George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Thompson, 12 September 1789

From Benjamin Thompson

Morris Town, State of New Jersey

SirSeptember 12th 1789

In expectation that, under the present government of the United States, Congress may shortly find it expedient, amongst other commercial regulations, to establish Consuls at foreign Ports—particularly to the Ports of France & french Islands—and having from a long residence with the french nation, acquired a knowledge of their language, Laws & customs, sufficient I flatter myself to discharge the duties of a Consular trust; Beg leave to offer my services to the consideration of your Excellency, as a person who wishes to be viewed as a Candidate for some such Appointment, whenever the commercial interests of the United States, and the arrangement proper on the Ocasion, may render the Same necessary—But as offices of this nature may most probably fall under the immediate Control and direction of the department of Foreign Affairs, an Application to the Head of that department might perhaps be proper, ignorant however on the subject and totally a Stranger to the gentelman who presides over it, I have ventured to Submit my wish & pretensions to your Excellency, to whom in the early part of the late american war, I had the honor to be somewhat known, although at this day not familiar to your Excellencys memory—The following circumstances may, however, enable your Excellency to call me to your mind.

At the commencement of the late american war, I had then been Seven years a resident in Canada and on the entrance of General Montgomery into that province, was one of the first who took an active part in the Cause of America; consequently with many Others I was compelled to take refuge in, & retreat with the american Army in June 1776. on my arrival at New York in July following, I had the honor to be presented to your Excellency as a person who was thought qualified to enter the British encampment then on Staten Island, with a view to encourage a desertion of the german Troops in the British Service. Afterwards in the same year I was appointed to a command in the Navy, which appearing to afford but little prospect of action at that time, I gave up, for an appointment in the horse Service, in which, in the campaign of Seventy Seven, first as adjutant to Sheldons regiment, and afterwards as acting Brigade Major to Count Pulaski I had sometimes the honor to receive your Excellencys orders—unable to Support my self longer in the Service, in June 1778 I resigned, I have Since held the Office of Commissioner, for Settling the public Accounts between this State & the United States—I have an encreasing young family & but very Slender means for their Support, a circumstance that alone induced me to address your Excellency on this ocasion.

I am well known to the representation in Congress from this State but principally to Messrs Patterson Boudinot, & Cadwallader to whom respecting my qualifications, & conduct in life, I beg to refer your Excellency.1 I have the Honor to be Most Respectfully Your Excellencys Very Obedient Humble Servant

Benja. Thompson


In addition to the military services described in his letter, Benjamin Thompson served as New Jersey’s commissioner of accounts for settling the state’s accounts with the Confederation government from 1781 to 1788. He may be the Benjamin Thompson of New Jersey who was a founder and manager of Hibernia Ironworks in that state in 1785 and the Benjamin Thompson who died in Fairfield Township, Cumberland County, in 1814 (New Jersey Archives, description begins Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey. 42 vols. Newark and Trenton, 1880–1949. description ends 1st ser., 42:423).

1Thompson received no federal appointment in 1789, and in 1790 when consular appointments were being considered he wrote two letters, 30 and 31 Mar., to Thomas Jefferson requesting a post in the consular service (DLC:GW). On 3 April 1790 he reminded GW of his earlier request for a consular appointment. “But I am Still uninformed, sir, of any thing that I may have to hope or expect on the occasion” (DLC:GW). For consideration of Thompson for a consular post, see Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 17:253. Thompson was offered a post in the Canary Islands in 1790, “but as these offices have no direct emoluments, depending for indemnification on the consignments and other business they may produce,” Jefferson wrote, “he has declined accepting any” (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., 3 Aug. 1790, ibid., 298–99). In 1793 Thompson again approached GW. This time, “reduced by a Series of misfortunes, to the necessity of renewing a claim on the United States for a Small pittance due me for a part of my Services during the late Americain War,” he requested GW’s help in proving his Revolutionary War services (Thompson to GW, 9 Jan. 1793, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Papers relating to Thompson’s claim are in DNA: RG 217, Miscellaneous Treasury Accounts of the General Accounting Office, account no. 3667. His quest for payment on his Revolutionary claim appears to have been unsuccessful, but in 1801 he received 640 acres of land under the terms of “An Act regulating the grants of land appropriated for the refugees from the British provinces of Canada and Nova Scotia” (Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends , 6:42–43 [18 Feb. 1801]).

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