Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Shaw, Samuel (1754-1794) to William Knox

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also order a pdf of the image from us here.

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.00764 Author/Creator: Shaw, Samuel (1754-1794) Place Written: New Jersey Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 27 May 1779 Pagination: 4 p. ; 31.7 x 19.2 cm.

Summary of Content: Comments on "the present grandees of our once respected town" (Boston). Criticizes the "mushroom gentry" rising in Boston, referring to those of recently established wealth, such as merchants. Notes that the honest man is scarcely noticed, "unless he can talk of his premiums and per cent..." Remarks that the past winter has been more enjoyable than the winter William spent as a soldier. Refers to the circle of ladies in New Jersey. Describes a dramatic scene at a recent tea party and "social hop," during which a gentleman fell and a girl was thrown from a phaeton. Mentions the Winslow sisters and the recent illness of Lucy Knox. Wishes William well on the voyage he has planned for Holland. In a post script, discusses William's blue box.

Full Transcript: [draft]
Park of Artillery New Jersey
27 May 1779
My dear Friend,
Really I am almost ashamed to write at this late period, having so long omitted to acknowledge your obliging and ...entertaining letter; and I would now endeavor to offer something by way of excuse did not the fullest confidence in your good nature assure me it is unnecessary. Although it is impossible to refrain from laughing at the picturesque and just account you give of the present grandees of our once respected town, yet it is rather a mortifying circumstance to reflect that the degeneracy of mankind is such that these mushroom gentry will command attention, and, in many instances, respect, while the honest man, and heretofore the valuable member of society, unless (as you express it) he can talk of his premiums and per cent, is scarcely noticed. Certainly was one of the ancient censors to return at this day he would have constant occasion to exclaim O tempora! O mores!
As I suppose you get all the news in the great world this way by the constant correspondence with your brother I shall not trouble you with any thing of mind on that head - but for the little world we have endeavored to enjoy it. The mode of spending our time the past winter has been every different from what it was during your soldiership, and pleasing enough to satisfy a reasonable person. You know what an agreeable circle of ladies this state afforded two years ago - some of [2] whom now and then kindly inquire what is become of Major Knox? - it is since much enlarged, so that we can (in the military stile) at a moments warning parade a score or two. We had a tea party last Tuesday afternoon, and in the evening what we call a social hop. We have several times been honored with the ladies company, on such occasions, when they have always expressed the highest satisfaction - but at this time in a peculiar manner, perhaps as it is to be the last. An accident happened which had like to have given a gloomy cast to the whole affair. A clumsy gentleman in mounting a chair after the ball to drive Miss Livingston and the amiable little Ricketts to our quarters fell, like Phaeton, head foremost from his seat, but, happily for him, the part striking being composed of solid materials prevent his receiving any injury. The horses starting at the same instant threw the little girl out also, with such violence that had not Lillie, who was standing by, fortunately caught her, she must have dashed to pieces. The shock was so violent that she fainted in his arms, but with some little assistance soon recovered. Don't you envy Lillie his happiness in saving such a Cherub? I'm sure I did, as did, I believe, every one present.
I expected to have wrote you before this by Miss Winslow, but Mrs. Knox's ill state of health prevented her seting out so soon as she intended. The same cause I imagine will detain her some time longer, so that you not have the pleasure of seeing her before your departure. She is indeed a most amiable girl, and I assure you has been the soul of our amusements the [3] past season. The younger is a lively little hussey, and I think will make a very fine woman. - I shall exceedingly regret their leaving us. You may thank three gentlemen of our town should you be disappointed in seeing these cousins of yours. These were two brothers, and a gentleman lately from France. On being told that the Ladies intended soon for Boston - "O. they should be very happy could they have the honor of their company - nothing would give them more pleasure" - and a great of such stuff. This was at dinner - the next morning, as the gentlemen had a phaeton and a sulky, the ladies and your brother thinking it would on the whole be a good opportunity concluded to close with it, and at the same time to send his own carriage the better to accommodate them. But, what was out surprise and indignation when these very complaisant gentry (except the younger of the brothers, a blunt honest fellow, who told me he did not care a damn about the matter) began to claw off, "Why - they should be extremely happy - but - their business would oblige them to travel so very fast as would make it exceedingly disagreeable to the ladies - and -- they were afraid the roads would not afford sufficient accommodations for so many horses" - Curse their insensibility - I have not patience to relate any more of their twisting, it will be a reflection upon them as long as they live -
So, my dear friend, you're going to Holland - to France - and the Lord knows where. I sincerely pray you may not be [4] compelled to touch at any of the British dominions - I hope you know me so well as to be assured that you have my every wish for your prosperity - Farewell. May Heaven bless you. Believe me, I shall ever esteem if a peculiar happiness to be reckoned among the number of your friends, and am very affectionately
One word concerning that blue Box of yours - about two months since your brother wanted Boyers Dictionary - he was sure it was there - the box must be broken open and he'd bear the blame. It was done, but no Dictionary appeared - after examining every thing himself he said there was nothing there you could want, and directed me to take an account of them which I immediately, a copy whereof is annexed. The articles in the stationary were a very seasonal supply as our stock was just exhausted. The remainder are with the General's baggage and will be taken the best care of - He knows nothing of Capt Langdon's box.
Mr. William Knox.
See More

People: Knox, William, 1756-1795
Shaw, Samuel, 1754-1794

Historical Era: American Revolution, 1763-1783

Subjects: Merchants and TradeFinanceEconomicsMilitary HistoryRevolutionary WarWomen's HistoryInjury or WoundTransportationHealth and MedicalTravelGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyGlobal History and US Foreign Policy

Sub Era: The War for Independence

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources