“I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time nor distance can change.”… Is this a line from Pride and Prejudice…or a love letter from George Washington?
(Originally published on MountVernon.org)
Martha Washington destroyed all of her correspondence with her husband when he died in 1799. After years spent in the crush of public notoriety, it was about only thing in her private life she could control. Only three letters escaped the mass eradication, two of which were found beneath a desk drawer after her death. One of these surviving letters is a brief but achingly beautiful missive penned by her beloved Washington during the Revolutionary War:
Phila. June 23d 1775.
As I am within a few Minutes of leaving this City, I could not think of departing from it without dropping you a line; especially as I do not know whether it may be in my power to write again till I get to the Camp at Boston—I go fully trusting in that Providence, which has been more bountiful to me than I deserve, & in full confidence of a happy meeting with you sometime in the Fall—I have not time to add more, as I am surrounded with Company to take leave of me—I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time or distance can change, my best love to Jack & Nelly, & regard for the rest of the Family concludes me with the utmost truth & sincerity.
This letter reveals an aspect of the man seldom seen in his daily correspondence: his heart, fully capable of expressing wholesale love. One tends to think of Washington as stoic and officious, incapable of a breadth of emotions. Here, he warmly mentions Martha’s son Jack and his wife Nelly and gives a nod of gratitude to the faithful care of the Almighty. Pressed for time, he signs the letter “Your entire George Washington”, words that display vulnerability, nuanced with passion. Perhaps the unknowns of this shaky experiment of liberty and the horrors of impending combat compelled the General to be transparent with his feelings – perhaps more so than he ever would have been.
Whatever the motivation, this note is one of few evidences we have of Martha and George Washington’s relationship – a love letter as romantic and tender today as it was in 1775.