November 6, 1775. Envelope or Cover. This two-page stampless folded letter measures 13” x 8” unfolded. It is datelined “Kent County, November 6th 1775”. It is annotated “p Post” and bears a “G Town” postmark as well as two faint manuscript marks: a Philadelphia “1/s” (one shilling) in the upper left corner and “2” (two dwt or pennyweight) above the address. (Lot 145 of Matthew Bennet Auction 290 notes that these are the correct Constitutional Post markings for mail to Philadelphia from Georgetown, an Eastern Shore town within 100 miles of the city).
Worth’s letter reads in part:
“We are in a miserable defensless State in this part of the Countery in regard to not having Gun Powder. We have not only the force of Brittain to Dread but have the most allarming accounts – from some of the lower Counties - of Several Companies there, raising for the King – doe not know how soon, we may have Occasion to march out – in order to stop so dangerous an Insurrection. I should be Extremely glad if you can procure me one or two casks of Good Powder, to be as a Safeguard, in Case of nesessaty; for a part of the militia, to which I belong – if it is not to be had otherway, - Should esteem it a favour, if you will please to try to get it from your Committee – doe suppose they would spare, so small a Quantity on Such an Occasion – if it can be had, please to put the 2 casks in a Large Cask and put the Coffee in on the top of it – in order that it may Come Safe to hand as Some of the officers of the Crown might perhaps meet with it on the way.”. Very good. Item #009578
The Constitutional Post was a revolutionary postal service established by William Goddard as an alternative to the British Parliamentary Post that had long-serviced the American Colonies. The idea of an "Ancient Constitution of England"--which was based on Common Law, the Magna Carta, the 1689 Bill of Rights, and legal "customs and conventions"--and its protection of personal rights was universally accepted by all British citizens including the American colonialists. (See this article at the British Library for more information.) While the colonialist did not object to fees charged by the Parliamentary Post to pay for services received, they vigorously objected to the "unconstitutional" Act of 1710 that imposed additional postal fees and declared them to be taxes to be used to pay for British wars. It was, the colonists maintained, contrary to the Ancient Constitution's provisions that rejected taxation without representation and/or precedence. Opposition to the Parliamentary Post increased when in 1765, England imposed the widely reviled Stamp Act using the Act of 1710 as a precedent to collect even more egregious taxes. Adding to the resentment, colonists recognized that mail sent through the Parliamentary Post was not private. British officials could intercept, open, and read the contents of any letter.
To remedy the situation, the patriot, William Goddard, began his post in 1774, and in July 1775 it was officially sanctioned by the Second Continental Congress which appointed-to Goddard's chagrin-Benjamin Franklin to be its postmaster. Goddard served as Franklin's principal assistant and operated from an office in Baltimore.
As Franklin's service as Postmaster in Philadelphia lasted until November 7th, the day this urgently dispatched letter likely arrived, it is possible--perhaps even probable--that the "1/s" rate mark is in his hand.
Even if Worth was not concerned about this letter falling into British hands it would have been transported by Constitutional Post riders, as by this time, the Parliamentary Post--because of non-use by the public--had all but ceased to operate. (See Siegel Auction #1154, Walske Blockade Run Mail), Lot #2306".)
Jonathan Worth bought his family's 200-acre Princeton, New Jersey farm from his father in 1771 and soon after moved to Maryland and established a second estate at Georgetown on the Eastern Shore. (The Battle of Princeton was later fought on the Worth family farm in New Jersey.)
John Mitchell, a native of Ireland, had been a West Indies merchant before emigrating to Pennsylvania in about 1750 where he eventually established a trading firm on Philadelphia's Front Street between Market and Chestnut in partnership with his brother, Randal, and another merchant, Thomas Braswell. Mitchell signed the Non-Importation Agreements of 1765 and 1769, which eventually led to Boston's Sons of Liberty's famous Tea Party protest. In 1774, he joined the Light Horse of the City of Philadelphia (one of the first revolutionary military militias and still an active National Guard unit today) and became a member of Philadelphia's First Committee of Observations, the city's revolutionary shadow government. (This is the committee referenced by Worth in his letter.) During the Revolution, Mitchell commanded several ships in the Pennsylvania Navy and received a Colonel's commission when he was appointed Deputy Quartermaster General of the Continental Army. Following the war, Mitchell served as the U.S. Consul at Santiago de Cuba and eventually settled in South Carolina where he served as a Notary Public, Justice of the Peace, and Quorum Unis Magistrate for criminal cases until his death in 1826.
(For more information about the Constitutional Post, Jonathan Worth, and John Mitchell, see Konwiser's Colonial & Revolutionary Posts. . .; Gallagher's "The British Colonial Post Office Controversy: A Letter from the Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution" available at the APS, "Post Office Facilities [Constitutional Post]" by John S. Williams in American Pioneer, June 1843; The History of Baltimore City and County. . .. by John T. Scharf, 1881; Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan. . .. edited by Kerby Miller, et al. 2003;"Princeton Battlefield/Stony Brook Village Historic District amendment to the Princeton Battlefield Historic District" National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1989; "John Mitchell Papers" at the Pennsylvania State Archives; "Colonial Philadelphia and Its Backcountry" by John F. Walzer in the Winterthur Portfolio Vol 7, 1972; and the "John Mitchell Timeline" online at Scottish Rite California.)
An exceptionally rare Revolutionary War letter sent by a worried Maryland patriot to an important Philadelphia revolutionary leader and future Deputy Quartermaster General of the Continental Army, via the renegade Constitutional Post, asking Philadelphia's safety committee to smuggle a shipment of gunpowder to an Eastern Shore militia.
At the time of listing, nothing similar is currently for sale in the trade. Rare Book Hub shows only two auction results for letters with somewhat similar contents, and only a few Constitutional Post covers-without such fascinating content-have sold at auction over the past ten years. OCLC shows two somewhat similar institutional holdings. In addition, John Mitchell's business papers are at the Pennsylvania State Archives. and the Library of Congress holds one request form sent to him regarding the provision of food and rum for an armed vessel.