Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to globeandmail.com
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
// //

A 1780 letter from Alexander Hamilton to the Marquis de Lafayette, that was stolen from the Massachusetts Archives decades ago.

The Associated Press

A letter written by founding father Alexander Hamilton during the Revolutionary War and believed stolen decades ago from the Massachusetts state archives has been returned following a federal appeals court decision, top state officials said Tuesday.

Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin hailed the homecoming, after last week’s decision by the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous ruling by a district court judge.

The letter was reputedly stolen between 1938 and 1945 by a “kleptomaniacal cataloguer” who worked at the archives, according to the court decision.

Story continues below advertisement

Hamilton wrote the letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat who served as a general in the Continental Army. Dated July 21, 1780, the letter resulted in Massachusetts sending troops to Rhode Island “to bolster the embattled French forces,” the appeals court wrote.

Galvin, whose office oversees the archives and the Commonwealth Museum, said he was pleased the court ruled “that this historical treasure belongs to the people.” The letter is expected to be put on display at the museum for special events, including the annual Independence Day celebration, Galvin said.

The letter from Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury whose profile has soared because of the hit Broadway musical, appears to detail the movements of British forces.

“We have just received advice from New York through different channels that the enemy are making an embarkation with which they menace the French fleet and army,” Hamilton wrote to de Lafayette. “Fifty transports are said to have gone up the Sound to take in troops and proceed directly to Rhode Island.”

It’s signed “Yr. Most Obedt, A. Hamilton, Aide de Camp.”

That cataloguer who likely stole the letter was eventually arrested, but was thought to have pilfered multiple rare documents, some of which were sold to dealers throughout the U.S.

The letter resurfaced several years ago when an auction house in Virginia received it from a family that wanted to sell it. The letter had been in the possession of a relative who died.

Story continues below advertisement

The auction house, which estimated the letter could sell for as much as $35,000, determined it had been stolen and contacted the FBI.

The estate of the person who possessed the letter claimed it had been purchased legally, but the appeals court disagreed.

“As an original paper belonging to the Commonwealth and dated in 1780, the letter is owned by the Commonwealth,” the decision said. “It could not lawfully have been alienated to a third party … either before or after the letter left the custody of the Commonwealth.”

Despite the appeals court’s decision, the legal saga may not be over, according to an attorney for the party that had tried to sell letter.

“We are disappointed with the 1st Circuit’s decision, especially its creation of a seemingly new category of public record, a ‘historic public record,’” and the fact it ignored that the letter was not one of the documents the state claimed was stolen, Ernest Badway said in an email.

They may either file a motion for a rehearing with the appeals court, or appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

Story continues below advertisement

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies