George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Furnival, 1 June 1789

From Alexander Furnival

New York June 1st 1789.

The Representation of Alexander Furnival, Most respectfully Sheweth,

That having served the State of Maryland as an Officer in their Artillery almost during the War, and on every occasion Testified his attachment to his Country & the glorious cause of liberty from the earliest period of the late contest, he is induced with every sentiment of respect and veneration to represent to your Excellency, his present situation in life and to express his desire of being thought deserving an appointment in the Customs of the Said state.

Your Representer begs leave to Observe, that his pay as an officer being inadequate to the support of his Family; was induced to Venture considerable property at Sea which fell into the hands of the Enemy[.] The fall of property in Baltimore, the depreciation of paper Currency, together with other unforeseen & unavoidable Misfortunes in Trade, added to the sad change of times, hath so straightened his circumstances and distressed his Family, that he humbly hopes Your Excellency will take his case into consideration and grant him the Office of Collector of the Customs for the Port of Baltimore, or any other appointment to which your Excellency may think him adiquate1—Having served his Country (he trusts) with credit and reputation and demeaned himself as a good Citizen of the Confederated States; he flatters himself he will not be thought undeserving your Excellency’s favour, should he be honoured with a compliance to his request the obligation will ever be most gratefully remembered. And your Excellency will have the heart felt satisfaction of communicating happiness to a Family who have merited and seen better times. Whose duty it shall be to pray, that God will long preserve Your Excellency’s most Valuable Life.

Alexander Furnival


Alexander Furnival, a Baltimore merchant, began his military career in 1776 as a second lieutenant in Smith’s Independent Company of the Maryland artillery, becoming a first lieutenant and then a captain by the end of the year. Meeting him in Philadelphia in 1777, Sally Wister noted in her journals that “he has, excepting one or two, the handsomest face I ever saw, a very fine person; fine light hair, and a great deal of it, adds to the beauty of his face” (“Wister Journal,” description begins “Journal of Miss Sally Wister.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 9 (1885): 318–33. description ends 324–25). After the war he became a prominent Baltimore figure, serving for a time as the city’s postmaster. In 1797 his daughter, Louise Sophia, married Frederick Magnus Amelung of the glassmaking family and his involvement in his son-in-law’s financial affairs led to Furnival’s bankruptcy shortly after the turn of the century.

1On 13 July Furnival renewed his application, “observing with pleasure that the Impost Bill has passed, & in consequence thereof that the appointment of Officers will soon take place. . . . From the Testimonies of several Gentlemen of the first Characters here, which Your Excellency has doubtless received, I am in great hopes of obtaining your Favour & Nomination” (DLC:GW). Furnival’s name appears on an undated list of applicants recommended by William Grayson and on a memorandum dated 22 July 1789 by Michael Jenifer Stone (DLC:GW). No other recommendations for Furnival have been found. By 7 Sept. when he again wrote to GW, most of the customs appointments had been made, and “while the arrangements of the judicial department are under consideration,” he requested GW to consider him for “an appointment in the Federal Court of the State of Maryland; The Office of Marshal or Sheriff would be most agreeable and suitable to my constitution, as I have always been engaged in an active course of life; however I shall chearfully acquiesce in your Excellency’s good pleasure; and if any further recommendations should be necessary, I can readily transmit them; but I humbly hope what has already appeared, will give sufficiant satisfaction” (DLC:GW). On 13 Sept. he wrote again asking the president to “pardon the impatient anxiety of a Husband & Father whose freequent applications have already occasioned too much trouble. . . . And my late very great disapointment will forbid any sanguine hopes, except those which are founded on Your Excellency’s generosity and impartial mode of acting. my being a Briton by birth might be a bar to preferment with little souls, but can never influence the truly great. . . . Having in my late application to your Excellency solicited more particularly for the Marshals Office; to which If I should not Succeed, I would beg leave to enumerate some others which I presume are in the gift of your Excellency; to wit, Clerk of the Federal Court, for the State of Maryland—health Officer for the Port of Baltimore, likewise harbour-Master for the same, should the Office by any new regulations become more respectable” (DLC:GW). Furnival received no federal appointment.

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