SPRINGFIELD, NJ – This upcoming Sunday, the Springfield Historical Society will display a letter that was signed by George Washington from his Springfield headquarters during the period between the Battle of Connecticut Farms and the Battle of Springfield. The two battles took place between June 8 and June 23, 1780.

The letter from Washington was to New York Governor George Clinton, asking that the governor have the New York Militia placed under command of Continental Army Officers..

The actual letter will be on display for viewing when the Cannon Ball House opens on Feb. 17, 2019, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.  A suggested minimum donation of $2 per adult is greatly appreciated by the historical society to support preserving Springfield’s history. 

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The Cannon Ball House is located at 126 Morris Avenue in Springfield

The letter is displayed in a reversible case usually showing the back of the letter with George Washington’s signature. The case was built by Springfield Police Chief and Springfield Historical Society Vice President John Cook.

Who Penned the Letter?

Like much of Washington’s correspondence, he usually dictated it to one of his aides-de-camp or his military secretary and signed the document himself. At the time of the Battle of Springfield, Robert Hanson Harrison was his military secretary.  

On Nov. 6, 1775, Harrison was appointed an aide-de-camp to General Washington. The following May, Harrison was made military secretary to General Washington. The Continental Congress approved his commission as a Lieutenant Colonel on June 5, 1776.

Harrison assisted with the drafting, writing and organization of Washington’s voluminous correspondence for almost five years. The letter from Washington to Clinton was determined to be written by Harrison and signed by Washington

The letter reads:

Headquarters Springfield June 18, 1780

Dear Sir

                I have received advice which appears to be direct, that the Legislature of this State has determined on a draft from the Militia to serve for the Campaign under their own Officers, instead of being incorporated with their Continental battalions. This mode if adopted, will be attended with so many inconveniencies, if followed by the States in general, will be so absolutely pernicious to all the prospects of the campaign—that I cannot forbear taking the liberty to send Brigadier General Knox to represent on my part the ill consequences of the measure, and the superior advantages of the plan recommended in preference. I entreat Your Excellency to procure him the honor of a conference with the Legislature for this purpose. The crisis is so delicate and important—the honor and interest of these States so essentially depend on a judicious and vigorous exertion of our resources at this juncture—that I cannot but manifest my anxiety when I see any measures in agitation that threaten the disappointment of our hopes, and take every step in my power to prevent their being carried into execution. In military questions the Officers of the Army have a right to flatter themselves their country will place some confidence in their experience and judgment and it is the policy of every wise man to do it. I cannot doubt that on reconsideration, the zeal and wisdom which have distinguished the Councils of this State will embrace what the true interest of America on this occasion demands.

 I have the Honor to be with every sentiment of respect & esteem, Your Excellency’s Most Obedient & Humble Servant

George Washington

His Excellency

Governor Clinton

Acquisition of Washington’s Letter

The letter was acquired by the Springfield Historical Society on Nov. 6, 1958, through the efforts of Howard F. Casselman, president of the Springfield Historical Society at the time.  The letter was purchased for the sum of $231.75 through the Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York City from the estate auction of the late Clendenin J. Ryan.

Ryan apparently committed suicide on Sept. 13, 1957. He was independently wealthy and the former assistant to New York Mayor, Fiorello H. La Guardia in the 1930s. He later unsuccessfully sought election for mayor of New York and as an independent candidate for governor of New Jersey.

In February 2017, the letter was sent to the Conservation Center for Art & Historical Artifacts to be professionally preserved. The preservation was made possible through the generous contribution of Scott Seidel and Bobby and Gennifer Abraham, all of Springfield and Chip and Ellen Dickson of Summit.

The Springfield Historical Society

Established in 1955, the mission of the Springfield Historical Society is to preserve the Historic Cannon Ball House, its artifacts and archives, and to educate the public on the rich history of Springfield.

The Springfield Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Donations are tax exempt, greatly appreciated and can be made payable to: 

Springfield Historical Society, c/o John Cook, SHS VP, P.O. Box 356, Springfield, NJ 07081

Along with the letter, visitors can view the other collections while visiting the Cannon Ball House and experience Springfield’s wide and varied past.