George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Colonel Thomas McKean, 6 August 1776

To Colonel Thomas McKean

New York Augt 6th 1776


The French Gentleman whom you may recollect was at Philadelphia when I was there, in the character of the Baron de Calbiact, & who was waiting on Congress for some promotion in the Military line, is now here, and Complains of the hardship he labours under in being refused an appointment and also in having his papers & Credentials kept from him. he informs me they are in your hands, and as he seems sollicitous about them and desirous of having ’em again, I request the favor of you to transmit them to me by the earliest Opportunity, that I may deliver them to him and thereby remove every protest of affected uneasiness on this head.1 I am Sir Your Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, PHi: McKean Papers. The cover of this letter is addressed “to Colo. McKean of the 4th Battalion of the Pensylvania Associators at Amboy.”

Thomas McKean (1734–1817), a prominent lawyer with political and professional connections in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, arrived at Perth Amboy, N.J., with his 4th Battalion of Philadelphia Associators on 23 July (see Hugh Mercer to GW, 24 July). During the Revolutionary War, McKean held office simultaneously in Delaware and Pennsylvania, serving as a Delaware delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1776 and from 1778 to 1782, a member of the Delaware assembly from 1776 to 1777 and its speaker in 1777, and chief justice of Pennsylvania from 1777 to 1799. McKean was president of the Continental Congress in 1781, and from 1799 to 1808 he was governor of Pennsylvania.

1GW had been in Philadelphia from 23 May to 4 June 1776. For GW’s previous dealings with Calbiac, see GW to Hancock, 9 May, Calbiac to GW, 22, 30 July, and GW to Calbiac, 23 July. McKean wrote on 9 Aug. to John Adams at Philadelphia: “Yesterday I received a Letter from General Washington respecting the Baron de Calbiac, wherein he wishes to know whether any promotion in the military line is intended for him by Congress, and begs that the Letters and Credentials belonging to this Gentleman may be immediately forwarded to him, that he may restore them to the Baron, who complains loudly of their long detention from him.

“These letters and credentials came to my hands as one of the Committee of Qualifications, and upon the establishment of the war-office were delivered to Mr. Secretary Peters. If you recollect, I frequently mentioned the desire of the Baron to have them again to you, Mr. [James] Wilson &c. If the credentials are not with the letters, Mr. Samuel Adams must have them. Be so good as to send all the papers to General Washington, and endeavour to get an answer from Congress respecting the Baron. He seemed to expect the Rank of a Lieutenant Colonel, and I suppose the pay too. He did not appear to me to understand any thing of the business of an Engineer, having been a Captain in a marching Regiment in France” (Taylor, Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977—. description ends , 4:440–42).

Adams replied to McKean on 15 Aug. that “Mr. Secretary Peters, upon my reading your Letter to him, immediately inclosed all the Barons Papers, to General Washington, the Board of War not being inclined from any thing they could learn of the Baron to give him the Rank and Pay to which he aspires. It is impossible for me to know whether all the Barons Letters and Papers are sent, as my Friend Mr S. Adams, before I recd your Letter, was gone to Boston. Mr Peters has inclosed all that were in his Custody” (Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 4:682–83).

On 13 Aug. Calbiac wrote Richard Peters: “I received from you, through the hands of General Washington, part of some papers I left with Colonel McKean. There are other very material ones, which I left at the same time, which have not been transmitted to me. I should suppose Colonel McKean sent to your office the whole of the papers together. I have written to him on the subject; but in case you may not hear from him soon, should esteem it a great favour that you would examine in the office if there are no other papers of mine, which have been overlooked. The papers which are wanting are my passport from France, and two letters of service from the French Court” (Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:934).

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