BOSTON (AP) — A letter written by Alexander Hamilton in 1780 to the Marquis de Lafayette that was stolen from the Massachusetts state archives decades ago has been found, and now an effort is underway to return it.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Boston on Wednesday filed a forfeiture complaint in federal court asking a judge to order the Revolutionary War-era letter returned to its rightful owner.
Hamilton’s letter was stolen by an archives employee sometime between 1937 and 1945, according to the government.
“The theft, which also involved original papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere and Benedict Arnold, among others, was not discovered for several years,” the federal complaint said.
The stolen items were sold to rare documents and book dealers throughout the U.S.
The employee was eventually arrested in 1950.
Most of the other documents were recovered, but Hamilton’s letter, which opens, “My Dear Marquis,” remained missing.
The letter to the French aristocrat who served as a general in the Continental Army 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 while he was based in Rhode Island. “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.”
The letter from the Founding Father and first Secretary of the Treasury resurfaced in November when an auction house in Alexandria, Virginia received it from a South Carolina family that wanted to sell it. The letter had been in the possession of a relative who died.
The U.S. attorney thinks that person purchased it from a rare book and document dealer in Syracuse, New York in the 1940s.
The auction house, which estimated the letter could sell for as much as $35,000, determined it had been stolen and contacted the Massachusetts Archives, and then the FBI.
The U.S. attorney’s complaint details the authenticity of the letter and its rightful ownership.
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