EXTRAORDINARY REVOLUTIONARY WAR AUTOGRAPH ENVELOPE WITH GEORGE WASHINGTON'S RARE LARGE FREE FRANKING SIGNATURE, ADDRESSED TO MAJOR VILLEFRANCHE AT WEST POINT
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) WASHINGTON, George. Autograph free frank. No place, circa 1780. Single address leaf (measures 7-1/4 by 11-1/2 inches), manuscript on recto, matted and framed with a portrait, entire piece measures 22 by 12-1/2 inches. $16,500.
Exceedingly rare original Revolutionary autograph envelope containing Washington's rare and extremely large free franking signature on a leaf addressed to Major Villefranche at West Point. Washington's free franking signature dating from the Revolutionary War is most rare. Handsomely framed.
This rare Revolutionary War autograph envelope bears George Washington's large free franking signature on the address leaf of a letter (not present) addressed to "Major Villefranche, Engineer, West Point." West Point is located on a plateau on the west bank of the Hudson River, approximately 60 miles north of New York City. In 1781, Washington called the fortified site "the most important post in America," and he worked to keep control of West Point throughout the Revolutionary War. In the summer of 1780, Villefranche was ordered to the post. At the time, General Benedict Arnold was stationed there, and Washington directed Arnold that Villefranche was to repair West Point. Although the exact date of the envelope is unknown, Villefranche was stationed at West Point while Benedict Arnold was attempting to stock up West Point with provisions and then traitorously deliver the fort to the British.
Arnold wrote to Washington regarding Villefranche: "Major Villefranche has surveyed the works at West Point, and informs me that there is a vast deal to do to complete them… and that large quantities of materials, such as timber, plank, boards and stone will be wanted." This is in keeping with Arnold's strategy of systematically requesting excessive quantities of supplies, while simultaneously weakening West Point's defenses and spreading thin its military strength. He also attempted to drain the fort's food supplies so a siege would be more likely to succeed. Subordinates grumbled about Arnold's unnecessary distribution of supplies and suspected that he was selling them on the black market for personal gain.
In the Washington papers are found letters and reports in the handwriting of Major Villefranche that show the painstaking attention to detail which characterize his work. Finely drawn maps of the region by him remain, testifying to his skill and knowledge of technique. A number of letters between Washington and Villefranche have been published on securing and preparing West Point from 1780 to 1783. Exactly which letter from General Washington traveled in this envelope is unknown, of course, but the recipient's name evokes the era of Benedict Arnold and his schemes regarding West Point.
"At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, in 1775, Congress granted the franking privilege [permitting them to send mail without charge under their covering signature] to members of the Continental Congress and to military personnel, thus allowing the speedy flow of official mail by either civil or military couriers… Washington used military couriers almost exclusively, merely writing 'Public Service' and his signature, or perhaps 'Free' and his signature, or just his signature on the cover of his letters" (Hamilton, 225-26). With remnants of original red wax seal and embossment, in addition to corresponding small tear as the result of opening the envelope.
Fine condition, Washington's signature exceptionally bold and clear.