George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Ohio Company Committee, 13 June 1789

From the Ohio Company Committee

Newport State of Rhode Island June 13th 1789


A vacancy having taken place, in the Bench of the Judiciary of the Western Territory, by the Death of the Honorable Judge J. M. Varnum, formerly a Citizen of this State;1 We beg leave, as a Committee of the proprietors of the Ohio Company, in this State, & in their behalf, to Mention to your Excellency, Benjamin Bourne Esqr., Counsellor at Law, in this State, as a Gentleman properly qualified to supply that vacancy. Allow us Sir to add that Mr Bourn’s abilities as a Civilian, his integrity in Public & private life, fully intitle him to our warmest recommendations.2

We presume that this our Nomination, will be acceptable to the Proprietors in General, as those in this State hold more than a fourth part of the purchase of said Compay & have distinguished themselves by their attachment to the interest & the promotion of the settlement of the Western Territory there.

Permit us Sir to assure your Excellency that the proprietors of the Ohio Company in this State are Warmly attached to your person & the excellent Government at the head of which you preside And most anxiously wait for the moment to arrive when the Infatuation & misconduct of the Rulers of this State may cease to prevent us from being partakers of the full benifits resulting from the Wisdom & Justice of your Administration. We are Sir with sentiments of the most perfect Esteem & veneratn Your Excellency’s most Obt & very Humble Sevts

LS, DLC:GW. This letter was signed by Nicholas Brown, William Greene, John Jenckes, Jabez Bowen, John Brown, Theodore Foster, William Bradford, William Vernon, David Olyphant, Isaac Senter, Peleg Clarke, Thomas Rumreill, William Arnold, Peter Turner, Jeremiah Olney, and Thomas Hughes.

The Ohio Company of Associates was organized in March 1786 mainly as the result of the efforts of two Revolutionary War generals from New England, Rufus Putnam (1738–1824) and Benjamin Tupper (1738–1792), to purchase land northwest of the Ohio River. The company chose Manasseh Cutler (1742–1823) to present the company’s petition to the Continental Congress. As a result of an ill-conceived alliance with the dubious promoters of the Scioto Company, the Ohio Company was able to acquire from Congress for $500,000, some of it payable in depreciated government securities, the rights to some 1.5 million acres of land lying just west of the Seven Ranges (“Indenture between the Board of Treasury and Manassah Cutler and Winthrop Sargent,” 27 Oct. 1787, in Carter, Territorial Papers, description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends 2:85–88). See also 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 33:701–2. In spite of the company’s failure to complete payment for the land, Congress later granted additional thousands of acres. In 1788 the company established the first successful settlement in the Northwest Territory at Marietta. By 1789 some two hundred and fifty shares of company stock had been sold, many of them to prominent New Englanders.

1After a distinguished military career during the Revolution, James Mitchell Varnum (1745–1789) resumed his law practice in Rhode Island and served intermittently in the Continental Congress during the 1780s. Varnum was a director of the Ohio Company and, probably to further the company’s interests in the area, accepted in spite of his ill-health an appointment in 1787 as one of the judges in the newly created Northwest Territory. He died at Marietta on 10 Jan. 1789.

2Benjamin Bourne (1755–1808), a native of Bristol, R.I., graduated from Harvard in 1775 and served briefly during the Revolution in a Rhode Island brigade. He was in the Rhode Island legislature from 1780 to 1786, serving as clerk of the assembly from 1781 to 1786. As a member of the Rhode Island Ratifying Convention, he was a strong supporter of ratification. After the admission of Rhode Island to the Union in 1790, he was elected to Congress. In 1796, when the office of district judge of Rhode Island fell vacant, Jabez Bowen wrote recommending Bourne for the post. See Bowen to GW, 30 Sept. 1796. GW appointed Bourne and in 1801 he was one of John Adams’s midnight appointees to a higher position in the federal judiciary (Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:217, 381).

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