Historic letter found in Concordia

CONCORDIA — A plastic envelope lying in a file full of long-neglected papers at a small central Kansas museum has yielded a letter that apparently was written by the wife of George Washington.

The letter, dated Jan. 27, 1793, with a return postmark of Philadelphia, is from Martha Washington to her niece, Fanny Bassett Washington. It was uncovered in November at the Cloud County Historical Society Museum in Concordia.

Marilyn Johnston and Aline Luecke, co-administrators of the museum, say the letter was in a plastic sleeve in the midst of yellowed, brittle newspaper clippings when Johnston discovered it.

"I don't know how it ever got dumped (in the file)," Johnston said. "But, no one ever looked in the files unless they needed something specific. I still can't believe it."

In the letter, Martha Washington discusses mostly family matters, particularly her concern for the health of Fanny's husband, Maj. George Augustine Washington, who was George Washington's nephew. She also wrote of how much she wanted to return from Washington, D.C., to Mount Vernon, the Washingtons' home.

The major took care of Mount Vernon while George Washington served as president. Johnston said the major had tuberculosis and died Feb. 5, 1793, at Eltham, the family's house in Virginia.

Johnston said the letter was given to the museum by the estate of Mrs. Park Pulsifer, who before she died in 1948 asked a friend to keep it until a museum was started in Cloud County. It was one of the first items acquired by the museum when it opened in November 1959.

At one time the letter was displayed at the Women's Community Club in Concordia. A June 4, 1920, edition of the Concordia Blade-Empire mentioned the letter, saying an employee in the manuscript division of the New York Public Library had determined it was written by Mrs. Washington. The letter currently is being appraised by Christie's auction house in New York for insurance purposes.

The museum will hold an open house Feb. 19 to display the letter. At the same time, the museum is hosting a private reception for people who can trace their family history back to the Washingtons.

"There are, surprisingly, a lot of members of the family around here," Johnston said. "I don't know if they settled around here, but we have people coming from around the area."