George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Littlefield, 24 September 1789

From William Littlefield

Newport [R.I.] 24th Sepr 1789.


I am unacquainted with the mode pursued by Gentlemen of the other States, when they have applied for Offices; therefore hope the President will excuse the Liberty which I’ve taken in addressing him in this manner; nor should I have presumed so far on the subject had Our present Revenue Officers been such as were approved of by the better sort of people. They took no part in the late Revolution, nor have they been friendly to Federal measures.

If the Contrary Character has any Claim for the Collectors Office in this Town when we Join the Union; would beg leave to Observe; that I served my Country upwards of five years in the Continental line of the Army part of which time was in General Greenes family, and in Matters of business was fortunate enough to have some small share of his confidence—When he went to the Southward left a General Power of Atto. with me to conduct his business here; and his last will was deposited in my hands. I must beg leave Sir to trouble you One moment longer by observing that Indisposition alone obliged me to apply for a discharge from the Army. That altho’ I obtained an honorable one, yet forfeited all Claim on the Public for Commutation &c. and that the Notes which I hold against the Treasurer of this State for depreciation of Wages, are forfeited by the Laws of Our present administration.1

As I was young in the Line of the Army, perhaps the President may not recollect me, will therefore beg leave to refer him to General Knox, Colo. Wadsworth and my Sister Mrs Greene respecting my Character. I have the Honor to be with Great respect your most Obdt and Very Humble Servant

Wm Littlefield

ALS, DLC:GW. Littlefield’s letter to GW was delivered by Henry Knox (Knox to Littlefield, 22 Oct. 1789, NNGL: Knox Papers).

William Littlefield (1753–1822), a native of Block Island, R.I., was the younger brother of Catharine Greene, widow of Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene. Littlefield had served with Varnum’s Rhode Island brigade during the early years of the Revolution and in 1779 had become an aide to his brother-in-law. He resigned on 20 June 1780 and returned to Block Island where he fell under suspicion of trading with the enemy although he was later exonerated (Bartlett, R.I. Records, description begins John Russell Bartlett, ed. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England. 10 vols. Providence, 1856–65. description ends 10:45). In 1785 and 1792 he represented Block Island in the Rhode Island legislature. Littlefield received no post in the civil service and later in the 1790s apparently moved to Tennessee.

1In support of Littlefield’s application of office, Jeremiah Wadsworth wrote GW on 15 June 1790, that “I am requested by Captn William Littlefield and his friends to Name him to You as a proper person to be appointed Marshall for the district of Rhode Island. I should not have complied with their request if I had a shadow of doubt of Mr Littlefields fitness for the office” (DLC:GW). Catharine Greene solicited the post of loan officer for Rhode Island for her brother in a letter to GW of 6 Aug. 1790: “Pardon the liberty I take in presuming to address one for whom I have the highest possible respect, and to whom I feel the most perfect homage.

“I have had it on my mind for some time Sir to solicit a favor of you—but timidity has hitherto forbit it. Nor should I have courage to do it now but from the honor of seeing myself and five children reduced to the most humiliating distresses.

“Perhaps Sir you may not be acquainted with the situation of Genl Greenes affairs nor will I presume to take up more of your time than first to tell you that the Laws under the present Government together with Congresses having deferd my memorial places me entirely in the power of my creditors, who are about to seize my Estate—in which case I shall have no possible means of educating my children or of supporting myself.

“My brother Captain Littlefield is the only person whom I could submit to pecuniary obligations his heart is devoted to me and my children, but alas Sir, that heart has been too honorable for his own, or our independe⟨nce⟩.

“The paper money Law of the state in which he lives has impaired his fortune which tho small was sufficient to have allowed some assistance to me, without Embarrassment to himself—but under the present circumstances it would be impossible for me to share with his children, what is bearly sufficient for them. but what his generosity would compell me to do.

“If Sir you should see proper to bestow upon him some office, that of Loan officer, or any other, you see fit, you will sir not only serve an honest and upright man—but preserve from the severest mortification, and perhaps real distress the widow and orphans of a general who by doing more than his du⟨ty⟩ to his country has ruined his family.

“My Partiallity for my Brother may make me see his merits through a false medium but Col. Wadsworth and many other of my respectable friends who know him have the same opinion of his talents and integrity, else I should not dare petition you Sir on this subject.

“Most humbly do I pray you to pardon me Sir for the liberty I have taken and permit me the honor of subscribing myself your most devoted servant” (DLC:GW).

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