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Letter from Martha Washington discovered in small Kansas town

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Nearly 209 years after her death, Martha Washington is all the talk in Concordia, Kansas.

People are flocking to a history museum in Concordia to see an apparently authentic Washington-written letter discovered in the bottom of a file cabinet drawer at the museum.

More than 200 people, including several descendants of George and Martha Washington, attended an unveiling of the letter last Saturday. All this week, schools have brought students to see it at the Cloud County Historical Society Museum, said interim co-director Aline Luecke.

"People can hardly believe a letter like this has lasted 200 years and it's here in Concordia, Kansas," Luecke said. "It's been a very favorable reaction."

Concordia is a town of 5,700 people in north-central rural Kansas.

The letter, postmarked Philadelphia and dated January 27, 1793 during Washington's presidency, was found in a clear plastic folder by the other museum co-director, Marilyn Johnston, while cleaning out some old files. It is written to Fanny Bassett Washington, Martha's niece.

The letter had dropped out of a file of other old papers and was laying flat in the drawer, Luecke said. The museum received the documents when it opened in 1959, she said.

The letter had been in the possession of the estate of Mrs. Park Pulsifer, who before dying in 1948 asked a friend to hold onto it until it could go to a museum in Cloud County, Luecke said. Research is under way to find a connection between Pulsifer's relatives and the Bassett family.

The letter was displayed at the Women's Community Club in Concordia earlier this century and in 1920 the manuscript department of the New York Public Library concluded that Martha Washington wrote it, according to an article at the time in the Concordia Blade-Empire.

Christie's auction house in New York has advised insuring the letter for $40,000, Luecke said.

In the letter, Martha Washington expresses concern about the illnesses of Major George Augustine Washington, Fanny's husband and George Washington's nephew. The couple were caretakers of George and Martha's estate in Mount Vernon, Va. The major died nine days after the letter was written.

Martha Washington writes of wishing she was back in Mount Vernon. But she says the President wouldn't go home until after Congress met in March and then "the roads will be so bad that it will be impossible for the family to move at that time."

(Writing by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton)

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