Today in History: March 24
Washington’s Letter to the Continental Congress
When I had the Honor to address you the 19th Instant, upon the evacuation of the Town of Boston by the Ministerial Army, I fully expected, as their retreat and embarkation were hurried and precipitate, that before now they would have departed the Harbour, and been far in their passage to the place of Destination.
On March 24, 1776, one week after the British troops under General William Howe evacuated Boston, General George Washington wrote a letter to the Continental Congress. General Washington expressed his "surprize and disappointment" that the British fleet had not departed the harbor and described its various exploits while still in the region.
The Continental Army had besieged the British-held city since the battles at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. The siege ended after General Washington seized Dorchester Heights and trained cannon on the city and the harbor.
In his letter of March 24, General Washington explained the precautions he had taken:
As soon as the Town was abandoned by the Enemy, I judged it advisable to secure the several heights, least they should attempt to return, and for this purpose have caused a large and strong work to be thrown up on Fort Hill, a post of great importance, as it commands the whole Harbour and when fortified, If properly supported, will greatly annoy any Fleet the Enemy may send against the Town, and render the Landing of their Troops exceedingly difficult, If not Impracticable.
Dorchester Heights is the peninsula shown just below center on this 1775 map. Fort Hill is shown left of center, north of Washington's position at Dorchester. Use the zoom options below the enlarged image of this map to focus on the detailed depictions of these two locations.
The Continental Congress, upon the reading of Washington's letter of March 19, 1776 describing the British evacuation, ordered that a gold medal be struck and that a letter of thanks be prepared for General Washington and the officers and soldiers under his command. The gold medal, which was made in Paris, was not presented to Washington until 1790, fourteen years after Congress' approval. In 1876 the gold medal was purchased by a group citizens in Boston and presented to the city, to be preserved in the Boston Public Library.
General Washington, in his letter of April 18, 1776 to the Continental Congress, acknowledged receipt of the letter of thanks and expressed his devotion to the American people:
it will ever be my highest ambition to approve myself a faithful Servant of the Public…to be in any degree instrumental in procuring to my American Brethren a restitution of their just rights and Priviledges, will constitute my chief happiness.
- The complete George Washington Papers collection from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 65,000 documents. Document types in the collection include correspondence, letterbooks, commonplace books, diaries, journals, financial account books, military records, reports, and notes accumulated by Washington from 1741 through 1799. Search the collection by keyword or browse by date. The Timeline and Essays provide context for the papers and serve as a means of viewing many of the most significant documents.
- For additional documents related to this American hero, search on George Washington in these collections:
- A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875
- Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789
- Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years
- An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera
- The Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606-1827
- The James Madison Papers, 1723-1836
- Visit the exhibition American Treasures of the Library of Congress, which includes among its Top Treasures, some artifacts of George Washington, including Washington's Personal Copy of the Declaration of Independence and Washington's Commission as Commander-in-Chief.
- Search the Today in History Archive on the name of the first president to find more about significant events in Washington's life, including his command at Valley Forge, his Farewell to his Officers, his resignation of his commission, his inauguration, his birthday, and his death.
As this 1873 map demonstrates, Boston, almost a century after George Washington's March 24, 1776 letter to the Continental Congress, was enjoying its "just rights and Priviledges."
- Search on Boston in Panoramic Maps to locate more maps of the city at various times during its development.
- For photographs to complement the maps, search on Boston in:
- Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920
- Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991
- Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955
- America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945