George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William McKennan, 29 May 1789

From William McKennan

May 29th 1789.


Having had the honor of serving in the army during the late War in the Delaware Regiments and the misfortune of being wounded in the action of Germanton, I make bold to approach your Excellency, fondly indulging the hope, that at an unoccupied hour from public and more important business, your Excellency will devote a little of that time to the complaints and sufferings of a private person, and particularly of an Officer who has served under your command.

Finding that my wound, (which has generally broke out once or twice a year,) was in all probability likely to continue troublesome, and having very little dependance but on the unproductive certificates, which were issued to me for my pay, I accepted in the year 1787 of the pension allowed by Congress for the support of disabled Officers & soldiers, which (however well meant by Congress) has been by the policy of the Delaware State as unproductive as my Certificates.1

Being a Malcontent, with respect to the prevailing faction in Delaware, who bestow governmental favor on those alone who bow to them, and in their cause commited such acts of meanness, as would make even a small tenure of honor shrink, I am with all of the officers, and indeed revolutionists in Delaware trampled under foot; Nay we have even become the objects of governmental vengeance, and most naturally turn our views for protection and support to the wisdom⟨,⟩ the justice, and the powers of the union.

That your Excellency may see the injustice done me by the state. I enclose for your inspection a Schedule of the monies paid and due me.

With full confidence, and a firm reliance on your Excellency’s wish to serve an injured and oppressed fellow sufferer. I submit my case, and that of the disabled soldiers in the state of Delaware to your Excellency, hoping that some early relief may be afforded, and that in the arrangement of the national revenue, we may be provided for. I have the honor to be Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient and very humble servant

Wm McKennan

ALS, DNA:PCC, item 78.

William McKennan (c.1756–1810) was the son of the Rev. William McKennan, who emigrated from Ireland to Dragon Neck, New Castle County, Delaware. McKennan served as an officer in a Delaware regiment from 1776 to the close of the war and was a member of the Delaware legislature in the late 1780s and early 1790s. His wife was Elizabeth Thompson, niece of Thomas McKean, chief justice and later governor of Pennsylvania. Postwar Delaware politics were dominated by contention between the radical faction that had advocated a complete break with Great Britain and its political traditions and the moderate and conservative factions committed to the established political institutions. The conservative faction led the state in ratifying the Constitution; but the radical faction, under the leadership of such men as Dr. James Tilton, had not vigorously opposed ratification, and indeed viewed the new government with considerable optimism. Control of the state and its political appointments was firmly under the control of the conservatives led by George Read. Family ties were almost as important as political orthodoxy in securing preferment. McKennan was active in New Castle political and patriotic activities, serving as secretary of the Society of the Cincinnati, as one of the founders in 1794 of the Patriotic Society of New Castle County, and as colonel of one of the county’s independent military companies. Apparently a member of the radical faction and despairing of advancement in Delaware, McKennan moved about 1797 with his family to Washington County, Pa., where he received, largely through the influence of his uncle-in-law, a commission as prothonotary of the court of common pleas for the county.

1To eliminate invalid pensions, Congress had provided on 7 June 1785 that each state should compose a list of all the “officers, soldiers or seamen resident in their respective states, who have served in the army or navy of the United States, or in the militia in the service of the United States, and have been disabled in such service, so as to be incapable of military duty, or of obtaining a livelihood by labour.” The list was to be submitted annually to the war office. All wholly disabled commissioned officers were to receive a yearly pension equal to half their annual pay; partially disabled officers were to receive a yearly pension based on their degree of disability. Noncommissioned officers and privates were to receive a sum “not exceeding five dollars per month” if they were totally disabled, and less seriously disabled were to be paid according to their disability. Much of the responsibility for administering the system was left to the individual states who were to make the payments, with the total paid to be deducted from their annual quotas to the Confederation government (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 28:435–37). With his letter, McKennan enclosed a “Schedule of monies due to Capt. William MKennan, on account of his pension,” showing a balance due of £420.10.5 (DNA:PCC, item 78).

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