At the beginning of the Revolution, American spies
were amateurish. With the British capture of Philadelphia and
the Continental Army’s declining numbers, equipment and health, GENERAL GEORGE WASHINGTON, as a measure
of exceeding importance to the safety and further maneuvers of his army, was obliged
to seek immediate, first-hand intelligence of the intentions, movements and
conditions of the enemy. Washington chose MAJOR
JOHN CLARK, who was an aide to General Nathaniel Greene. Washington considered Greene his most gifted
and dependable general and readily accepted Greene’s recommendation of Clark.
Clark was an exceptional spy and kept the British confused about his location and could blend into a crowd very quickly. Clark was a friend of JOHN NICHOLSON, who was appointed comptroller general of Pennsylvania on April 13, 1782.
Nicholson was given draconian powers to settle all accounts to which the state was party to, except taxes. His decisions could not be appealed. In addition to being comptroller, he was later appointed receiver general of taxes, and, in 1787, escheator general to liquidate the estates of those attainted of treason. At one point, he was impeached by the Pennsylvania House for redeeming certain of his own state certificates instead of funding them in federal certificates. He was acquitted in the Senate in 1794 but resigned all his offices. Afterward, Nicholson became the partner of ROBERT MORRIS, Declaration of Independence signer and financier of the American Revolution. Morris was arrested for unpaid debts in 1798 and Nicholson in 1800. Both spent time in debtor prison.
Offering a one-page WAR-DATE, 8 ¼ x 13, ALS from Clark to Nicholson, Lancaster [PA], June 4th, 1782. Very nice address leaf. Research included. Clark’s letter indicates that he and Nicholson shared a close relationship. His letter mostly concerns his general concern for Nicholson and has a welcoming tone. Nicholson has been appointed as comptroller general three months earlier. The letter concludes asking for the minutes of a recent Board of Treasury abuse. We’re uncertain what the abuse was but it likely involved the board’s handling of money collected by Nicholson since that would have involved his position.
Clark writes: “Amidst the hustle of the day I write you this, hope flatters me it will find you happy: all your friends at Abbots Town regret the loss of Mr. Nicholson, tho’ they rejoice at his being in the Arms of one, who is without flattery worthy the dear object. I find myself so much attached that I can’t help expressing that at all times and in all places, I shall be glad to hear your welfare, & to contribute towards your Liberty, in doing of which I shall add to my own. Mrs. Clark, Mrs. Duncan & sisters have authorized me to assure you they wish you not only all the compliments buy pleasures the season can afford. We hope the Ladies of Philadelphia will contribute all in their power to render the situation of Mrs. Nicholson as pleasing as possible, particularly in point of sociability – much however depends on Mr. ___________ and if I mistake not, am confident he will be foremost of my sex as to that and in that way other matters may be focused on experience to be conducive to their joint interest and advantage. Let me beg you to write with all haste & inform me of your ______and arrival & the manner of introducing my letter to Mr. Morris (Robert), remember to get the minits of the old Board of Treasury abuse. They summed up all my services & shew him: I wait to hear from you. Capt. Duncan will write you with this. May God bless & protect you in my earnest prayer.
“Adieu Yours Sincerely,
“P.S. Don’t forget a newspaper
“John Nicholson, Esq”
Address leaf to Nicholson as Comptroller General at Philadelphia.
Folds, expected toning and wear, but an incredible letter, written by one of America’s finest spies to the highly influential John Nicholson.
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