Postgraduate Students

George Washington letter unveiled by University archive

A letter written by George Washington whilst President of the United States has been unveiled by the University's Centre for Research Collections. And SHCA's Professor Frank Cogliano was there!

Washington was deeply interested in improving farming methods and was aware of the emerging discipline of agricultural science in Scotland – a by-product of Scottish Enlightenment thinking. In his letter he inquires if the Earl knows of any farmers who might be thinking of emigrating to America and who might be interested in applying to him as he sought to transition from enslaved labour to tenant farmers. The fact that the letter was written by Washington himself, rather than his Private Secretary, shows his involvement in and his commitment to recruting the best people for his farming business.

The letter is one of many that was donated to the University of Edinburgh’s collections by the great Scottish polymath and antiquarian Sir David Lang in the 1870s and analysis has been carried out by historians and archivists at the University of Edinburgh and staff based at the Washington Estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Frank Cogliano, Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh and who is writing a new book on Washington, said: “The Enlightenment is often referred to as a ‘Republic of Letters’ and exchanges such as those between Washington and Buchan were the social networks of their day – not only swapping ideas but advertising opportunities. How familiar it seems to us today.”

"To see the letter, the actual physical letter, is really amazing and to be able to look at what George Washington wrote, it's why we become historians. It's incredibly exciting."

Professor Frank Cogliano, Professor of American History

Rachel Hosker, Archives Manager at the University of Edinburgh, said: “There is something quite compelling about the tangible nature of the original, created two days prior to Washington’s 64th birthday before making its way to Scotland. It enables us to imagine him writing it, and allows us to consider the private individual in context.”


Read an article about the discovery on the BBC website

Listen to an interview with Dr Frank Cogliano with BBC Radio Scotland

Professor Frank Cogliano's staff profile