Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to Ezra L’Hommedieu, 4 April 1799

To Ezra L’Hommedieu1

New York April 4


As the holder, I am to inform you that Mr. David Gelston has refused payment of his promissory note dated the first of August last for Eight thousand Dollars payable in Eight Months to you and indorsed by you, and consequently that I look to you for the payment of the same.

Mr. Gelston has however deposited with Mr. Wilkes2 4000 Dollars on account of the Note, which with your consent I will receive holding you responsible for the remainder.

Knowing that this engagement has been entered into to oblige Col Burr, I have every disposition to accomodate the parties which can be shewn without releasing either.

With esteem I am Sir   Your obed servt

A Hamilton

Ezra L’Hommedieu Esq3

ALS, Hamilton College Library, Clinton, New York; copy, MS Division, New York Public Library.

1The letter printed above concerns the efforts of L’Hommedieu and David Gelston to help Aaron Burr pay a debt which he owed to Louis Le Guen.

L’Hommedieu represented New York in the Continental Congress from 1779 to 1782 and in 1788. He was a member of the New York Assembly from Suffolk County from 1777 to 1783, clerk of Suffolk County from 1784 to 1810, and a member of the state Senate from 1784 to 1792 and from 1794 to 1809.

Gelston, who was born in Bridgehampton, New York, was a New York City merchant, a Republican politician, and Burr’s close friend and political associate. He had been a member of the New York Provincial Congress, the Continental Congress, the New York Assembly, the New York Senate, and the Council of Appointment. In 1799 he was surrogate of New York County and a member of the state Senate. For Gelston’s role in the “Reynolds Affair,” see “David Gelston’s Account of an Interview between Alexander Hamilton and James Monroe,” July 11, 1797.

Le Guen was a French citizen who arrived in the United States in 1794 and became a merchant in New York City. Both Burr and H had served as Le Guen’s attorneys in the suits and counter-suits between Le Guen and Isaac Gouverneur and Peter Kemble. See Goebel, Law Practice description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., ed., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary (New York and London, 1964– ). description ends , II, 48–164.

On August 1, 1798, Burr borrowed eight thousand dollars payable in eight months from Louis Le Guen. As security for this loan, Burr gave Le Guen a promissory note which Gelston had agreed to issue to L’Hommedieu for the same amount on the same terms. L’Hommedieu endorsed this note (“Aaron Burr’s Account with Louis Le Guen,” December 18, 1800 [AD, in Le Guen’s handwriting, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California]). Burr assured Gelston and L’Hommedieu that they would not have to pay Le Guen in April, 1799, for he intended to pay him out of an additional twenty-five thousand dollars Le Guen had already agreed to advance him if satisfactory security could be provided. As security for this second loan, Burr offered Le Guen a mortgage on three hundred and sixty lots, exclusive of the buildings and garden, which formed his estate Richmond Hill. Although Burr valued each lot at from one hundred to three hundred pounds, the land was already encumbered (Burr to Le Guen, January 18, 1799 [ALS, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California]; Samuel H. Wandell and Meade Minnigerode, Aaron Burr [New York, 1925], I, 122). As the date for the payment of the Gelston-L’Hommedieu note approached, Le Guen had still not decided whether to lend Burr the twenty-five thousand dollars. On March 10, 1799, Burr wrote to Le Guen: “The note of Messieurs G. and L-H. will become due in a few Weeks; as that Note was given at my request, and I relied on your promise of a loan to enable me to take it up, I would now propose to give you a security on one hundred lotts adjoining Greenwich Street for the amount of that note and I could wish this negociation to take place immediately that those gentlemen may be discharged from their responsibility” (ALS, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California). See also Burr to Le Guen, March 12, 1799 (ALS, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California). After Le Guen had refused Burr’s request, Burr on March 22 wrote to Le Guen: “Your answer surprized me much; but it would at this time be useless to enter into explanations.

“I have written to Genl. Hamilton [in a letter which has not been found] stating to him the purpose for which the Note of D[avid Gelston] & L-H. was given and the reliance which was placed on your assurances for taking it up, and I have proposed that it should be renewed for 60 Days, before the expiration of which time I shall be in N. York & may make other arrangements than those which have so unexpectedly failed.” (ALS, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.) Le Guen, however, changed his mind, and on April 1, 1799, he advanced Burr ten thousand dollars “Sur morgages” and credited Burr’s account with eight thousand dollars in payment of L’Hommedieu’s note (“Aaron Burr’s Account with Louis Le Guen,” December 18, 1800 [AD, in Le Guen’s handwriting, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California]).

H was involved in the negotiations with Burr described above because he was serving as Le Guen’s attorney. In addition, H, Richard Harison, and Aaron Ogden were trustees for a fund which Le Guen had established in an antenuptial agreement in February, 1799.

2Charles Wilkes was cashier of the Bank of New York.

3At the bottom of this letter Henry Brewerton, a New York City lawyer, wrote: “Two copies dld at the Post Office the day of the date, one for Albany the other for Southold. Hy Brewerton.” L’Hommedieu’s home was at Southold, New York.

Below Brewerton’s note, William LeConte, H’s law clerk, wrote: “Left a copy of the above letter at the house of Mr. Nathaniel G. Ingraham New York April 5th 1799. William LeConte.” Ingraham was a New York City merchant.

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