Vice President, Media & Communications
On View in the Donald W. Reynolds Education Center through February 22
MOUNT VERNON, VA – George Washington’s Mount Vernon recently acquired at auction a remarkable collection of five letters written by George Washington to one of his chief allies in the American Revolution, the Chevalier de Chastellux. Kept in the hands of the Chastellux family for more than 200 years, the letters reveal a rare personal side of Washington as he opines on marriage, the Constitution, and his decision to step down from the presidency, and other topics. In honor of the upcoming presidential inauguration and Washington’s birthday, the letters will be displayed in in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center. All five letters will rotate on view in the coming weeks, with the first letter going on view on Thursday, January 18.
These letters, written entirely in the hand of Washington, will be moved to Mount Vernon’s Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington (Washington Library) for scholarship following their public debut.
“Washington is very careful in revealing the inner man, and in these letters to Chastellux, he is letting himself go,” said Doug Bradburn, the Washington Library’s founding director. “Through these letters, we gain insight into George Washington as a man and a friend.”
“Washington appears to truly enjoy the intellectual exchange and these personal sentiments continued throughout their correspondence along with detailed accounts of the state of political affairs in America, and Washington’s hopes for world peace through trade and cooperation," continued Bradburn.
The five letters acquired were written between 1783 and 1788. Four of these letters were written from Mount Vernon after Washington resigned his military commission. In his letter from February 1, 1784, Washington expressed his enthusiasm for retirement, “I am at length become a private citizen of America… where under my own Vine & my own Fig tree… I shall view the busy world...”
The letters also reveal a touching and personal side. After learning of Chastellux’s marriage, we see an example of Washington’s sense of humor in his letter from 1788: “well my dear Marquis, I can hardly refrain from smiling to find you are caught at last. I saw, by the eulogium you often made on the happiness of domestic life in America, that you had swallowed the bate and that you would as surely be taken…”
François-Jean de Beauvoir, chevalier de Chastellux was born in Paris, France in 1734 and died there on October 24, 1788. He began his military career at a young age as a second lieutenant during the Seven Years’ War, and rose to the rank of major general. He later served under Rochambeau, commander of the French expeditionary force sent to aid the Continental Army during the American War of Independence.
During Chastellux’s time in America he became a close friend to Washington and they maintained this friendship until Chastellux's death in 1788. Having immense respect for Washington, in 1780-1782 Chastellux commissioned Charles Wilson Peale to paint a portrait of him commemorating the victory at Yorktown.
Five of the documented twenty-one letters written by George Washington to Chastellux are now back at Mount Vernon. As a private, not-for-profit organization, Mount Vernon is completely reliant on donations and ticket revenue to fund its special collections acquisitions. To learn more about Mount Vernon’s Washington Library, please visit mountvernon.org/library.