Museum lands 1778 James Monroe signature

02/20/2012

The oldest-known signature of James Monroe, a Revolutionary War furlough signed by the future president while he was serving at Valley Forge, has been acquired by the museum that honors the Virginia native.

Monroe issued the pass, acquired by the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library in Fredericksburg, Va., to 2nd Lt. John Wallace Jr. of the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment on Feb. 23, 1778, as Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army suffered through the traumatic winter at Valley Forge.

Negotiations for the document, which had been in the hands of the same collector for decades, took several weeks, said Scott Harris, director of the James Monroe Museum.

The furlough is believed to be the earliest-known official document bearing Monroe’s signature, according to the museum.

Support from the 180-member Friends of the James Monroe Museum was crucial for the institution, which is administered by the University of Mary Washington, to be able to purchase the furlough from a nationally recognized documents dealer, he told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

Staff at the museum learned of the document, signed when Monroe was just 19 years old, late last year when the dealer was putting it on the market.

Considering the opportunity “a very special case,” Harris reached out to members of the friends group for help in raising money toward the negotiated price of several thousand dollars.

Normally, the museum depends on donations to fund its exhibits, he said.

The James Monroe Museum is owned by the commonwealth of Virginia. Founded in 1927, it is the nation’s largest repository of artifacts and documents related to the statesman.

Monroe, though still in his teens, left William and Mary College in 1775 as it became apparent conflict with Great Britain was imminent. The following year he became an officer in the Continental Army.

He was wounded at the Battle of Trenton in 1777 and made an aide to General William Alexander that same year. In 1780, Monroe was appointed military commissioner from Virginia by then-governor Thomas Jefferson.

Monroe later served in a number of elected offices, including the nation’s fifth president from 1817-25.

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