George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hurt, 24 August 1789

From John Hurt

New York 24th August 1789.


As I presume it can be no very great breach of propriety, to trouble you with a letter, written with respect, I beg leave to mention a few circumstances for your consideration, which I hope, & am persuaded, never came within your knowledge.

I make no doubt that it was in a great measure owing to you, Sir, that Congress did from time to time keep up the hopes & expectations of the officers in the Continental army, by promising to do them justice at the end of the war. Accordingly in the worst of times they made an ordinance allowing them halfpay for life, which included the Chaplains as well as others. But some time after this they did by a commutual agreement allow them five years full pay, in lieu of the half pay for life.1 This included all officers except Chaplains & Surgeons, to the former of whom they allowed very little more than one half of the five years full pay: and the regimental Surgeons, if I am not mistaken, had either Captains, Lieutenants or Ensigns commissions granted them before the Commutation took place, so that no injustice was done them.

After this, Congress did by another law, give & grant a certain quantity of Acres of land lying in a certain district, to all the officers in the Continental army, except the Chaplains, for whom no provision was made by Congress: this circumstance I never knew ’till a few days ago, & cannot help thinking it very unjust: especially when I reflect that this district of country was given to Congress by the State of Virginia.2

I fear, Sir, I may be tedious, but as it is for once only I hope you will excuse me. Had the new government been rejected, I never should have troubled, Congress or myself about any thing of this sort: but when it had taken place, & was put in motion, I did, & still do, hope & think, that it is not too late for the interferance of some friend to justice, who will do them that right, which has hitherto been withheld, or denied to the Chaplains of the American army. If it is thought that, I myself have not deserved this justice, & I know no reason why it should be thought so, yet surely others, have dese[r]ved well of the public.

I conclude by observing that as an American Citizen, I have made known to the Chief Magistrate, what I thought to be an instance of injustice & hardship, bearing upon a few individuals. Should it strike you, Sir, in the same light, & should you have the influence & inclination to remedy it, with convenience & facility, I make no doubt but you will.3 I am Sir, your most obedient Servant

John Hurt

ALS, DNA:PCC, item 78.

John Hurt (1752–1824), a Virginia clergyman, was a chaplain for the 6th Virginia Regiment from 1776 to the end of the war. He received a commission as a chaplain in the United States army in 1791 and served until 1794.

1See Anna Welsh to GW, 12 Nov. 1788. 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 19:68–70, 20:488, 24:207–210.

2An act of Congress 22 Oct. 1787 provided that a tract of a million acres of land in the United States’ western territory be set aside exclusively for satisfying military bounties for veterans of the Continental army (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 33:695–96).

3For GW’s moderately supportive reply, see his letter to Hurt, 28 Aug. 1789, suggesting that “the present Congress is the only Power competent to redress any greivances which may have been suffered by any Individuals or Classes of Men, who have been in the public Service.” Hurt had evidently anticipated GW’s advice since a petition from him, “praying that his claims for services in several military stations, may be liquidated and satisfied,” was read in the House of Representatives on 24 August. On 25 Sept. the committee on claims reported on the petition and it was referred to the secretary of war who reported on 15 Jan. 1790 (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 3:166, 219, 233, 256, 263–64). A copy of Knox’s report is in DNA: RG 233, Reports of the Secretary of War, vol. 1.

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