George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Jackson, 19 April 1789

From William Jackson

Philadelphia April 19th 1789.

Amidst the important cares which engage his attention, will my dear General permit the respectful intrusion of a private request on his goodness? it is the result of an implicit confidence in that goodness, dictated by necessity and declared with candor.

Having resolved to refer my wishes entirely to the graciousness of Your Excellency’s disposition towards me, and to the knowledge which observation may have afforded you of my character and conduct, I shall employ no other advocation than the enclosed letter—nor will I presume to trespass farther on your leisure than briefly to state the circumstances which have led to my present situation in life, and most respectfully to offer the reasons why I am solicitous to profit from the favorable sentiments which your Excellency has been pleased to express in my behalf—I cannot doubt that you will pardon this freedom; and I fondly hope to experience the heartfelt satisfaction of receiving your patronage, which is the first wish of my mind, either as it concerns my happiness or interests my ambition.

Entering into the Army, at the early age of sixteen, it was my lot to pass eight years, the most interesting of my life, in the service of my country—The expence, necessarily induced, to support the character of an officer nearly exhausted my patrimonial pittance, and left me no other consolation, at the close of the war, than the consciousness of having faithfully done my duty. Collecting the remnant of my property I embarked in commerce, which, being neither congenial to my temper, nor favorable to my fortune, I was forced to abandon. Pursuing the advice of my particular friends I then entered upon the study of the law; which profession I have prosecuted to admission into the inferior Courts: but, the rules requiring a longer term of two years probation before I can practice in the supreme-Court (to which a late act of the Legislature has nearly transferred all process)1 I find myself denied the opportunity of employing any talents I may possess, or of excercising that industry, which a slender fortune, spent in public employ, has left as my sole resource against indigence and unmerited misfortune.

Under these circumstances I have determined, my dear General, to resort to your friendship—flattering myself that you will be equal⟨ly⟩ at liberty to exercise it consistently with your opinions ⟨of⟩ public propriety and private regard. To say that ⟨I⟩ cast myself entirely on your goodness, is but faintly to declare the confidence which my belief of your generous sentiments has inspired—To go farther, and without the previous interference of a single friend, to express my anxious wish of being employed under your immediate and personal direction is indeed presumptious: but, as it engages every solicitude of my mind, I cannot resist the impulse of honorable ambition, which prompts the presumption.

I should not, my dear General, have troubled you to peruse the enclosed letter, had not my station, in the southern department, denied me the honor of exercising my military functions under your immediate observance—They were executed (I trust the declaration partakes not of vanity) in such manner as to obtain the approbation of my General, and to procure for me the inestimable friendship of my beloved Laurens.2 should they be crowned with the distinguished favor of Your Excellency’s regard, I shall never regret that I have toiled, bled, and been impoverished, in the service of my country—and the affliction that has followed the loss of my much lamented Friend will receive the grateful alleviation that Your Excellency’s remembrance of his worth has conducted me to happiness and honor.

My endeavors to be useful to that best of friends in his special mission to the Court of Versailles—and my subsequent agency in forwarding the supplies from Holland, are I believe known to Your Excellency—should they, or any other of my services contribute to obtain a gracious acceptance of this address, I shall hope the honor of a short interview, in which I fondly and anxiously trust it will be my happiness to receive your commands. No consideration can enhance the respectful affection, with which I am, Your Excellency’s obliged, faithful, and devoted Servant



William Jackson (1759–1828) was born in Cumberland, England, and before the Revolution immigrated to Charleston, South Carolina. During the war he served under Maj. Gen. Robert Howe in the expedition against St. Augustine, and after Benjamin Lincoln took command of the army in the South Jackson became one of his aides. He was taken prisoner at the fall of Charleston and after his exchange served with the 1st South Carolina Regiment. After his return from a mission to France (see note 2), Jackson studied law in Philadelphia and was admitted to practice in the court of common pleas in June 1788. He was an active member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati and acted as secretary to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Jackson joined GW’s staff as secretary in September 1789 and retained the post until 1791 when he resigned to resume his law practice and engage in various business enterprises.

1In 1788 a new rule concerning practice before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stipulated that “no person shall be hereafter admitted to practise as an Attorney or Counsellor in this court, unless he hath served a regular Clerkship within this State to some practising Attorney, or Gentleman of the Law, of known abilities, for the term of four years, and afterwards practised as an Attorney in some of the County Courts of common pleas for the term of one year; or served such Clerkship for the term of three years, and practised two years” (Rules and Orders for Regulating the Practice of the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania . . . Made and Established by the Chief Justice and His Associates . . . in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-Eight [Philadelphia, 1788], 3–4). In 1787 the Pennsylvania legislature passed “A Supplement to the Act, entitled, ‘An Act for the more speedy and effectual Administration of Justice,’” making it easier for cases to be appealed to the supreme court (Laws Enacted in the Second Sitting of the Eleventh General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [Philadelphia, 1787], 199).

2John Laurens (1754–1782), the son of Henry Laurens of South Carolina, served as volunteer aide-de-camp on GW’s staff from 1777 to 1779 when he resigned in favor of active service in the South. After the fall of Charleston he was briefly a British prisoner. In December 1780, after his exchange, the Continental Congress appointed him envoy extraordinary to France. His mission, moderately successful, was designed primarily to bring the needs of the army to the attention of the French court. Jackson, who served with Laurens at the siege of Charleston, accompanied him to France as secretary and was dispatched by Laurens to Holland to oversee the shipment of supplies to Congress. After his return from France, Laurens rejoined the army and was killed in a minor skirmish with the British near Combahee Ferry, S.C., in August 1782.

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