George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Barclay, 31 August 1788

To Thomas Barclay

Mount Vernon August 31st 1788


I have received a letter from a Doctr Thomas, of Westmoreland in this State, requesting me to make enquiries respecting Dr Spence and his Lady, who were supposed to be lost at sea, several years ago, and who are now reported to be in slavery among the piratical States of Barbary.

As I knew of no person more likely to give information on the subject than yourself, I have taken the liberty of enclosing to you the Abstract of a narrative made by James Joshua Reynolds at Greenock, and sent to me by Doctr Thomson.

Now, Sir, it will be conferring a great obligation upon a distressed family (for Doctr Thomson married the mother of Dr Spence) if you can give any certain advice, whether such a ship as described ever sailed from Philadelphia and was captured by Pirates, or missing; whether there is any such man as Israel Jacobs in Philadelphia, who has negotiated the ransom of any person in captivity; whether Doctr Spence or any of the Crew or Passengers in question were ever heard of by you while on your public Mission; and, in fine, whether, in your knowledge or Judgement, any credit is to be given to the report—for myself, I am apprehensive, from the circumstances, the story is only calculated to sport with the feelings of the Unhappy—I heartily wish it may not be so.1

An early and full answer from you, will not only be extremely grateful to the persons on whose account I write;2 but also very acceptable to Sir Yrs &c.

Go. Washington


1See Thomas Thomson to GW, 12 Aug., and GW to Thomson, 24 Aug., and notes in both. For Barclay’s mission to Morocco in 1785, see David Humphreys to GW, 1 Nov. 1785, n.1.

2Barclay’s response has not been found, but on 18 Sept. GW wrote Barclay from Mount Vernon: “Sir, Your favor of the 9th instant came duly to hand and I thank you for the information contained in it. Though it will destroy the hopes of a distressed family it will relieve it from painful suspence than which nothing (under the circumstances of the case) could be more disagreeable. I hope this letter will find you perfectly recovered. with great esteem and regard I am Sir, Yr Most Obedt Hble Sert Go. Washington” (LB, DLC:GW).

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