George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Duer, 4 November 1788

From William Duer

New York Novr 4th 1788


Mr Warville who will do me Favor of presenting this Letter, has been particularly introduced to Colo. Wadsworth, Colo. Hamilton, and myself, by our Freinds in France, as a Gentleman truly attach’d to the Interests of this Country, and capable, from his Talents, of making such a Representation of our present State, and future Prospects, as may Efface the unfavorable Impressions, which the Policy of other Countries is industriously making, against our National Character1—To Enable him to Effect this Point I have, as far as it lay within my Power, furnished him with all the Information, I have been able to obtain—as to the Resources of the Country, and the Character, and Sentiments of the People in those States, where I am best acquainted: but as it does not Extend as fully as I could wish to the Southern States, I have taken the Liberty to assure him that he would Experience every disposition on the part of yourself to augment the Stock of useful Information, which he Is already possest of—Colo. Hamilton, who is at present at Albany proposed to have written by Mr Warville; but having left Town suddenly, I take the Liberty of acting as his Substitute—I have the more Pleasure of doing it, as it affords me an Opportunity of Expressing my ardent Wishes for your Health and Happiness, and of assuring you, that I shall at all Times consider myself Your Obliged, and devoted Humble Servt

Wm Duer


After holding a number of local positions in New York and serving a two-year term as a delegate to the Continental Congress, William Duer (1747–1799) was appointed in March 1786 to the Board of Treasury and was elected a member of the New York assembly in the same year. During the late 1780s and early 1790s Duer was heavily involved in the ill-fated Scioto Company and in the speculative banking schemes that resulted in the collapse of his financial empire in 1792. In September 1789, in one of the Washington administration’s most controversial appointments, he was named assistant secretary of the Treasury. During the six months Duer held the post there were widely held and apparently well-grounded suspicions that he was using his office to aid in speculation in government securities and army contracts. He was arrested in New York City for debt in March 1792 and remained imprisoned until his death in 1799.

1Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville (1754–1793), already widely known in France as a journalist and advocate of reform, came to the United States in July 1788, ostensibly to examine the manners and customs of a country for which he had frequently expressed admiration. Brissot planned to write a history of the United States and was considering settling permanently in America. Less well publicized was his role as agent for a group of Franco-American speculators who aspired to purchase the Revolutionary debt owed to France by the United States. Among the speculators were Duer, the Boston financier Andrew Craigie, Daniel Parker, a leading New York businessman, and Etienne Clavière, a Geneva banker who in 1792 became French minister of finance. Brissot had also been instructed to investigate opportunities for investment in land and public securities. Jeremiah Wadsworth (1743–1804) of Hartford, Conn., was at the close of the Revolution one of the new nation’s wealthiest entrepreneurs. He spent the years after the war attempting to find new shipping markets and recouping a number of unsuccessful postwar investments. By 1788 Wadsworth was turning increasingly to speculative financial enterprises, and in December 1788 he was approached by Duer on the combine’s plans to purchase the United States debt to France. Among the letters of introduction carried by Brissot was one of 25 May 1788 from Lafayette to GW, noting that for his history of America Brissot was “very desirous to Have a Peep at Your Papers.” Brissot visited Mount Vernon on 15 Nov. 1788, accompanied by the chevalier de St. Trys (St. Tries, St. Trise, St. Fris), a captain of dragoons in the French army who was also introduced by Lafayette (Lafayette to GW, 4 May 1788; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:424–25).

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