Tribune Review: by Mary Pickels

After its rediscovery in the archives of a Scottdale museum, a nearly 200-year-old letter written by then-U.S. Minister to France Albert Gallatin has come home.

In a public ceremony May 1, the Friendship Hill Association will gift the missive drafted on March 14, 1823, to the National Park Service.

The park service maintains Gallatin's former Fayette County estate along the Monongahela River, the Friendship Hill National Historic Site, near Point Marion.

“This event will be a rare opportunity to see the original Gallatin letter. ... My golly, Gallatin's hands were on this,” said George Relic, president of the volunteer group that helps to support the site.

The letter, encased in its original envelope, was sent through the French Postal Service to J.D. Garesche, Esq.

In it, Gallatin gives orders to his acting counsel in the port city of LaRochelle regarding maritime trade.

Stephanie Koller, registrar of West Overton Village and Museums near Scottdale, said the letter was kept in its archives and was rediscovered by volunteers about two years ago.

Gallatin immigrated to America from Switzerland in 1780 at age 19 and served as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury for 13 years during the Jefferson and Madison administrations.

History shows he helped to reduce the national debt, engineered the Louisiana Purchase and helped to plan the Lewis and Clark exploration.

He suggested the east-to-west route that would become known as the National Road, locally referred to as Route 40.

According to Friendship Hill's website, Gallatin is credited with “pacifying open rebellion toward the government” during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.

Recognizing the letter's historical significance, the West Overton staff and board of directors agreed its relevancy lay with Friendship Hill's mission, Koller said.

She said the 193-year-old letter is in “fantastic condition.”

“It's a one-page letter, with the envelope. The handwriting on it was excellent, extremely legible and easy to read,” Koller said.

The envelope still bears red French postal markings and remains of the original wax seal.

On March 1, the preserved letter and a duplicate copy were formally transferred to the Friendship Hill Association.

Prior to the transfer, the Senator John Heinz History Center's Museum Conservation Center performed what Koller described as minimal restorative work.

“West Overton gifted it to us. ... Our board agreed to reimburse (restoration costs),” Relic said.

He and Koller were reluctant to name those costs, not wishing to put a dollar value to the letter.

Historical autograph authenticator Raab Collection LLC confirmed Gallatin's signature.

Relic said the Ardmore, Pa., company waived its fee upon learning the document was being transferred from one nonprofit to another.

Following the 2 p.m. ceremony on May 1, the park service will securely store the original letter off-site. The facsimile will remain on display at Friendship Hill.

Read more