The Valediction or 'How to end a letter'

...Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant...

parks@uh.edu Ver 1.2
Most Hbl & Obedient Servant
G: Washington
Head Qs Verplanck's
Point 4th Septr 1782.
The image and text above are from a letter by General George Washington written in 1782 at the end of the American Revolution. The valediction "Most Humble and Obedient Servant" was commonly used at the end of a letter just before the signature. While this is now considered very archaic and formal, we still use it today in an abbreviated form. The typical valedictions are: "Yours Truly" or "Sincerely Yours". While one may think that the word "Yours" is a type of possessive form, it doesn't mean that at all. It actually is an abbreviation of "Your Servant" -- typically written:

  yours

and abbreviated today as "yours". So both "Sincerely Yours" and "Yours Truly" actually mean "Sincerely your servant" and "Your servant truly", respectively.

This type of abbreviating often happened when people wrote letters. To shorten the length of words, the typography involved omitting some letters and placing the last letter as a superscript. Notice how Gen. Washington wrote September in the image above: Septr. Head Qs is also an abbreviation for Headquarters. These abbreviations have made their way in to modern letter writing -- though their origins are often not understood by writers.

There are numerous examples of valedictions in English and other languages. See the wikipedia page on valediction here and salutation here.

The salutation at the beginning of the letter has equally interesting origins in the written letters. While we most often begin letters with "Dear recipients name", we tend to forget it is not a greeting -- but a term of affection. Notice in the letters below the use of "My Dear sister" or My Dear Uncle". And if the term of affection (i.e., Dear) is not appropriate (i.e., the recipient of your letter is NOT: your husband, wife, relative, lover or close friend), the "dear" is replaced by a respectful title like "Sir" or "Madam".

The salutation and valediction can be extended and become long prefaces and epilogues. Here are some salutations and valedictions that appeared in letters written by my great great grandfather Bennett Rainey Jeffares and his older brother John Edwin Jeffares during the American Civil War:

  • Sergeant John E. Jeffares to his wife from Vicksburg April 5 1863

    "Affectionate wife & children
    Through kind providence, I am once more permitted to send you a few lines which leaves me well enough.
    ...
    Give my regards to all the connections. Kiss all the little children for me, & let this be in answer to you all. No more at present, but I remain your affectionate Husband and father till death."

  • Private Bennett Rainey Jeffares from Virginia May 22, 1864

    "Dear Zade I seat myself to write you a few lines which leave me well & so hope those lines may find you all in good health, also the connection & friends as well
    ...
    your loving husband till death"

  • Private Bennett Rainey Jeffares from Virginia undated 1864

    "my Dear wife, it is with pleasure I seat myself this morning to answer your most kind and welcome letter bearing the date of the 13th...to the last night which was thankfully received
    ...
    I will close those lines leave me well hoping the same may reach your kind hands in due time & find you & Wiley & the connection in good health give my love & respects to the connection & friends if any & keep a double portion for you Kiss Wiley for me I remain your most affectionate husband until Death"

  • Private Bennett Rainey Jeffares from Virginia December 3, 1864

    "My Dear & loving wife with the greatest of pleasure I seat myself this morning to pencil you a few lines those lines leave me in torble health hoping those lines may find you & Wiley and the connection in the best of health
    ...
    Zade you must do the best you can We must live in the hope of seeing each other again I will close I remain your loving husband until death"

  • Private Bennett Rainey Jeffares from Virginia Feb 11, 1865

    "My Dear & loving wife I this morning seat myself to write you a few lines in answer to your most kind and welcome letter bearing the Date of the 15th & 17th of January which came to my hands last night & was read with much satisfaction
    ...
    those lines leave me in common health hoping they may soon reach your loving hands & find you & Wiley & the connection in the best of health my love to all the connection & a wifes portion is due yourself I remain your loving husband until Death"

    For a couple of Georgia farm boys who had little education, they managed to write some very eloquent words that are so very expressive of the deep feelings that they possess for their family and friends. The Civil War had placed them in desparate and dangerous circumstances and their words of caring, longing and concern are as powerful as they are beautiful. Both died from the ravages of the war: John Edwin Jeffares was killed in Battle of Atlanta in 1864 and Bennett Rainey Jeffares died of tuberculosis contracted at an army field hospital. My great great grandmother Parazade Jeffares carried her dead husband Bennett's letters in a pouch around her waist for the rest of her life. His words were all that she had left after the war. She kept them close -- always.

    (see the full texts here)

  • and from the oldest family letter I can find written by Peter Gunnarson Rambo who came to America with the New Sweden Company in 1640 (Yes, this is where the "Rambo" name comes from that was used in the movie of that same name. The Sylvester Stallone "Rocky" movies were set in Philadelphia on land once owned by the Peter Rambo and other Swedes. They sold their land to William Penn to build the city of Philadelphia). This letter was written in 1693 to his sister in Gothenburg Sweden who Peter had not seen in 53 years.

    "Highly honored Dear Sister: Greetings! by the power of God, your letter, dear sister came into my hands here the 23rd of May, dated Gothenburg, the 16th of November 1692; from which letter I understand your temporal condition; that you are still alive God be praised, which makes me, my wife and children glad at heart, that I might once again be permitted to hear of your condition and the Fatherland, before it pleases God to call me from this world.
    ...
    my dear wife and children send greetings to you and all good friends who may or can be found living, hoping for and awaiting your reply by the first ship that can come. Commending you to the protection and care of God Almighty, Always remaining your most obedient brother until death Peter Gunnarson Rambo"

Below are some links to examples of salutations and valedictions on that appear on this page written by or about:

  1. Andrew Parks (1773-1836)
  2. Galileo (1564-1642)
  3. Winston Churchill (1874-1955)
  4. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
  5. Major Sullivan Ballou (1829-July 29, 1861)


Andrew Parks (1773-1836) & Harriet Washington (1776-1822)

There is a long involved story about my relative Andrew Parks and how he came to marry Harriet Washington -- the niece of the first President of the United States George Washington in 1796. At age 23 Andrew was required by social protocol to ask permission of President George Washington for the hand of Harriet Washington in marriage. This was accomplished in an exchange of letters in the spring of 1796. I have shown the letters below relating to Andrew and Harriet because of their writing style and the various examples of salutation and valediction -- shown in bold.

The players in the exchanges of letters:

  1. Andrew Parks to George Washington April 1 1796

    Fredericksburg 1st April 1796

    Sir,

    Although entirely unknown to you circumstances relative to your niece Miss Harriot Washington and myself make it necessary for me to trouble you with a letter and to give you an introduction of what has occurred between us; I have made my addresses to her and she has referred me to you whose consent I am to acquire or her objection to a union with me. I was assured insuperable, having therefore no hope of possessing her until I should be so fortunate as to obtain your assent and as my happiness measurably depends upon your determination, I shall endeavor by stating to you my situation and prospects in life to merit and induce your approbation, yet they are such as I fear will not much conduce to your favorable decision. I have lived in Fredericksburg for more than three years, my connections generally reside in Baltimore and are mostly rich. I am engaged here in the mercantile businesses and concerned therin with my brother in law Mr. McElderry of Balt., my fortune at present does not much exceeds three thousand pounds but with industry and economy I have every expectation of rapidly improving my condition in that respect. To enter into a detail of my family I suppose won't be necessary, however, I shall be in Balt. a few weeks hence and if in the interim you should propose an objection to me I will take the liberty of writing to you again and give you a more particular account of my self and friends when it is probable my pecuniary situation may be meliorated. The enclosed letter from Mrs. Lewis I solicited to write and say something to you concerning me.

    I am with infinite respect

    Your most humble and obedient servant

    Andrew Parks

  2. From George Washington to Andrew Parks, 7 April 1796

    Philadelphia 7th April 1796

    Sir

    your letter of the first instt has been duly received. The subject on which it is written is a serious one, and it shall meet, as it deserves, a serious consideration.

    My niece Harriot Washington having very little fortune of her own, neither she, nor her friends, have a right to make that (however desirable it might be) a primary consideration in a matrimonial connexion. But there are other requisites which are equally desirable, and which ought to be attended to in a union of so much importance; without therefore expressing at this moment, either assent, or dissent, to the proposal you have made, it is necessary for me to pause.

    My wish is to see my niece happy; one step towards which is, for her to be united with a gentleman of respectable connexions, and of good dispositions; with one who is more in the habit (by fair and honorable pursuits) of making, than in spending money-and who can support her in the way she has always lived.

    As you propose being in Baltimore in the course of a few weeks-I shall not object to the receipt of any further details on this subject, which you may be disposed to give from that place: which, when received, may enable me to write more decisively frome hence, or from virginia when I get there-which will happen, I expect, as soon as Congress shall have closed its session.
    I am sir your very Hble servt

    Added at proof: This letter is the best justification for the use of an eloquent saluation and valediction. If the president of the United States (and in particular George Washington) find it appropriate to address a greeting to young man (Andrew Parks) who he doesn't know as: "Sir" and end the letter with "your very Hble servt", then one might consider it an appropriate way to open and close your letters.

  3. George Washington to George Lewis, April 7, 1796

    Philadelphia, April 7, 1796.

    Dear Sir:

    Tuesday's Post brought me a letter from a Mr. Andrew Parks of Fredericksburgh, covering one from your Mother; both on the subject of overtures of marriage made by the former to your cousin Harriot Washington: which, it seems, depend upon my consent for consummatn.

    My sister speaks of Mr. Parks as a sober, discreet man; and one who is attentive to business. Mr. Parks says of himself, that his "fortune at present, does not much exceed £3000, but with industry and economy, he has every expectation of rapidly improving his condition" being concerned with his brother in law, Mr. McElderry of Baltimore, in Mercantile business.

    As I am an entire stranger to Mr. Parks; to his family connexions, or his connexions in trade; to his mode of living; his habits, and to his prospects in trade; I should be glad if you wd. ascertain them with as much precision as you can, and write me with as little delay as you can well avoid.

    Harriot having little or no fortune of her own, has no right to expect a great one in the man she marrys: but it is desirable she should marry a gentleman; one who is well connected, and can support her decently, in the line she has always moved, otherwise she would not find matrimony with a large family and little means, so eligable as she may have conceived it to be. I am etc.

    This letter will be accompanied by one to my Sister which I pray you to receive from the Post Office and send to her.

  4. From George Washington to Betty Washington Lewis, 7 April 1796

    My dear Sister, Philadelphia 7th April 1796.

    Your letter of the 27th Ulto was enclosed to me by Mr Parks, in one from himself, dated the 1st insttt on the same subject.

    Harriot having very little fortune herself, has no right to expect a great one in the man she marry's; but if he has not a competency to support her in the way she has lived, in the circle of her friends, she will not find the matrimonial state so comfortable as she may have expected when a family is looking up to her & but scanty means to support it.

    Altho' she has no right to expect a man of fortune, she certainly has just pretensions to expect one whose connexions are respectable, & whose relations she could have no objection to associate with. How far this is, or is not the case with Mr Parks, I know not for neither his own letter, or yours give any acct of his family nor whether he is a native or a foreigner-& we have his own word only for his possessing any property at all altho' he estimates his fortune at £3000. A precarious dependance this when applied to a man in Trade.

    I do not wish to thwart Harriots inclination if her affectns are placed on Mr Park and if upon the enquiries I shall mak[e] or cause to be made into his family & connexions, there shall be found nothing exceptionable in them; that he is, as you say "very much respected by all his acquaintance, sober, sedate, & attentive to business;" and is moreover in good business; I shall throw no impedimts in the way of their Marriage, altho' I should have preferred, if a good match had not offer'd in the meanwhile that she sh'd have remained single until I was once more settled at Mt Vernon & she a resident there which, if life is spared to us, will certainly happen to me in ten or eleven months-because then she would have been in the way of seeing much company, and would have had a much fairer prospect of matching respectably than with one who is little known-and of whose circumstances few or none can know much about.

    Having had no business to write to you upon-and being very much occupied by my public duties, are the only reasons why I have been silent. I am persuaded you will enjoy more ease & quiet, & meet with fewer vexations where you now are, than where you did live-It is my sincere wish that you should do so and that your days may be happy-in these Mrs Washington joins with Your most Affecte Brother

    G. Washington

  5. Thomas McElderry to James McHenry April 11 1796

    Baltimore April 11th 1796

    Dear Doctor

    I received your favors of the 6th Andrew Parks' request to the President, it is the first I have heard of his having such intentions. As to his character and Incumbrances I will briefly state them to you. On the failure of his father in the year 92 being lender unable to do anything for his son, I took him into Partnership and collaboration here in business at Fredericksburg and from what I have heard as well as from my own observation he had conducted himself in a very proper manner and gained the esteem of the people generally, his engaging in business for himself before he was nineteen years of age and conducting at with so much propriety and reputation, induced me to believe he will make a good husband, much more promising than many of the Virginia gentlemen with their large landed estates and negroes. He commenced business in June 92 and on the 6th of September 93 I went to Fredericksburg and took on out of his goods when it appeared he had cleared 1106 pounds 10 shillings after paying all expenses and very little outstanding debts for his labor in to sale for ready money, hence which he has been doing a good business that I have been so engaged here that I could not spare time to take an audit of his stock nor has it been done to my knowledge since so that I cannot ascertain exactly what he may be worth at this time.

    I am well persuaded by what I have already done for Mr. Parks to my desire of serving him Whether the match contemplated may be a prudent one for him I can not pretend to judge or advise you ???

    I am not much a friend to great Parade or extravagant Manner of Life if his connection would have that tendency (which I hope not) I might not be so happy -- He is to be here in five days to lay in his Spring supply of Goods I know of no other arrangement he has in contemplation at present It will however give me great pleasure if I can assist him further on his changing his state, it is noteable the young Lady may have something else which could be beneficially employed by him as I would not wish him to divide the profit with me when his capital is equal to the business by himself which I trust will soon be the case.

    Mrs McHenry is ..rle I saw Mr and Mrs McCurdy last evening he is astonishly mended I will wait on Mrs McHenry with a tender of my services.

    You got out of the scrape with Taylor in good time the Brig M..rlmann that so much defendance was laid on is carried in by the Bre ...th and his Post Command because he is an Irishman and Dr. Ross cannot be brought to a settlement so that his affairs is still gloomy.

    Wishing you a little more Leisure that you may be able to drop a line now and then to your assured Friend

    Thomas McElderry

  6. To George Washington from Andrew Parks, 30 April 1796

    Baltimore 30th April 1796

    Sir

    I have had the honour to receive your Letter of the 7th Instt, and pursuant thereto, I have communicated within a few days, that I have been here; the Subject, to my friend Mr Mc Elderry, on which I am so materially interested, for your approbation; he has written to the Secretary at War, and given him an oppinion of me, of which, I presume you have, or will, be advertisd.

    Mr Mc Elderry, has relinquished his part of the concern, in the business, I have been pursuing, which I shall conduct hereafter on my own Acct, and with industry; and his friendship, I suspect will be attended with considerable advantages; this is the only amendment in my prospects, I have it in my power to acquaint You with.

    I hope I possess most of the requisites, necessary to make your Niece, happy I have been for several Years, accustom'ed to Business, which has,, I am persuaded, kept me clear of a temper, for vicious dispositions; my connexions, are respectable generally, inasmuch as they are people of Business, and mostly in good circumstances. I have described to your Niece, as nearly as I could, what my Situation would afford, in the style of living; which wd not be more than genteel, and comfortable, this she sais, will perfectly satisfy her, and render her happy, provided you can think it sufficient. I am Sir with infinite respect Yr very Hbe Sert

    Andrew Parks

  7. To George Washington from Betty Washington Lewis, 26 June 1796

    June 26th 1796

    My Dear Brother

    Your letter of the 27th of April I receiv'd and should have answerd it sooner but expecting you in dayly postpon'd writing untill you arriv'd at Mount Vernon, not hearing from you again on Harriots subject, I have been makeing all the enquirey I Could concerning Mr Parks that was in my power I have heard nothing to his disadvantage on the contrary he is respected by all his acquaintance he is A Constant Visitor here and I believe Harriots Affections are plac'd intirely on him, and engag'd so far as this if your consent can be obtaind.

    Harriot begs you will pardon her not writing her self but hopes your being fully acquainted with her Sentiments Concerning Mr Parks will be some apology she is not well I believe her anxiety for fear of offending and not gaining your consent has Produc'd this, your long Silence has given her much uneasiness.

    My Dear Brother if you have any Mules for Sale and Can let me have One I will with pleasure pay you the Price of it I am under the necessity of purchaiseing A Work Nag and prefer A Mule.

    Harriot Joines me in love and good Wishes for You and my Sister Washington and beleive me to be Your Affectte Sister

    Betty Lewis

  8. To George Washington from Betty Washington Lewis, 5 July 1796

    My Dear Brother July 5th, 1796.

    I receiv'd your Letters of 26th and 29th of June, the day after I wrote to you I was attack with the ague and fever which has lasted ever since I had never been clear of a fever since, I Expected your comeing threw Baltemore that you would ascertain Mr. Parkes fortune thoe I believe he would not tell anything fals on the Occation, Harriot's Brother Wrote her a letter from Baltemore and likewise one to Mr. Parks congratulateing them on there Intended Union which he sayes he makes no dout will be a very happy one, Lawrence was here at the time that Mr. Parks firs spoke to Harriot on the subject and I beg'd of him to make all the inquire he could but never hard from him untill the letter I have mention'd here and concluded from that he had Inquired and was well Pleas'd, when Mr. Parks ask'd my consent I told him I had nothing to say to it that you ware the Person to be appli'd to, I have never concern'd myself with it I think Harriot is Old Enougf now to make choice for her self, and if they are not happy I believe it will be her one falt, he bars the Best caracter of any young Person that I know.

    I now my Dear Brother have to thank you for your good intention of sending me a mule if you had any to spear, but had no write to Expect you to Disfirnish your self.

    I am mutch obliged to you for your invitasion to Mount Vernon but it is utterly out of my Power to get up, I believe I wrote to you last fall that I had but two old Horses and in Tenn word left out from that my stable was broken open and the best of them carri'd of and from that day to this I have not har'd a word of him that was the forth charriot Hors that I lost in Fredericks you may Believe I had no great Parsiallity for the Place, Harriot is Better and is gone to the forth of July in Town but I think she looks badly.

    My Love to you and my Sister Washington concludes me your Affectionate sister

    Betty Lewis.

    P.S.-I fear you will hardly make out this as I have a violent Headake and a horrid caugh-I believe Harriot is distressed to know how she is to be Provided with things for a Weding Dress.

  9. To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 17 July 1796

    Mill Brook July 17-96

    Aunt Lewis received a letter from my dear & Honored Uncle a few days ago wherein he was pleased to send me thirty pound also a great deal of good advice which I am extremely obliged to you for and intend adhering most strictly to it.

    Believe me, my dear Uncle, my heart will ever with the liveliest gratitude most gratefully acknowledge and remember yours and Aunt Washington's great goodness and attention to me and if my Uncle will only answer my letter and say he is not offended at my Union (which took place yesterday, Aunt Lewis's going immediately to Berkley to stay untill the fall &: finding it not convenient to carry me with her wished us married before she went), I shall be happy for after my dear Uncle's protection & kindness towards me I should be a most miserable being to reflect that I had displeas'd my greatest friend.

    I shall take the liberty of troubleing my Uncle to return my thanks to Aunt Washington for the earings she sent me from Philadelphia which I received but a week ago from Berkley. Aunt Lewis is much mended 8c intends answering your letter by the next post. Aunt Lewis joins me in love to you and Aunt Washington.

    I am my dear and Honor'd Uncle
    Your affectionate neice

    Harriot Parks

  10. George Washington to Harriot (Washington) Parks

    Mount Vernon 22d July 1796

    Dear Harriot,

    The last Post brought me your letter of the 17 [inserted: th instant] informing me of your Marriage the preceding day [inserted: with Mr. Parks].

    Far from being displeased at the event, I offer you my congratulations thereon; and sincerely wish it may prove [struck: a] [inserted: the] source of continual happiness to you. Much [inserted: of this] depends on your [strikeout] [inserted: own disposition] [inserted: on] a prudent deportment towards your husband; and [inserted: on] the accomodation of your views to his circumstances. If the first are more extensive than the latter, it will involve both of you in difficulties; perhaps [inserted: in] ruin. Always keep the old adage in remembrance - ''Take your measure according to your cloth" and do not, because you may see others do so, (some because their fortunes enable them, and others because they are excited to it by vanity) endulge yourself either in dress, or a mode [2] of living that will [inserted: be] produc [struck: e] [inserted: tive of] embarrassmt.

    Having much company in the house, [struck: I shall only] [inserted: at prest. I have time only to] add, that your Aunt, & Nelly Custis unite with me in best wishes for the happiness [inserted: & prosperity] of your self & Mr. Parks; and that if it shd. suit his business at any time, to make a visit here, while we are at home we should be glad to see you both at Mount Vernon. With great regard I remain - Your Affecte. Uncle

    Go: Washington

  11. To Thomas Jefferson from Andrew Parks, 10 October 1806

    Sir,

    Altho' I have not the honor to be personally known to you, the circumstance of Mr. Purviance's death the late Collector of this Port, has induced me to venture upon the liberty of addressing you, and to solicit You for the appointment.-I have the pleasure to be acquainted with Mr. Madison and I beg leave to refer You to him for his opinion of me.-It has so happened that I have never had the happiness to be known to you, though I presume you are acquainted with Mrs. Parks's connexions generally. -I flatter myself that if it should be necessary, I can produce from this place, satisfactory testimonials of my character and qualifications for the Office.-And if I am so fortunate as to obtain from Your goodness, this very especial mark of your favour, I will endeavour, by the correctness of my deportment, and integrity in the discharge of the duties appertaining to the Office; to merit your approbation, and to give general satisfaction to the public.-

    Mrs. Parks desires to be respectfully remembered to you. &

    I am Sir, with infinite respect Yr. very Obt. Hbl. Servt.

    Andw. Parks

  12. To James Madison from Andrew Parks, 14 March 1807

    Baltimore 14th. March 1807

    Dr. Sir.

    The Schooner Three Sisters from Madeira has arrived. She has two pipes of Wine for you, addressed by Murdoch Yuille Wardrop & Co. to me by the direction of Judge Washington.

    I sent you their Letter the other day which came via Norfolk. Be pleased to direct me in what manner you would wish I should forward you the Wine. With respectful Compls. to Mrs. Madison I am yr. very Obt. Hle Sert.

    Andrw. Parks

  13. To James Madison from Andrew Parks, 26 March 1807

    Baltimore 26th. March 1807

    Dear Sir,

    I shall send one of your Pipes of Wine to Fredericksburg by the first safe Vessel going there, directed according to your instruction to the care of Mr. Stone. The other you will receive by the Alexa. Packet Capt. Wilkison.

    Before I received your Letter, I had Entered your Wine, with some others that came in the same Vessel and Bonded for the duties, which are Payable in twelve months. I have inclosed you a copy of the Entry for yours, which you will please qualify for at the Collectors Office in your district, at any convenient time [wi]thin the year, and return it to me. It's requisite I should [deliv]er it to the Collector here, to cancel an Agents Bond it [was] necessary for me to give. With respectfu l Compts. to Mrs. Madison, I am yr very Obt. Hbl. Servt.

    Andw. Parks

    [NOTE: a pipe of wine is about 145 gallons]

  14. To James Madison from Andrew Parks, 25 February 1808

    Baltimore 25th: February 1808

    Dear Sir,

    I have herewith inclosed you an acct. of the duties, Insurance, freight, and other expences attending your two Pipes of Wine.

    Let me request the favor of you to qualify to the Entry I sent you, before the Collector at Geo: Town, or Alexa., and return it me as soon as your convenience will permit, it being necessary very shortly, I should produce it to the collector here, to cancel my Agents Bond. With respectful compliments to Mrs. Madison, I am Dr. Sir Yr. very Obt. Hbl. Servt.

    Andw. Parks

  15. To Thomas Jefferson from Andrew Parks, 6 April 1808

    Baltimore 6th. April 1808

    Sir,

    Having on a former occasion had the honor to address you, as an applicant for the appointment of Collector of this Port; When the Office became vacant at the death of Mr. Purviance.- The death of Mr. Christie has induced me again, to take the liberty of renewing my solicitation.- And if you should think me worthy of this mark of your favor, and approbation; I shall endeavour to deserve it, in estimating properly the importance, & responsibility of the Office, and by the stricktest integrity in the discharge of its duties; to give general satisfaction to the Public.-

    I am Sir with very great respect Yr. Obt. Hbe. Servt.

    Andw. Parks

  16. Andrew Parks to James Madison, 22 January 1824

    Kanawha County Virga. 22nd. Jany. 1824

    Dear Sir,

    While John Payne Todd Esqr. was at the French Seminary at Baltimore, he contracted an account with me in the Store I Kept there at the time. Soon after the articles were had, I left Balte., and moved to the Western Country-Since which time, I have not had the pleasure to hear from Mr. Todd. I have herewith taken the liberty to inclose you the account, with a request, if it should not materially interfere with your convenience, to have it adjusted for me with Mr. Todd; who I am persuaded will recognize the items of the account, and pay me though it has been of so long standing. Permit me to ask the favour of you to write me on the subject of the a/c, and direct to me at the Kanawha Saline Post office. With sincere regards to Mrs. Madison I am Dear Sir very respectfully Yr. Obt. Servt.

    Andw Parks

  17. Andrew Parks to James Madison, 1 November 1826

    Burning Spring 1st. Novr. 1826

    Dear Sir,

    I have been for some time expecting to get a letter from Mr. J. P. Todd, on the subject of my little a/c against him, a copy of which I sent you. Since your letter to me; I met with Mr. Jno. Payne in Clarksburg, he stated that until you recd. my letter, you supposed Mr. Todd had been furnished with what clothes he wanted from the French Seminary. As it respects Mr. Todd, I think this was not the case; Mrs. Madison wrote to my wife, and requested her to pay attentions to her son, and see that he was supplied with such things as he stood in need of. For some time Mr. Todd was in the habit of buying such articles as he wanted out of my Store, and when he recd. money from Washington, he always Paid me. I am therefore under the persuasion, that he got scarcely any clothes from the Priests, except the Uniform of the Seminary. I left Balte. very soon after Mr. Todd got the articles in the a/c I sent you, which leads me to conclude is the reason the a/c was not paid by him as it was usual with him to do, upon his getting money from Washington. If Mr. Todd would do me the favor to send me the amt. of the a/c, it would be a very great accomodation to me, in my present circumstances. I regret to be, the occasion of giving you so much trouble about this matter-Be pleased to excuse it, for I assure you, were it not that I am in a straight for money, I should not think of plagueing you with the subject of an old a/c. With respects to Mrs. Madison I am Dr Sir very respectfully yr obt. Servt.

    Andw Parks

 

And if you think all this was just a passing Federalist period fad (1789-1801), consider...Galileo.

 Valediction and Signature of the astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
at his 1633 Trial by the Inquisition
.

The valediction:

Humiliso et Obdns Sevs

which is in Latin:

Humilus et Oboedens Servus

or

Humble and Obedient Servant

In 1615 Galileo's writings about astronomy (with a particular focus on the fact that the earth revolved around the sun -- heliocentrism) were submitted to the Roman Inquisition. In 1616 Pope Paul V gave the following injuction to Galileo:

"... to abandon completely... the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either orally or in writing."

In 1632 he was put on trial for his writings, convicted and sentenced permanently to house arrest. He died in 1642 with his works still banned by the church.

 Winston Churchill:

  1. Escapes from jail in South Africa

    Dec. 10, 1899 Pretoria South Africa

    Churchill was acting as a journalist during the Boer War. He was jailed by Boers and escaped leaving the following note on his jail cell bed.

    Sir, - I have the honour to inform you that as I do not consider that your government has any right to detain me as a military prisoner, I have decided to escape from your custody. I have every confidence in the arrangements I have made with my friends outside, and I do not therefore expect to have another opportunity of seeing you. I therefore take this occasion to observe that I consider your treatment of the prisoners correct and humane, and that I see no grounds for complaint. When I return to the British lines I will make a public statement to this effect. I have also to thank you personally for your civility to me, and to express the hope that we may meet again at Pretoria before very long, and under different circumstances. Regretting that I am unable to bid you a more ceremonious or a personal farewell.

    I have the honour, to be, Sir,

    Your most obedient servant,

    Winston Churchill

  2. Declares war on Japan

    On December 8, 1941 (the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent the following letter the Japanese ambassador:

    Sir,

    On the evening of December 7th His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom learned that Japanese forces without previous warning either in the form of a declaration of war or of an ultimatum with a conditional declaration of war had attempted a landing on the coast of Malaya and bombed Singapore and Hong Kong.

    In view of these wanton acts of unprovoked aggression committed in flagrant violation of International Law and particularly of Article I of the Third Hague Convention relative to the opening of hostilities, to which both Japan and the United Kingdom are parties, His Majesty's Ambassador at Tokyo has been instructed to inform the Imperial Japanese Government in the name of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom that a state of war exists between our two countries.

    I have the honour to be, with high consideration,

    Sir,

    Your obedient servant,

    Winston S. Churchill

     

Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, February 18, 1793

I have the honor to be with Sentiments of the most perfect esteem and attachment

Sir,
Your most obedient and
most humble servant

Th:Jefferson

[Incredible beautiful hand-writing and equally beautiful words from perhaps the best political wordsmith in American history.]

 

 Sullivan Ballou (the 'Dear Sarah' letter):

Perhaps one of the most famous civil war letters is the tragic story of Major Sullivan Ballou (March 28, 1829-July 29, 1861) of the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry. The letter to his wife Sarah was written July 14 1861 two weeks before the Battle of Bull Run (also called First Manassas). It was made more famous by Ken Burn's 1990 PBS documentary The Civil War.

We will stray from our presentation of the text of the letters and use as the introduction to the Sullivan Ballou letter the video presentation from the Ken Burns' documentary. This video uses beautiful music, images, audio and excerpts from the letters and is perhaps the best piece from the documentary:

The full text of the letter is shown below (the text in blue is used in the video)
Major Sullivan Ballou (1829-1861)

July 14, 1861.
Camp Clark, Washington DC

My Very Dear Sarah ,

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days - perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more. Our movements may be of a few days duration and full of pleasure - and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine, O God be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battle field for my Country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing - perfectly willing - to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this Government and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys, I lay down nearly all of your's, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows, when after having eaten for long years the bitter fruits of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children, is it weak or dishonorable, that while the banner of my forefathers floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, underneath my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children should struggle in fierce, though useless contest with my love of Country.

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm Summer Sabbath night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying perhaps the last sleep before that of death while I am suspicious that Death is creeping around me with his fatal dart, as I sit communing with God, my Country and thee. I have sought most closely and diligently and often in my heart for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I love, and I could find none. A pure love of my Country and of the principles I have so often advocated before the people - 'the name of honor, that I love more than I fear death,' has called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables, that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind, and bears me irresistibly on with all those chains, to the battle field.

The memories of all the blissful moments I have spent with you, come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and you that I have enjoyed them so long. And how hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our boys grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears, every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortunes of this world to shield you, and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the Spirit-land and hover near you, while you buffit the storm, with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience, till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladest days and the darkest nights, advised to your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours, always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air cools your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys - they will grow up as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long - and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters, and feel that God will bless you in your holy work.

Tell my two Mothers I call God's blessings upon them new. O! Sarah I wait for you there; come to me, and lead thither my children.

Sullivan

 

The drift of all these letters is the civility and courtesy shown in the writings. Whether closely related or virtually strangers, each salutation and valediction are expressions of respect and sincerity. While we tend not to send hand written letters, this is unfortunate choice we make. I asked a recent speaker at a student organization meeting how many hand-written thank you notes he had received in his 30 year career. He responded:

"Three. And I hired two of the three people who wrote them."

So, the lesson is that if you really wish to leave an impression on a potential employer, hand write the "thank you" note. It will stand out.

As most of us now only use e-mails peppered with leet (or l33t) such as: omg, lol, 2d4, d00d, ttfn, etc., l33t DOES NOT rise to the same level of elegance and respect demonstrated in the passages above.

Many of the modern word and phrase abberviations come from the telegraphs abbreviation (a shorthand called Phillips Code 1907) used by the early 20th century telegraph operators (e.g., "postus" means "President of the United States"; "scotus" means "Supreme Court of the United States"; "ax" means "ask"(see Phillips code table here)

If you must be modern, you might show a little class and try signing off with this:

YMHOS

Your reader will have to look it up. It will make them think. Or just spell it out:


I remain Dear reader,
Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant

    parks