George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Porter, 9 April 1788

From John Porter

New York
April 9h 1788

May it please your Excellency.

With the advice of many of my military frinds of rank & respectability I am induced to address this on a subject of which I but too sinsibly feel the misfortune—’Tis that of my discharge from the Army, by a Court Martial for going beyond sea without proper leave for that purpose, &c. which will no doubt immediately occur to your mind; I have been mostly in Europe & the West Indies since the conclusion of the war, but on my return to America some time since, I presented a memorial to Congress praying a restoration to my rank, & the Emoluments to which I might have been intitled had my better fortune prevailed, To this I was recommended & assisted by my military friends, both in & out of Congress, The memorial has been attended to, refered, & is now before a very rispectable Committee, As I have not heard any thing particularly discouraging I hope it will meet with a favorable Issue1—But to put the matter beyond a doubt, I presume to request of your Excellency, (If consistent with your own feelings and Idea of the matter) some kind of recommendation to the indulgence of Congress on this head. If ’tis only to say there is no objection in your mind to any act Congress in their wisdom & goodness may be induced to pass in my favor therein.

Were it possible for this to be done it would give my memorial every success I could wish, & in some measure relieve me from a misfortune, causing the most embittering circumstance of my life. As the army has been long since disbanded I flatter myself there cannot remain an objection in the mind of any Officer to my succeeding in my wishes—Relying on your well known goodness & benevolence I beg leave to submit my case to your consideration—If any assistance can be given me in my present situation with propriety, it will be laying me under a never to be forgotten Obligation.2 Wishing every prosperety & happiness to your illustrious House permit me to Subscribe myself with sentiments of the most profound respect & veneration Your Excellency’s most Obedient & Very humble Servant

John Porter late Major 6 Massts Battln
Address Coffee House New York.


1Porter’s memorial to Congress is dated 26 Mar. 1787 (DNA:PCC, item 41). The committee of Congress to whom Porter’s memorial was referred reported on 10 April: “Resolved that Major Porter be Considered as meriting the Approbation of Congress for his long and faithful Services in the Army untill the time of his Absence which Occasioned his dismission, but that the privileges and emoluments granted to those who continued in the Service to the end of the war cannot be Allowed to him” (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 32:170). Porter, who came from Bridgewater, Mass., died in Port-au-Prince in 1791.

2GW replied from Mount Vernon on 30 April: “Sir, I have received your letter of the 9th instant by the Post, and have found myself not a little at a loss to know how to answer it.

“While rivetted to the toils and perplexities inseperable from the Commission of Commander in Chief; I sought not to avoid trouble, I shunned not to enter into the minutest investigation of innumerable disagreeable subjects—for, unfortunately, in our army, they were but to[o] numerous and too troublesome to my repose. But to rip open again the disagreeable subjects that seemed to be forever closed with the war and my retirement, would be an irksome and an endless employment. I could not think of doing it, unless I would first consent to give up all the prospects of tranquility, which, I flattered myself, awaited the last years of a life, that had been devoted almost invariably to the services of others. The sacrifice would be too great—and the expectation unreasonable. All that I can be expected to do in your case is to observe upon the state of it (not from a recurrence to papers which are packed away but according to the best of my recollection) that your absence from the Army apppeared to be rather the effect of an unaccountable indisection [indiscretion] than of a premeditated criminality; and that, altho’ precedent and the good of service made your dismission indispensable on account of your having gone beyond Sea without a regular permission, your character in other respects stood unexceptionable: insomuch that considerable interest was made in your behalf by Officers of good reputation.

“Upon this State of facts; although it would be highly improper for me to give any opinion to Congress, yet so far am I from wishing to prejudice an impartial examination into the Justice of your applications, that I cannot have the least objection to their investigating and determining the matter, in whatsoever manner may seem most proper to them. In whatsoever manner the business may result, I cannot ever with propriety say any thing more on the subject. I am, Sir, Your most obedient & Hble Servant Go. Washington” (LB, DLC:GW).

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