Thursday, April 21, 2011

Google, George Washington and Blog Stats

My original story about the George Washington Document is at this link:

According to the stats on my blog, several people have been searching for “George Washington signed discharge papers”. I was curious, so I Googled the exact phrase to see what came up… Apparently a document just like Abner Poland’s discharge paper was up for auction this month at Heritage Auctions. You can see the document and the history of the certificate at this link:     The auction ended on 7 April 2011 and had eleven bidders. It looks exactly like the one I didn’t see at NARA, and is also signed by John Trumbull and George Washington, just like Abner’s document. I don’t know the final auction price of the document.

Also, a story aired on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow” on 3 November 2008 about a Revolutionary War Discharge paper signed by George Washington. It was in the possession of a descendant, and was valued by appraiser Stephen Massey at $6,000 to $10,000. It was in rough shape, not having been preserved properly, and it didn’t look like Abner’s document. I remember seeing this episode and remarking to my family that we had an ancestor who once had a similar paper, and they all said they wish he had kept it instead of turning it in for a pension. Me, too! You can see the short transcript of that particular episode of “Antiques Roadshow” here at this link

At an auction on 29 October 2009 two George Washington items were sold at Swann Galleries in New York. One was a “partly printed military discharge signed, as Commander in Chief, June 11, 1783” and it sold for $11,400. This sounds very similar to Abner Poland’s document, which was partly printed and thus drove me to NARA in the first place to try to distinguish the printed parts from the actual signatures! You can read about it at

Another document, very different from Abner’s document but signed at Headquarters by General Washington, sold for $12,075.00 in 2005. You can see it here

And, of course, my own blog post was one of the top Google hits for the phrase “George Washington signed discharge papers” coming in at number four and number six on the search page.

There were many more hits on this Google search- actually there were 3,160,000 results- but I stopped looking. To me, I didn’t care about the monetary value of the certificate, nor would I spend big bucks for a certificate naming a stranger even if it were signed by General George Washington. To me the value was that an ancestor had touched it, carried it in his pocket, and valued it as a precious object . Priceless!

This was the best hit I found:

“George Washington autographs, signatures, signed letters and signed documents are more available to collectors and admirers than people imagine. There are two reasons: George Washington's position as Commander in the Revolutionary War caused him to sign letters dealing with all aspects of his army from relatively routine supply issues to the problems of the Army recruitment system relying on state militias. The text of Washington's signed letters during the Revolutionary War were almost always written by an aide and then signed by the General. Letters written in his hand and signed are unusual during the American Revolution. At the end of the Revolution, Washington signed many documents discharging soldiers. These signed documents are almost always in very worn condition because soldiers carried them in their pockets and unfolded and refolded many times before framing them, usually with a wood backing that caused staining of the document. Regardless of condition, a Revolutionary War discharge document signed by George Washington is a very personal window into history. .. Unfiltered sunlight took a serious toll, fading the ink of the recipient's name and George Washington's signature. Examples of this type of George Washington signed document in very fine condition are rare.”

From the website


Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. But as you said in your previous post, would it even have survived had it not been submitted in his pension application? There are documents I know must have existed in the past regarding my ancestors, but I have no idea if any are extant.

    I had a similar experience finding an invoice from my great-grandfather's blacksmith shop at a county historical society. Not a significant genealogical source, but it helps provide context.

  2. You are very correct. I'm sure that the document would have been damaged, lost or destroyed if it had stayed in his pocket or in a sock drawer. These are rare examples to have survived all this time outside of NARA's vault.

  3. I liked your article, esp. your research. I'm wondering how many descendants Abner Poland had, and if any of them know about the famous signature. Have you been in contact with any of them?

  4. interesting stuff!

    Warm Aloha from Honolulu

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