Friday, Nov 7, 2008
On Friday, October 31st, over 100 guests attended the unveiling of the original bill of sale documenting George Washingtonâs purchase of the Great Meadows in 1771, the site of the Battle of Fort Necessity. The unveiling and reception at the Fort Necessity/National Road Interpretive and Education Center acknowledged the generous donors who made this rare document available to the public.
On this warm fall evening in the Laurel Highlands, it was easy to see why Washington described the meadow as a âcharming field for an encounter,â and why he decided to purchase it. Several guests remarked how they enjoyed touring the battlefield prior to the event, with the surrounding blazing orange and red fall colors of the trees.
Dr. Theodore Crackel, editor of the George Washington papers at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, spoke of the importance of preserving a document like the bill of sale. Though not one of Washingtonâs speeches or a famous letter, this simple piece of paper records the transaction in which George Washington participated as a land speculator in the 1770âs
In his remarks, Crackel, a decorated military veteran himself, honored the memory of the 800 who fought in the battle and the 33 soldiers who died in the meadow. Dr. Crackel told those assembled how significant it was that George Washington came back in the 1770âs to visit the site of his first battle and his only military surrender in July 1754.
Returning to western Pennsylvania in October of 1770, Washington saw the economic benefits of owning the Great Meadows because of its proximity to Braddockâs Road. In deciding to purchase the battlefield, Washington himself may have unknowingly preserved the site of the opening battle of the French and Indian War. With his purchase, he kept it from development until his death in 1799. We can only speculate if the purchase held sentimental value to Washington.
After Crackelâs brief remarks, guests gathered around the 237 year old original document. Many had never before seen a document once owned by George Washington.
Among the attendees was Jeremy Elliot, the fifth-great grandson of Lawrence Harrison, the original owner of Great Meadows, who sold it to Washington.
In 2006, the bill of sale was purchased through a private collector with funds provided by R.K. Mellon Foundation, Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, an anonymous benefactor, Mr. Charles J. Queenan, Jr., Esq., Mr. Robert P. Bozzone, and Mr. Charles A. Fagan III. The document was donated to the National Park Service with the assistance of Ms. Laura Fisher, director, French and Indian War 250th. At the time of purchase, the document was in the possession of Dr. Joseph E. Fields, of Williamsburg, Virginia. Dr. Fields is the largest donor of Washington artifacts to Mount Vernon.
The unveiling kicked-off a full weekend of receptions, seminars, lectures, talks and tours focusing on the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War. Related events took place at Fort Necessity, Jumonville, and Fort Ligonier.
A facsimile of the document is now on permanent display in the visitor center.