps.

The auction is Monday, May 28 in Plainfield, N.H. at 10 a.m. I will be there.


This week’s old saying. “Old age is a terminal illness.”

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