George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Jean de Neufville, 6 January 1784

To Jean de Neufville

Mount Vernon 6th January 1784


I have had the honor to receive your Letter bearing date the 19th of August & find myself exceedingly indebted to your partiality in favor of my Country & myself, both personally, & as a citizen of the United States of America.

The disaster which has happen’d to the House with which you was connected must be very affecting to every true American, especially as your great zeal in the cause of liberty, & your unwearied efforts to promote the interests of the United States, are well known to the Citizens of this republic. I cannot but flatter myself however, that the successes of the new firm of de Neufville & Co. will equal their greatest expectations, & that they will meet with the patronage of all who may be favored with their acquaintance & correspondence.

Notwithstanding the embarrassments of our Finances, I am also of opinion, that justice will ultimately be rendered to all the public Creditors: indeed, it is very much to be regretted that any of our good friends should have suffered from the delay of it—The exigencies have been pressing, & the misfortunes arising therefrom to private individuals, perhaps inevitable; but the happy termination of the war, will I trust, soon afford an opportunity of retreiving the public credit, & enable Congress, & the State of South Carolina, to discharge the Debts which are due to your house.

I have had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with your son, & if it should be in my power to render him any services,1 it will be extremely agreeable to, Sir Your most Obt hble Servant

G: Washington


Jean de Neufville, an Amsterdam merchant with ambitions to act as a financial agent for the American states in Holland, in 1778 entered into a correspondence with the American agent William Lee. To strengthen his hand he also obtained a draft agreement from the city of Amsterdam for a commercial treaty with the United States, which the city soon repudiated and later had reason to regret. De Neufville’s efforts probably contributed to Congress’s decision in October and November 1779 to seek from the Dutch Republic a loan of ten million dollars and a treaty of commerce. The aspect of de Neufville’s involvement in American affairs which eventually led “to the ruin of the Credit of his house” (de Neufville to GW, 19 Aug. 1783) was his dealings in 1780 and 1781 with Commodore Alexander Gillon, the Rotterdam-born agent whom the state of South Carolina sent to Europe to raise £500,000 for the purchase of ships. Upon arriving in Amsterdam from Prussia in December 1779, Gillon arranged to lease a newly built ship and authorized de Neufville to purchase, on credit, the necessary fitting and supplies for the privateer, which was to be renamed the South Carolina. Having difficulty raising money to pay de Neufville, Gillon turned for help to John Adams after Adams arrived in Amsterdam at the end of July 1780. Adams authorized de Neufville to float a loan for the United States. When de Neufville opened the loan on 1 Mar. 1781, only a few Dutch bankers were willing to subscribe. De Neufville got in touch with John Laurens in Paris, and Laurens as an agent of Congress agreed to provide Gillon £10,000 from the new French loan to pay for a part of his purchases and to make available up to £5,000 more to be used in getting Gillon’s ship ready for sea. William Jackson (1759–1828), serving as Laurens’s agent in Amsterdam, permitted de Neufville to spend far more than the £5,000 authorized for additional supplies, which only made matters worse. De Neufville and Gillon having reached a state of mutual distrust, Gillon in July 1781 put to sea in his privateer without endorsing any of the £10,000 in bills to his Dutch creditors, and de Neufville promptly sequestered the South Carolina holdings that Gillon left behind. See Van Winter, American Finance and Dutch Investment, description begins Pieter J. van Winter. American Finance and Dutch Investment, 1780–1805: With an Epilogue to 1840. 2 vols. New York, 1977. description ends 1:24–63.

According to the account that John de Neufville & Son had with the United States, dated at Amsterdam, 10 Aug. 1784, Congress had incurred obligations to de Neufville’s company of 462,405.11 florins since 29 Dec. 1781, while de Neufville in turn had received in payment since 18 Dec. 1781 a total of 455,853.13 florins, leaving a balance owed to de Neufville of 6,551.18 florins. An account with the state of South Carolina of the same date shows charges incurred by the state through Gillon of 199,303.9.8 florins, none of which had been paid (DNA:PCC, item 78). Congress, “in consideration of particular services rendered the United States, during the war of their revolution, by the late John de Neufville,” appropriated in 1797 “the sum of one thousand dollars to Anna de Neufville, widow of the said John de Neufville; a like sum for the use of Leonard de Neufville, his son; and a like sum for the use of Anna de Neufville, his infant daughter” (6 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 29 [2 Mar. 1797]).

1The son, Leonard de Neufville, was later declared insane. GW himself had further dealings with father and son and at one point consulted de Neufville about the possibility of the Dismal Swamp Company’s securing a loan of £5,000 in Amsterdam (GW to Jean de Neufville, 8 Sept. 1785). For further information on the younger de Neufville, see the source note, Leonard de Neufville to GW, 29 June 1789.

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