Earliest Known Autograph Letter Signed as President: “I do wish we could come ashore but we are cooking supper & expect to sail at daylight”

Signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt

Item: 19225
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FDR ALS as President; the Earliest Known Example Ever on the Market

ROOSEVELT, FRANKLIN D. (1882-1945). Thirty-second president of the United States. ALS. (“Franklin D. Roosevelt”). In pencil and written as president. 1p. 8vo. (Aboard the yacht Amberjack IImoored off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard), June 18, 1933. To Mrs. Vietor (Martha Knox Vietor, wife of New York businessman Carl Louis Vietor).

“Thank you so much for your note and your hospitable welcome. I do wish we could come ashore but we are cooking supper & expect to sail at daylight. Give my love to the Lion Davises when you see them. Sincerely yours…”

After spending from 1921 to 1924 trying to recover from the polio he contracted while vacationing on Campobello Island, Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson’s former assistant secretary of the Navy, triumphantly returned to public life with his New York gubernatorial victory in 1928. Following the stock market crash the following October, the American economy started to unravel as the country sank into the Great Depression. As governor, FDR offered tax relief to New York farmers, created the nation’s first state relief agency and provided low-cost utilities. These bold initiatives gained him both national prominence and the Democratic presidential nomination in July 1932, and he campaigned on the promise of a “new deal for the American people.” In November he was elected to the first of an unprecedented four terms, with his New Deal programs helping to restore much of the economy and changing the nature of American government.

FDR aboard the Amberjack II in June 1933 FDR Library Photo Collection

Our letter was written during Roosevelt’s first vacation after taking office in March 1933. On June 16, 1933, the day that marked the end of his historic first “hundred days” as president, FDR went to Boston and boarded the yacht Amberjack II for Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada, where his family had long vacationed. During the three-day voyage, Roosevelt demonstrated navigational skills that included sailing through a storm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

“On June 19, 1933, The New York Times ran an article entitled ‘Skipper Roosevelt Forced by Squall into Edgartown Harbor,’ describing how FDR, sailing a schooner from Marion [Massachusetts], took refuge for the night in [Martha’s Vineyard’s] Katama Bay. The president was at the helm for the entire trip, and The Times noted that the salts skippering his consort ships were impressed with his sailing skills. A similar article in the Vineyard Gazette on June 23 noted that FDR’s voyage into the bay ‘was a sight that drew more than one complimentary remark from the older men who still continue to take a man’s measure by his ability in seamanship,’” (“Welcome, Mr. President!!! The history of first families on Martha’s Vineyard,” Martha’s Vineyard magazine, August 1, 2009).


Martha’s Vineyard later figured in another episode of Roosevelt’s presidency. On August 3, 1941, FDR boarded the U.S.S. Potomac, FDR’s “Floating White House,” for an announced pleasure cruise. However, off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, the ship surreptitiously rendezvoused with the U.S. warship Augusta, whose presence was reported in the Vineyard Gazette, and which secretly took the president to Newfoundland for a meeting with Winston Churchill. Together, they drafted the Atlantic Charter, which set post-war goals, later agreed to by all the Allies. Until the president’s return to the Potomac on August 14, a secret service agent approximating Roosevelt’s build was visible aboard the vessel and daily press releases described the president’s activities to maintain the ruse that FDR was aboard enjoying a well-deserved vacation.

FDR’s 1933 voyage aboard the Amberjack II

The recipient of our letter, Martha Knox Vietor (née Orr), was a society debutante from Martha’s Vineyard. She married Yale-educated importer exporter Carl Louis Vietor, listed in Who’s who in Finance, Banking, and Insurance 1920-1922 and maintained a summer residence on Martha’s Vineyard throughout her life.

Our letter mentions Lionberger Davis (1878-1973), a family friend of Woodrow Wilson, lawyer, St. Louis financier and philanthropist, art collector, and Roosevelt’s unofficial advisor. “He wrote an article predicting a stock market crash, was ridiculed for it, but took his own advice and emerged unscathed after the great crash of 1929. Franklin Roosevelt respected Davis’ judgment, and often called on him for advice during his presidency,” (“A Memorial: J. Lionberger Davis, 1878-1973,” Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, Griffin). Davis was a generous patron of the Princeton Art Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Decorative Arts Museum of Cooper Union, and The Art Institute of Chicago, among whom he divided his vast art collection which included everything from Chinese bronzes to Rembrandt etchings.

Folded and in very good condition and with the original, hand-addressed envelope. Archivally matted with a colorized June 1933 photograph of Roosevelt aboard the Amberjack II. Autograph letters signed by Roosevelt during his presidency are notoriously rare and we could find no record of any ALs ever offered for sale from a period earlier in his presidency.

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