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.

McHenry, James (1753-1816) to Hugh Williamson

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 #: GLC04701 Author/Creator: McHenry, James (1753-1816) Place Written: Head Quarters Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 28 October 1778 Pagination: 4 p : address : docket ; 34.2 x 21.4 cm.

Summary of Content: A retained working draft (see strikeouts and docket). Written by McHenry as an aide-de-camp to General Washington to Dr. Williamson as a merchant importing medicines in Edenton, North Carolina. Williamson began a partnership with his brother to import medicines through the British blockade from the West Indies. Claims to have poor intelligence on the enemy in New York, but proceeds to give some details of their situation. Says 150 vessels, including 15 ships of the line, sailed from Sandy Hook on the 19 and 20 October 1778. Says they appear to be bound for Britain. Was only carrying home invalids and refugees. Hopes that the continuation of the war with French assistance will drive the British into debt and lead to "the total ruin" of their empire. Mentions new medical procedures they are practicing to treat "wounds of the breast." Further entries on 30 and 31 October provide updates on British ships and troops in New York.

Background Information: Both McHenry and Williamson signed the U.S. Constitution. Williamson was a medical doctor of international reputation. When Governor Richard Caswell, with the rank of major general, took to the ...field at the head of 4,000 troops, he named Williamson to serve as the state's Physician and Surgeon General, a post Williamson held until the end of the war. Williamson, who witnessed the defeat of American troops at the Battle of Camden, volunteered to pass behind enemy lines to care for the American wounded. He spent two months on this mercy mission. When smallpox threatened the prison camp, he argued strenuously with Cornwallis and other British officers over the proper method to combat the disease. His perseverance and scientific reputation paid off. The British followed his advice, and an epidemic was averted. He served as a representative in the first and second Congresses.
See More

People: McHenry, James, 1753-1816

Historical Era: American Revolution, 1763-1783

Subjects: Revolutionary WarRevolutionary War GeneralMilitary HistoryBlockadeCaribbeanDrugsHealth and MedicalMerchants and TradeCommerceNavyMaritimeGlobal History and CivicsForeign AffairsRefugeesFrance

Sub Era: The War for Independence

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources