Long-lost Alexander Hamilton letter written 250 years ago recovered after being stolen


Long-lost letter written by Alexander Hamilton 250 years ago to Marquis de Lafayette and stolen from state archives during World War II will go on display at Massachusetts museum on Fourth of July

  • The 250-year-old letter will be displayed for the first time since it was retrieved
  • The letter was stolen during World War 2 by a Massachusetts Archives employee
  • In the letter, Hamilton warns French general Marquise de Lafayette of British troop movements 

A letter written in 1780 by Alexander Hamilton that was thought stolen for decades has finally returned to Massachusetts, where it will be displayed at the Commonwealth Museum.

The letter was stolen by a former Massachusetts State Archives worker during World War II and then sold privately; the employee was arrested in 1950. According to court papers, the letter is worth around $25,000.

The letter had gone missing along with other documents relating to George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere, though those have been recovered.

The employee had removed the index reference numbers from the letters before selling them to rare book dealers.

After the Hamilton letter popped up in a Virginia auction house in November 2018, a researcher realized it had been reported missing, and the long-lost document was reported to the FBI.

The state of Massachusetts then won a lengthy court battle with the South Carolina family trying to sell it and retrieved the letter, and it will now be shown just in time for July 4.

A letter from Alexander Hamilton to Marquise de Lafayette has been recovered after being stolen during World War II

A letter from Alexander Hamilton to Marquise de Lafayette has been recovered after being stolen during World War II

The letter was recovered just in time for the Fourth of July and will be displayed at the Commonwealth Museum in Massachusetts

The letter was recovered just in time for the Fourth of July and will be displayed at the Commonwealth Museum in Massachusetts

A portrait of Alexander Hamilton, who has been popularized in recent years by Lin-Manuel Miranda's successful musical about the man

A portrait of Alexander Hamilton, who has been popularized in recent years by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s successful musical about the man

‘I appreciate the Supreme Court’s decision to put an end to this lengthy legal process,’ Massachusetts secretary of the commonwealth, William Galvin, said. ‘This important piece of Revolutionary War history belongs to the people of Massachusetts, where it is now guaranteed to remain for all to see.’

The family had a now-dead relative who they believe was a rare document collector, and they say the relative obtained the letter from a rare book dealer in Syracuse, New York during the 1940s.

At the time the letter was written, Hamilton, a founding father, was serving as one of George Washington’s most trusted advisors, as shown by the letter’s signature – ‘Yr. Most Obedt, A. Hamilton, Aide de Camp.’

Hamilton sought correspondence with the French general Marquis de Lafayette in order to warn him about the movement of British troops from New York to Rhode Island.

‘We have just received advice from New York through different channels that the enemy are making an embarkation with which they menace the French fleet and army,’ Hamilton wrote. ‘Fifty transports are said to have gone up the Sound to take in troops and proceed directly to Rhode Island.’

‘The letter was a letter of warning,’ Galvin said. ‘There were British troops moving up into Rhode Island from New York, with the objective of interfering with the French troops that had just landed to help us.’

Galvin says the letter shows ‘how fragile the whole revolutionary war effort was.’

‘The letter was forwarded by Massachusetts General William Heath to the President of the Massachusetts Council, along with a request for troops to be sent to support French allies.’ 

The letter is set to be a centerpiece of the Commonwealth Museum’s exhibit for July 4 and will appear alongside letter written by John Hancock and George Washington.

Hamilton has become well-known by the public in recent years thanks to the musical named after him, which was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and premiered in 2015. 

The musical recounts some of the events surrounding the American Revolution through the eyes of Hamilton and features other historical figures like Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. 

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