George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Remsen, 11 May 1789

From Henry Remsen

New York 11th May 1789.


On the return of peace I found my situation so embarrassed by the calamitous events of the War, as rendered me incapable to recommence mercantile pursuits.

This embarrassment was occasioned principally by the receipt of large sums in Continental and State paper money during the first four and an half years of the War, at specie value, for debts owing to me prior to my removal from this City.1 And all commercial intercourse and correspondence between America and Great Britain having been inhibited, it was impossible for me to invest any part of the amount into remittances, in order to discharge the ballances which I remained indebted at the commencement of it.

My actual losses during the late contest, somewhat exceeds Twenty Two thousand Pounds specie—To this sum a large addition may be estimated, if the rents of my own real Estate and my proportion of a family Estate during the war are taken into consideration, and more particularly the great loss which I shall unavoidably sustain on the remaining outstanding debts due to me, the amount of which is very near Nine thousand Pounds, and of which I have but little hopes of ever being able to recover One thousand pounds.

My Creditors, the chief of whom are British, have been very friendly to me, and altho’ they have not pressed for, yet I deemed it my duty to propose, a settlement; by offering them real property and the choice of my oustanding debts, to effect it—In treating on the subject I found that they declined the proposition, and preferred a compromise. This compromise will inevitably lead to a sale of the most valuable part of my real Estate within a short period, and subject the remainder to incumbrance: and indeed I have no expectation of being enabled to accomplish a final settlement, but by the aid of my family connections.

If a firm attachment to, and an uniform solicitude to promote the cause of our Country, during her late struggle with G. Britain—The sacrifice of a large Estate, the earnings of a life devoted to active Commerce since the year 1759—A long and tedious Exile and a numerous family, are circumstances that can have influence, May I hope that Your Excellency will be pleased to countenance my application for some appointment, the emoluments of which may enable me to maintain my family and educate my younger children—And in the discharge of which, commercial experience, a knowledge of accounts, and Integrity are considered as the leading requisite qualifications.2

In making this application I beg leave to assure Your Excellency, that it is neither my wish nor desire to prejudice the just pretensions of others, or to supercede any Gentlemen, who may now hold an Employment under the late Congress; or any who is in the exercise of any Office under this State.

From the time of the Stamp-Act—during the period of the non-importation agreement, and the subsequent troubles: until the present moment, I can with pleasure appeal to my fellow Citizens for my Moral and political character, and, should Your Excellency be pleased to make enquiry, either of his Excellency Governor Clinton, The Honble John Jay—His Honor Chief Justice Morris, or his Honor James Duane, I entertain sanguine hopes that satisfactory information can be obtained respecting both. Permit me to add that I have no doubt of procuring proper guarantees, for the faithful discharge of any trust I may be honored with, should the same be required. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect and esteem Sir Your Excellency’s Most Obedient and Most Humb. Servt

Henry Remsen


Henry Remsen (1736–1792) was a New York merchant dealing in dry goods. Remsen’s son, Henry Remsen, Jr., served as chief clerk in the Department of Foreign Affairs during the Confederation and as chief clerk in the State Department after the institution of the new government. At this time Henry Remsen, Sr., was living at no. 8 Hanover Square in New York City.

1After the British occupation of New York Remsen took his family to Morristown, New Jersey. He wrote George Clinton on 21 Feb. 1780: “I have taken a resolution of removing my Family, next spring, either to Philad’a, Baltimore, or Alexandria in Virginia,” and so he may have moved elsewhere in the early 1780s. At that time, Remsen informed Clinton, he had been “an importer of European Goods from 1759 to 1775 and in the West Indian Trade for 12 or 14 years before our serious troubles commenced. . . . I have at present correspondents in Boston, Hartford & other places in Connecticut, Philadelphia, Baltimore & in Charles Town; also in Amsterdam, & at Bourdeaux in France, and that it will be no difficult matter to procure from the French Ambassador, an introduction to commercial Houses, in any seaport Town, or city in France” (Hastings, Public Papers of George Clinton, description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends 5:507–8).

2Writing again to GW on 30 July 1789 Remsen elaborated on his wartime services: “Apprehensive that the several Trusts with which I have been honored since the Peace, by being deemed lucrative as to Salary or Compensation, may operate unfavourable to the Application for an Appointment . . . I now take the Liberty to mention what they were, and the emoluments that have arisen from them, in order that it may be seen that they were rather honorary than profitable.

“As joint Commissioner with Peter V. B. Livingston Esqr. to count, cancel and destroy a great quantity of different sorts of paper money, which was in the Treasury at the Close of the War; and as one of the Commissioners for printing, numbering and signing the first Emission of Bills of Credit of this State—I have received for those services, only Forty Nine pounds.

“As one of the Committee appointed by the Legislature to assist the Auditor in the investigation and adjustment of Accounts and Claims of a complicated and doubtful nature; as one of the Commissioners appointed to regulate the Streets and Buildings in that part of the City which was burnt while the British were in possession of it; And as one of the Commissioners appointed to examine every half year the State of the Treasury, and the Treasurers accounts, to count the money actually therein at each period, and to make Report thereof in writing to the Legislature—I have received no Pay nor Gratuity; Altho’ in discharging the Duties of those several Trusts, and particularly that of assisting the Auditor to examine voluminous and intricate Accounts and doubtful and suspicious Claims, I have spent much time and been at much trouble.

“As Interpreter and Translator of the Low Dutch Language to Congress, since the 30th March 1785, I have received no more than Fifteen pounds and six pence.

“The loss of a Fortune, competent, (I may say affluent) which the Almighty had been pleased to crown my Industry; during the late war, in consequence of the political part I took; my present inability to recommence Mercantile or Manufacturing pursuits; And the Anxiety of a parent for the support of a numerous family, and the education of his younger children, are considerations, that impel me, most earnestly to solicit Sir, your attention to my Situation, and I trust, will have their due weight with you.

“Suffer me, Sir, to mention, that my experience of Commercial Affairs in general, and of Accounts and calculations, and my ability to transact business wherein the Low Dutch, or French Languages are necessary, may be useful in the Customs; but that I shall gratefully accept a Place in that, or any other Department, to which I may be appointed” (DLC:GW).

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