George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Anna Welsh, 12 November 1788

From Anna Welsh

New London [Conn.] November 12th 1788


The readiness which your Excellancy has ever shewn to Assist the Injurd, the distress’d, and the Widow, Induces me tho’ unknown to you, to trouble you on a matter in which I am deeply Interested, the high character you bear would have forever clos’d my mouth in Silence, had not dire necessity forc’d me to make this Application to you as the last resource.

Your Excellancy will per mitt me to relate the matter to you, when I shall leave it with you Sir, to take such measures as your heart may dictate to relieve a widow, whose thankes will be all in her power to return—a widow whose Sufferings for her Country, in the loss of a Husband & Brother, on whom alone She depended for Subsistance, certainly demands Justice, if no more, of that country in whose service both their lives where Sacrific’d.

not to trouble you too much Sir I will begin with my Story—I am the widow of Capt. Jno. Welsh, who commanded the Marines in the unfortunate attack upon Penobscott, in which he lost his life bravely fighting at the head of them 1—The loss of my Husband left me in very disagreeable circumstances, which the kindness of a Brother in some measure relieved, this Brother was Capt. Geo. Hurlbut who commanded a company of light Horse in Sheldons Regt, till in defending a Vessel with Stores in the N[orth] River (for which he had the honour of receiving your Excelys thanks in Genl Orders)2 he receiv’d a wound, under which he languished till the 8th day of May 1783 when he expired—having sufferd the excruciating pain beyond the power of Language to express—this diserving brother having made a Will in my favour, & appointed me Exect., I have applied to Mr Pierce for the Commutation Notes due him, which Mr Pierce once paid out to a Mr James Agent for Coll Sheldons Regt, but finding Capt. Hurlbut miserable life was not continued to the close of the warr, he remanded them & refuses to deliver them tho’ so Small a recompence for a life spent & lost in the service of I am sorry to say an ungratefull Country.3

The State of facts alone I have it in my power to prove—some of them are within your Excelys own knowledge, tho among the many senes in which you have been engaged, this trivial one may have been forgot—To you alone Sir I look for relief having tried every other method without affect for the recovery of the Commutation Notes—Should your Excely think it beneath your notice to interest yourself for me I must Sit down in dispair—Everything Sir is in your power—they will not surely refuse the Saviour of their Country in his application for Justice to a distressed widow—as a reward Sir you will recive the thanks of your Excellancy’s Most Obedient & very Humble servant

Anna Welsh4


1The Penobscot campaign in which marine captain John Welsh lost his life was carried out in July and August 1779 against a partially completed British base near Castine, Maine. The ill-fated expedition was under the command of American generals Solomon Lovell and Peleg Wadsworth and of Capt. Dudley Saltonstall of the Continental navy. The Americans suffered nearly five hundred casualties, and all of the ships on the expedition were lost.

2George Hurlbut (d. 1783), a captain in Col. Elisha Sheldon’s 2d Dragoons, was wounded on 15 July 1781 in a combined French and American attack on British vessels dispatched to seize American supply depots at West Point and Tarrytown in New York. Hurlbut’s gallantry in the action was mentioned by GW in General Orders, 17 July 1781. For GW’s certificate describing Hurlbut’s services, see note 4.

3In March 1783 the Continental Congress provided that “such officers as are now in service, and shall continue therein to the end of the war, shall be entitled to receive the amount of five years’ full pay in money, or securities . . . instead of the half pay promised for life.” Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris was instructed to issue to the officers as soon as they accepted the offer certificates bearing interest at 6 percent (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 24:207–9). John Pierce, paymaster general of the army during the Revolution, was appointed commissioner of army accounts and given the job of settling military claims, a job he held until his death in 1788. Beginning in 1783 claims of individuals against Congress, including those for army pay, were inspected and approved, the claims were then entered on the books of Congress, and final settlement certificates (Pierce’s notes), which became part of the liquidated debt, were issued to the claimant. A statement, dated 19 April 1783, by the officers of Sheldon’s 2d Dragoons accepting Congress’s offer, lists Hurlbut, but a line has been drawn through his name and a notation made that he is “In Hospital at New Windsor” (DNA:PCC, item 149). Elijah James was paymaster for Sheldon’s 2d Light Dragoons during the Revolution. In 1797 Mrs. Welsh petitioned Congress for an allowance of seven years’ pay as the widow of an officer and for commutation and land warrants as the heir of her brother. For the report of the committee rejecting her petition, see Resolutions, Laws, and Ordinances, description begins Resolutions, Laws, and Ordinances, relating to the Pay, Half Pay, Commutation of Half Pay, Bounty Lands, and other Promises made by Congress to the Officers and Soldiers of the Revolution; to the Settlement of the Accounts between the United States and the Several States; and to Funding the Revolutionary Debt. 1838. Reprint. New York, 1970. description ends 156–58. The claim of Hurlbut’s heirs for commutation of pay was not settled until 1834 when an act of Congress allowed his estate five years’ full pay as a captain of dragoons (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 589 [30 June 1834]).

4GW replied to this letter on 8 Dec. 1788, enclosing a certificate of Hurlbut’s service: “I do hereby certify to all whom it may concern, that Captn George Hurlbut of the Second Regiment of Light Dragoons received a wound in the gallant performance of his duty at Tarry Town in the Summer of 1781, of which after having languished in the most exquisite pains until the 8th of May 1783, he expired: And I do hereby farther make known (as my own private opinion) from the very brave manner in which he saved a considerable quantity of stores, by swimming on board a vessel & extinguishing the flames that had been kindled by the enemy amidst a severe fire from their ships (for which he then received my particular thanks in the public orders of the Army) as well as from his having survived until after the war was in fact concluded by the signature of the provisional Treaty of Peace, that the ⟨Heir or Heirs⟩ of the said Ca⟨ptain⟩ George Hurlbut ought, in point of Justice & the reason of the case, to be entitled to the Commutation of his half-pay, in as full a manner as if he had not dyed until after the signing of the definitive Treaty of Peace, or until after the formal disbanding of the Army by a Resolution of Congress[.] In faith whereof I have hereunto signed my name & affixed my seal this 8th day of Decr in the year 1788” (Photocopy, NjP: Edward Ambler Armstrong Collection). Material in angle brackets is taken from a contemporary copy in the Armstrong Collection. For an additional appeal by Mrs. Welsh, see her undated letter to Gideon Granger, DLC: Miscellaneous Manuscripts.

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