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The Captured Gift

Some weeks after he left Paramus, General Washington wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette:

Martha WashingtonApropos, can you, my Dear Marquis, through the medium of your lovely lady (if she is at the Court of Versailles) or by any other indirect means, discover whether there is any truth in the information given to me at Paramous by Mrs. Watkins & other ladies, that your amiable Queen had honored Mrs. Washington with an elegant testimonial of her approbation of my conduct[?] These Ladies asserted, so confidently, that a present from her Most Christian Majesty, to Mrs. Washington had been taken by the Enemy, carried into New York, & there sold at public auction for the benefit of the Captors; that altho’ it was too great an honor to be expected, I could not forbear giving credence to the report; and am anxious to know the truth, that if I am indebted to her Majesty for such distinguished honor; I may get some friend of yours to lay my thanks at her feet, with an assurance of such perfect respect & attachment as you know I have always professed & felt for your Queen, on account of her virtues—her sentiments in favour of America and the general rights & liberties of Mankind.

The reason, my Dear Marquis, for wishing that this enquiry may be carried on in an indirect way, is obvious, for altho' I should prize such a testimonial (if it has really happened) above rubies, and would prostrate my grateful thanks at the Queen's feet, for the honour intended; yet, I would not, if the case is otherwise, invite by the most distant hint, nor even accept, from the Empress of the universe, a present, if I should conceive that it was not prompted by an act of the will. (Washington to Lafayette, White Plains, August 10, 1778, in Gottschalk, The Letters of Lafayette to Washington, 136–37)

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