George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Gibbon, 12 February 1789

From James Gibbon

Petersburgh Virga Feby 12 th 1789


Tis not without reluctance I am about to trouble you on a Subject, in which, if rightly inform’d you will shortly become the arbiter.

When I offer it at this early period, I offer it upon a hope that my motive will be consider’d as favourably of as that of other candidates.

The new Government, over which, we are led to hope you will preside, will necessarily have many offices in their gift—From my situation, I’m led, for the first time in my life to offer myself a candidate for public favour—I have hitherto avoided it from an idea that it was incansistant in a young man having few friends to interest in my behalf, having little in myself to recommend me to it, I have only to trust to generall character for success; The little merrett, however, sir, which has heretofore apparantly been necessary to the attainment of it in some degree encourage me now to offer.

From the Elections to Congress of this state an immediate vacancy occurs, in the instance of Coll J. Parker, Collector and navall officer for James river district; this Vacancy will I judge necessarily be early filld up, for this sir I offer; as a place in which the little abillity I possess may be made serviceable.1

If there is any thing in yr little knowledge of me which can justify yr putting me in nomination for this place, I trust there will be nothing in my conduct which will cause you to regrett the good office. Being Sir unaccustom’d to that style, by which men are most likely to succeed in attempts like mine being at the same time perswaded it wou’d be illy applied to you, I offer no appology for the direct manner in which I have introduc’d the subject; to your candour, and a character that is, I trust, at least, free from more than common blemish I rest my pretensions, And Am sir with respect yr Mo. Obt Hmb. Servt

J. Gibbon

P.S. Shou’d I fail in this instance, as there will no doubt be many candidates of superior pretensions, I shall be happy if any thing can afford me the countenance in any other instance of public employ.2


James Gibbon (1758–1835) of Petersburg, Va., had received the brevet rank of captain for his role in the capture of Stony Point during the Revolution. In 1787 Gibbon approached GW for assistance in claiming the commutation of half pay due to him for his Revolutionary War service (Gibbon to GW, 26 Mar. 1787, 16 July 1788). Although GW refused to interfere since he had “no grounds whereon to form an opinion,” he later relented, after Gibbon’s second request, to the extent of commenting on the legal aspects of Gibbon’s claim (GW to Gibbon, 15 April 1787 and 1 Aug. 1788).

1On 20 May 1789 Gibbon renewed his application for the “place of either Collector naval officer or Comptroller of the southern district” of Virginia (DLC:GW). For his “character & abillity” he referred GW to Samuel Griffin, Theodorick Bland, Josiah Parker, John Page, and Isaac Coles, all members of Virginia’s congressional delegation. In letters discussing various applicants for office, Griffin, Page, and Bland included recommendations of Gibbon (Griffin to GW, 9 July, and Page to GW, 14 July 1789, both in DLC:GW). Bland’s undated letter is calendared in Hunt, Calendar, description begins Gaillard Hunt. Calendar of Applications and Recommendations for Office During the Presidency of George Washington. Washington, D.C., 1901. description ends 12, but it is not now among the applications for office in the Washington Papers, DLC. On 3 Aug. 1789 GW nominated Gibbon for surveyor of Petersburg (De Pauw, Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 2:16, 21). Dissatisfied with the post, Gibbon importuned GW, 24 Jan. 1790, for a more lucrative position and on 16 July 1790 applied for a collectorship (DLC:GW). On 6 Mar. 1792 GW appointed him inspector for the port of Petersburg (Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:104), but on 17 July 1792, having heard that the incumbent was about to resign, Gibbon wrote GW applying for the inspectorship of Virginia’s survey no. 3 (DLC:GW).

2For GW’s reply to this letter, see GW to Thomas Barclay, 2 Mar. 1789, n.1.

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