George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Robert Ballard, 1 January 1789

From Robert Ballard

Baltimore January 1st 1789


I flatter myself the period is not far distant when we shall see the new Government in motion, and your Excellency elected President of the United States by the unanimous Voice of their grateful Citizens. I entreat your forgiveness in thus early soliciting an appointment under the new Constitution. I have been urged to the measure by a sad reverse of Fortune, and emboldened by the Idea of your disposition, to relieve the sufferings of the unfortunate soldier.

My Attachment and Love for my Country have been uniformly ardent and sincere, and though I presume not to claim equal distinction with many other Officers who had the Honor of serving under your Excellency’s Command, yet I humbly hope even my services will not be wholly forgotten. Early in the late glorious Struggle for Peace, Liberty and Safety, sacraficing as well pecuniary as other Considerations, I steppd forth a Volenteer to oppose the Depredations of Lord Dunmore, near Williamsburg; after which I received an appointment to command a Company in the First Regiment raised in Virginia, which I speedily recruited and marched to Camp—resigning at the same time the Clerkship of Mecklenburg County, a lucrative place which I purchased of John Tabb Esqr. the then Clerk after serving five years.1

During the infatuation which generally prevailed in this Town for purchasing Lots, I was unfortunately drawn in to speculate to my distruction, and by one ill-fated step, I lost all I had acquired, which hath left me, with a Wife and a number of small Children, destitute of the means of a comfortable support.2 Thus circumstanced, Sir, if I might venture to name the Office I should prefer, I would solicit the Clerkship of the Federal Court, as I flatter myself my past Experience would enable me to discharge its Duties with propriety. If I should be so fortunate as to meet your Excellency’s Patronage on this occasion, I shall consider it the happiest Event of my Life, and my Children may live to thank their generous Benefactor. I fear your Excellency will think me premature in thus early addressing you on this subject—but I trust my necesstous situation will plead my excuse.

I will no further obtrude on your Excellency’s Time than to add the anxious hope that my true Federal Principles will have some Influence with the Friends of the Federal Constitution,3 and that I am with the greatest Deference Your Excellency’s Most Obet hum. Servt

Robert Ballard


Robert Ballard (d. 1793) served with the Virginia forces in the Continental army during the Revolution, rising to the rank of colonel before his resignation in 1779. GW wrote a noncommittal reply to this letter from Mount Vernon on 2 Mar. (GW to Thomas Barclay, 2 Mar. 1789, note 1). Ballard renewed his application for a clerkship in the federal court on 30 May, and on 25 June he wrote GW of his willingness to accept an appointment as surveyor of the port of Baltimore if a clerkship was not available. In August 1789 Ballard received the appointment as surveyor and in 1791 assumed the duties of inspector of the port as well. For his complaints that he was not adequately compensated for either post, see Ballard to GW, 4 Sept. 1791.

1In his letter of 30 May Ballard added this summary of his Revolutionary career: “It was my fortune to be on the heights of Haarlem—the White Plains—the celebrated retreat through Jersey, and the memorable enterprize of Trenton—Here I received Orders from Lord Sterling major General for the day to march the captured Troops off the field. I was next at Brandywine—and shared in the defence of Fort Mifflin till the last day of that Seige, as well as in all the hardships of the Winter at Valey Forge” (DLC:GW).

2On 13 July 1780 Ballard married Rebecca Plowman of Baltimore. He noted in his letter of 30 May that not only his own funds had vanished in the Baltimore lots speculation but £1,600 belonging to his wife.

3Three prominent Baltimore federalists attested to Ballard’s “Federalist Principles.” James McHenry wrote to GW on 17 April that the appointment of Ballard, among other candidates, would “give great joy to the federalists of this town.” McHenry also indicated that he was persuaded “that he [Ballard] is competent to the business of the office, and . . . that he will execute it faithfully.” Samuel Smith affirmed on 24 June that Ballard’s appointment “will give Satisfaction to almost all the respectable Merchants in this Town—but especially to all those who have been the friends of the present Government,” and on 5 July Otho Holland Williams wrote GW that Ballard “has generally (I believe uniformly) acted, with the friends to order, and good Government.” All of these letters are in DLC:GW.

Index Entries