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Laurel Foundation funds purchase of documents

Monday, February 10, 2003

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When leaders of a group of Pennsylvania historic sites learned Christie's would auction a George Washington manuscript, they approached numerous funding sources.

Laura Fisher, senior vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, reviews the recently acquired set of orders from British Maj. Gen Edward Braddock to William Johnson, chief Indian agent for the British, in which he instructs Johnson to secure Native American alliances against the French and expresses confidence that the Indians will be flattered to be asked to join the British. (Joyce Mendelsohn, Post-Gazette)

Related story: Documents written by Washington, Braddock will be displayed here

The Laurel Foundation's trustees gathered in an emergency meeting and authorized spending up to $1 million to buy it.

That amount "equals about one-half to one-third of our annual grant-making," said Donna Panazzi, vice president of the foundation. "We were willing to make that allocation just to make sure that the region did finally get ownership of that document."

Washington recalls his early exploits in Pennsylvania and close encounters with arrows and bullets in "Remarks," a vividly written document that details his service in the War for Empire, also called the French and Indian War.

The Washington manuscript and a set of orders signed by British Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock that the Laurel Foundation also acquired "help to bring to the city ... the relevance of this region's importance in that part of early American history," Panazzi said.

The War for Empire Inc., a consortium of Pennsylvania historic sites, will display the documents during the upcoming commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War.

"This is one of the most expensive documents in Washington's hand that's been sold," said Panazzi.

The Laurel Foundation provided $750,000 of the document's $834,000 cost. Chief Executive Officer Glen Meakem of FreeMarkets and James Broadhurst, chairman and CEO of Eat'n Park Hospitality Group Inc., also donated funds for the purchase.

The foundation spent $18,000 to acquire the set of instructions Braddock wrote to William Johnson, chief Indian agent for the British. That four-page document, which arrived in Pittsburgh Thursday, was recently preserved by a conservator at Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

The Laurel Foundation, established in 1951 by Mellon heiress Cordelia Scaife May, focuses its grant-making in the arts, culture, conservation, health and education.

Funding the acquisitions of the Washington and Braddock documents made sense because the Laurel Foundation has contributed money for WQED's film on the War for Empire, "The War That Made America."

Marylynne Pitz can be reached at mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.

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