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Stephen Pleasonton Saves the State Papers

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With news of the British force's approach, a senior State Department clerk, Stephen Pleasonton, swung into action, buying rough but hardy linen which was cut up and made into book bags, into which Pleasonton and other clerks gently packed priceless manuscripts and papers like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Secretary of War Armstrong, whose foolhardiness seemed to extend to all areas, observed Pleasonton's activities and reproached him. Pleasonton remembered: "He [Armstrong] did not think the British were serious in their intentions of coming to Washington. I replied that we were under a different belief, and let their intentions be what they might, it was the part of prudence to preserve the valuable papers of the Revolutionary Government."

Pleasonton escorted a convoy of wagons loaded with valuable documents to a safe house in Leesburg, Virginia, 35 miles to the west.

Stephen Pleasonton.

Library of Congress