How George Washington’s letter came to the library

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 4, 2008

By Gretchen Beilfuss Witt
Rowan Public Library
In the spring of 1791, our first president made a tour of the Southern states. His intention in making the journey was to gain “the good-will, the support, of the people for the General Government.”
His presence reinforced the distant existence and reality of a central government. This first American hero embodied both political freedom and military victory for all former colonists. The new form of government had yet to prove itself, but its leader was known and loved by all.
Washington left Philadelphia, then the capital of the United States, March 21st and continued on to his home at Mount Vernon. He left Mount Vernon a week later traveling through Virginia and the coastal area of the Carolinas, reaching Charleston by the second of May.
He continued on to Savannah, Ga., and then turned inland visiting South Carolina at Columbia and Camden and then back to North Carolina. Washington was a diligent traveler, waking early and getting on the road between 4 and 6 a.m. ó very early by today’s standards.
Washington spent a day in Charlotte and then arrived in Rowan County on May 30, 1791. He states in his diary he was met about 5 miles from Salisbury by Judge Spruce Mccay, the mayor and Mr. (John) Steel as well as some others. He attended a public dinner at Hughes Hotel and later in the afternoon went to a tea organized by the ladies of Salisbury. As at many other such occasions, speeches and toasts were given to greet the president and he, in return, addressed the citizens of the town.
In the early 1950s a spectacular discovery was made. Irvin Oestreicher, a prominent local merchant of Salisbury, bought from an elderly woman by the name of Fannie McNeely a historic document kept for many years in an old bonnet box. Miss McNeely and her friends were aware the document bore the signature of George Washington and those who knew of the paper thought it a letter of thanks sent to the citizens of Salisbury.
Oestreicher was not content with this assumption. Completing some research at the Library of Congress, he discovered the address of welcome given by the prominent citizens of Salisbury pledging their support of the federal government. After further research and consultation with the Library of Congress, he discovered that the document he had was nothing less than the reply. Experts at the Library of Congress confirmed that the signature was George Washington’s and the text had been written by Washington’s secretary, William Jackson, who had accompanied him on the Southern Tour.
In all probability, the paper was slipped into Mccay’s pocket after the speeches had been given and remained within the family for years. Miss McNeely’s mother’s first marriage had been to William Mccay, only son of Spruce.
In 1951, after discovering the truth about the bonnet box paper, Oestreicher graciously determined that since the document had remained in Salisbury for 160 years, it should continue to reside here. He made arrangements with the trustees of the library to receive this spectacular gift in honor of Colonel A.H. Boyden, Oestreicher’s former neighbor and one of the founders of the library. The Rowan Public Library still displays the address of the Citizens of Salisbury to Washington and his congenial reply.
Computer classes: Headquarters ó Monday, Introduction to Windows, 7 p.m.; Thursday, Introduction to Windows, 2:30 p.m.; Dec. 15, 7 p.m., Introduction to Internet Searching; Dec. 18, 2:30 p.m., Introduction to Internet Searching.
Classes are free. Sessions are about 90 minutes long. Classes are first-come, first-served.
Tuesday Night at the Movies: All movies are at 6:30 p.m., exceptions listed below. Tuesday, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” with Paul Newman; Dec. 16, “The Way We Were,” directed by Sydney Pollack; Dec. 23, “Blackbeard’s Ghost,” with Suzanne Pleshette, at 3:30 p.m.; Dec. 30, “Silk Stockings,” with Cyd Charisse.
All movies are rated G, PG or PG 13; some movies are inappropriate for younger audiences. Children should be accompanied by an adult. Free popcorn and lemonade.
Children’s program: Headquarters ó Dec. 13, 2 p.m., Robojo Theatre; Dec. 17, 10:30 a.m., Christmas Sugar Plum Storytime; South ó Dec. 13, 2 p.m., Holiday Express Storytime; East ó Dec. 13, 10 a.m., Stories Under the Christmas Tree.
Displays: Headquarters ó Kwanzaa by Eleanor Qadirah and jewelry by Paul Thompson; South ó Christmas by Tammie Foster; East ó Jr. Poppy Education by AL Unit 112.Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information.