Sep 24, 2020 - Sale 2546

Sale 2546 - Lot 28

Price Realized: $ 6,250
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 8,000 - $ 12,000
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION--1778.) Clement Biddle. Letter seeking Scull's map of Pennsylvania for use by the army at Valley Forge. Manuscript retained draft letter in an unidentified secretarial hand as Commissary General of the Continental Army to his cousin Edward Biddle. One page, 12 1/2 x 8 3/4 inches, docketed on verso; uncut, folds, mounted on binding stub on left edge, ink burn affecting one word, short separation at horizontal fold. Moore Hall [near Valley Forge, PA], 28 March 1778

Additional Details

Colonel Clement Biddle (1740-1814) held an important role in the starving Continental Army at Valley Forge--he was commissary general in charge of forage, reporting directly to Quartermaster General Nathanael Greene. He spent that harsh winter alongside Greene at Moore Hall, doing their best to keep the troops alive. In this letter, Biddle called upon a family connection to fill the army's need for intelligence rather than provisions. His cousin Edward Biddle (1738-1779) was an important patriot in his own right who had served in the Continental Congress. Edward's mother Mary Scull Biddle (1709-1789) was the daughter of master mapmaker Nicholas Scull, whose 1759 masterpiece was the incredibly detailed six-sheet "Map of the Improved Part of the Province of Pennsylvania." Clement asked his cousin Edward whether the army could get a large supply of those maps--or access to the printing plates, to make their own. In full:
"To Edward Biddle, Esq., Reading. Moorhall, March 28 1778. Dear Cousin: I wrote you a few days ago by my good friend Doctor [James] Craik [the army's Physician General]. I have now to request a particular favour for the publick service through you. I want for the QM G'ls department at least 30 of the maps from your grandfather Nicholas Scull's plate of this province & desire you to procure them for me & to send them by express if they are to be had. If not, that you will prevail on your good mother to suffer the plate to be used & some person to strike of at least 100, the whole to be sent to me by a careful express who I will pay a liberal allowance either for the map or the use of the plate, but I beg that no person whatsoever may have any of the maps now on hand or that are struck off, except those sent to me or Gen'l Greene, QM Gen'l. I beg my friend & cousin's attention to this business, as I have undertaken it & rely on his friendship not only to the cause but his affectionate C.B."
We don't know Edward's response, but it seems unlikely that the six large engraving plates for the 1759 map still survived into 1778, or that 30 copies of the rare and expensive printed map were still squirreled away in the family's inventory. Either way, the nexus of Valley Forge and one of colonial America's most celebrated maps is intriguing from a number of angles.