February 13, 2014
WASHINGTON—In annual recognition of America’s first Spymaster, the International Spy Museum has re-installed one of the institution’s most revered and guarded artifacts: an original letter written by George Washington initiating a fledgling nation’s first spy network.
The letter, which is privately stored offsite ten months out of the year – with an exact replica in its place – to preserve its fragile state, is now once again on public display just in time for President’s Day Weekend.
Penned on February 4, 1777 while he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, then-General Washington engaged his covert request to trusted confidant Nathaniel Sackett, commissioning the New York merchant to spy for his country as Washington’s “intelligence director.”
Sackett was enlisted at the price of $50 per month to create a spy network in New York – for which he was awarded a $500 bonus upfront – to pass along disinformation to British intelligence and collectively harass the enemy. It was this letter, written 237 years ago this month, which served as the launching point for an intricate and secretive intelligence network known as the Culper Spy Ring that would in large part save the American Revolution.
For the scores of decades since it was written, the document remained in Nathaniel Sackett’s family until it was acquired by the International Spy Museum and publicly exhibited for the first time in 2002. To insure its preservation for future generations, the letter has undergone extensive conservation treatments over a 12-month period. Due to its age and fragility, it is exhibited under a low light and can be displayed for only two months each year.
To allow visitors the opportunity to experience this rare artifact while time lasts, the Museum is extending public hours this President’s Day Weekend: February 15-16, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; and February 17, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. General admission tickets can be purchased online at spymuseum.org/tickets. For more information, please visit spymuseum.org.
The original artifact beside Washington's official presidential portrait.
Collections Manager Dena Adams installs the original letter.
The letter as seen on public display at the International Spy Museum.