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Lot 71: Great 1779 PA. Governor JOSEPH REED Signed Manuscript Revolutionary War Letter
29 October 2016
Rancho Santa Fe, CA, USALive Auction
Joseph Reed states: "We have it under deliberation to offer a reward for Indian scalps." Mentions George Washington!
JOSEPH REED (1741-1785). Pennsylvania Delegate to the Continental Congress who Signed the Articles of Confederation, secretary and aide-de-camp to George Washington, served as President of Pennsylvania's Supreme Executive Council, a position analogous to the modern office of Governor, prosecuted Benedict Arnold, and Reed oversaw the Abolishment of Slavery in Pennsylvania.
March 27, 1779-Dated Revolutionary War Period Manuscript Letter Signed, "Jos. Reed" as Governor of Pennsylvania, at Philadelphia, 3 pages, folio, 7.25" x 12", Choice Very Fine. Written to Archibald Lockry, Colonel Archibald Andrew Lochry (1733-August 24, 1781) was a colonial American military officer whose command ended in disaster when he and nearly every member of his force were killed or captured by Mohawk forces led by George Girty, the brother of Simon Girty, and Indian Chief Joseph Brant. This skirmish is famously known in early American history as Lochry's Defeat. Here, Joseph Reed writes that he has visited, in part:
"George Washington... in person" at the commander-in-chief's camp, and resolved matters "very much to his, and our satisfaction... We shall do everything in our power to your comfort and protection. We have it under deliberation to offer a reward for Indian scalps, but it involves in it some consideration of [a] political nature, affecting the general system of the war with Great Britain. However, if it will answer an effectual purpose, beneficial to you, we will not hesitate to do it..."
Some modest age tone and some minor paper loss at folds, conserved expertly, repaired with archival fiber paper tape. Docket on the blank verso reads: "1779 March 27th - Gov. Reed". Overall, this has Great Revolutionary War content!
At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Joseph Reed ran a successful Philadelphia law practice, from which he resigned at the request of George Washington. In 1775, Reed held the rank of colonel and he subsequently served in the capacity of secretary and aide-de-camp to Washington.
On October 20, 1775, Reed wrote a famous letter to Colonel John Glover of the "Marblehead Men" Regiment of seamen in the Continental Army, setting the design of the First Navy Flag, the Evergreen Tree of Liberty flag. Colonel Glover was the owner of the Hannah vessel (named for his wife) and was the action officer, along with Stephen Moylan, for commissioning the other First Navy ships (Franklin, Hancock, Harrison, Lee, Lynch, Warren, and Washington), often called the "Washington Cruisers". Reed wrote: "What do you think of a Flag with a white Ground, a tree in the middle, the motto: "Appeal to Heaven"."
In 1775, Reed commenced service as Adjutant-General of the Continental Army. In December 1776, General Washington, anxious to know the location of General Charles Lee's forces, opened a letter from Lee to Reed which indicated that they were both questioning Washington's abilities. This was extremely disconcerting to Washington, as Reed was one of his most trusted officers. Reed continued to serve in the army without pay until the close of the war; although, with fewer than 3 years in the Continental Army, Reed is not listed as a Propositi of the Society of the Cincinnati.
Though he took part in many military engagements in the northern and eastern theaters of the war, Reed was never wounded. In 1777, Reed was offered the positions of brigadier general and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, both of which he declined. He was elected to Congress in 1778, whilst also serving as President (Governor) in Pennsylvania.
Reed has been recognized for his integrity, and when offered a bribe of 10,000, as well as the most valuable office in the colonies, to promote the cause of colonial reconciliation with the British crown, Reed's reply was, "I am not worth purchasing; but, such as I am, the King of Great Britain is not rich enough to do it." As a delegate to the Continental Congress, Reed accused Benedict Arnold of military malpractice whilst the latter was in command at Philadelphia. The subsequent trial largely exonerated Arnold and received strong opposition from other members of Congress.
In 1778, Reed was one of the five delegates from Pennsylvania to sign the Articles of Confederation.
On December 1, 1778, he was elected President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, a position analogous to the modern office of governor. Reed received 61 of the 63 votes and assumed office immediately. George Bryan, acting president since the death of Thomas Wharton on May 23, 1778, received only one vote for President, but was re-elected to the Vice-Presidency with an overwhelming majority similar to Reed's final tally. Reed was re-elected to the Presidency twice - on November 11, 1779 and November 14, 1780 - each time defeating William Moore, with a final count of 59 to 1 at the second election.
Reed's third and final term came to a close on November 15, 1781, when he was eventually succeeded by William Moore. During Reed's tenure as president, Pennsylvania passed a law for gradual abolition of slavery in 1780. Philadelphia County had no slave registrations making it impossible to determine who in Philadelphia owned slaves in 1780.
Reed's antipathy to Pennsylvania's Loyalist residents has been well attested by historic sources. Whilst in Congress, he advocated for the seizure of Loyalist properties and treason charges for those aligned with Great Britain (Reed and his family then lived in a confiscated Loyalist home). In an overall sense, Congress regarded the Loyalist citizens in a more tolerant manner. As the President of Pennsylvania, Reed oversaw numerous trials of suspected Loyalists. After James Wilson defended 23 people accused of treason, a mob, stirred up by Reed's speeches and their own liquor consumption, attacked Wilson in what was to be later known as the "Battle of Fort Wilson"; only the arrival of cavalry saved Wilson and his friends. Following the cavalry's handling of the conflict, Reed pardoned and released the remaining rioters.
Reed's term as President of Pennsylvania corresponded with the transformation of America's wartime fortunes from desolation, at Valley Forge from December 1777 to May 1778, into victory, at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. Working with James Madison in the Continental Congress, Reed passed a bill that resulted in the surrounding of Charles Cornwallis' army. Once the bill was validated, General Anthony Wayne gathered the resources that were necessary for the Pennsylvania Line to march to Yorktown to engage in the historic siege.
On the other hand, Pennsylvania went bankrupt in 1780 due to Constitutionalist policies which mandated state-controlled markets and self-imposed embargoes. Ultimately the state called on Robert Morris to restore the economy. He did so by opening the ports to trade, and allowing the market to set the value of goods and the currency. Morris and his allies supplied the majority of war materials to the troops when the state failed to act.