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Alexander Hamilton Letter Stolen From Massachusetts Archives More Than 70 Years Ago Has Been Returned

BOSTON (CBS) – A rare letter from Alexander Hamilton that was stolen from the state of Massachusetts more than 70 years ago has been returned after a battle in court.

Hamilton was an aide to General George Washington in the American Revolutionary War when he wrote a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette on July 21, 1780, warning him that French troops in Rhode Island were in imminent danger.

The letter eventually ended up in the Massachusetts Archives. But the state says it was stolen, allegedly by a former employee, sometime between 1937 and 1945.

It turned up again in November 2018 when Stewart Crane reached out to an auction house in Virginia to sell it. Crane inherited the letter from his grandfather, who claimed he bought it legally back in 1945.

The auction house discovered the letter had been reported stolen and they contacted the FBI, which seized the letter in December 2018.

alexander hamilton letter
Alexander Hamilton's letter to the Marquis de Lafayette on July 21, 1780. (Image credit: Mass. Secretary of State's Office)

That started a court battle between Massachusetts and the Crane family that lasted nearly three years. It ended last week when the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the letter was public record and that it belonged to the state.

"The persons who were the heirs of the supposed owner of it brought a lawsuit trying to retrieve it back, we fought that lawsuit and we refused to pay any money for it because it was stolen property and it belonged to the people of Massachusetts," said Secretary of State William Galvin.

The Hamilton letter is now back in the Massachusetts Archives, the Secretary of State's office said Tuesday. It may be on display occasionally at the Commonwealth Museum.

"This ruling is a resounding victory in our years long fight to return this historic letter back to the Commonwealth where it belongs for all to see," Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement. "We are grateful to our federal and state partners in this case, and to the First Circuit for affirming Massachusetts as the rightful owner of this precious artifact."

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