George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James B. Nickolls, 28 April 1789

From James B. Nickolls

New York, April 28th 1789.


Amongst the numerous applicants for appointments to office, I beg leave to offer myself a Candidate for that of Collector of the Customs at the Port of Norfolk & Portsmouth in Virginia, the latter has been my residence for four Years past in which I have real property, & I flatter myself I possess so much the good will of the People, there, as to be perfectly agreeable to them in the Office I solicit.

For my Character, I beg leave to referr You to the Honble Robt Morris Esqr. Senator for the State of Pensa Thos Fitzsimons Esqr. representative for the same & Josa Parker Esqr. representative for Virginia. This mode of application, which involves the trouble of inquiry on your part, is Such, I am informd, as you desire to recieve in preferrance to letters of recommendation in favor of the persons applying. For this publick favour I acknowledge I have no further pretensions, than a Confidence in my ability to discharge the duties of the Office, & a Consciousness of my integrity, of which you will be more fully informd by the Gentlemen allready referr’d to.

I have only to add that the Security you may please to require from me, shall be given at any time you may think proper. With real respect I have the honor to remain Sir Yr Mo. Obedt & very Humble Servant

Jas B. Nickolls


James Bruce Nickolls (Nichols), who was living in Portsmouth, Va., at the time this letter was written, apparently moved to Alexandria during the 1790s and went into business there. He failed to receive a federal appointment, but in the latter part of the decade he and his wife visited Mount Vernon a number of times, occasionally in the company of his sister, the widow of John Swanwick, who wrote GW a letter of recommendation for Nickolls (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:263, 287–88, 317, 336, 349; Swanwick to GW, 22 April 1789, DLC:GW). Swanwick wrote: “this Letter I expect will be presented to your Excelly by my Brother in Law Mr James B. Nickolls of Portsmouth in Virgi⟨nia⟩ ⟨mutilated⟩ a Young Gent. of whose good Qualities a⟨mutilated⟩ ⟨mutilated⟩ence in business I have had Constant proofs for some years past.” For fuller references he referred GW to Thomas FitzSimons, under whom Nickolls “was educated,” and to Josiah Parker, the former collector at Norfolk who had just been elected to the House of Representatives. Swanwick wrote James Madison, 22 April 1789, stating that his brother-in-law went to New York “with a view of sollicking the appointment of Collector of Customs at Norfolk in the State of Virginia” (Rutland, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 12:104). In a letter to GW of 1 July 1789, Parker mentioned Nickolls as a likely candidate for naval officer or collector of the customs (DLC:GW). The post at Norfolk went to William Lindsay.

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