George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Sarah Gardner, 16 November 1789

From Sarah Gardner

New-York Monday Novr 16th 1789.


I should pay a very undeserved compliment to the well known goodness of your Excellency’s heart, not to flatter myself, that this address will be deemed, in some degree, pardonable. I shall only observe, that it would not obtrude, but that your Excellency was engaged, when I did myself the honor, this morning, of making a personal application to your Excellency. As the patron of the liberal arts, and that of literature in particular, it would be an Author’s pride, humbly to sue to your Excellency for countenance, and patronage but in the present instance, a more noble cause kneels at your feet for favor, and protection. The cause of humanity. Two helpless innocents (children of the late Mr Ryan comedian)1 experience at this time every distress that can arise from the necessaries of life being tendered them in a very sparing degree, and more especially, a total want of the benefits of education⟨,⟩ that necessary cultivation, to “teach the young idea how to shoot,” and form and improve the infant mind to such acts as do honor to human nature, and make natives of America (for such they are) social citizens of the world. The great obligations which every inhabitant of this delivered, and flourishing country has to the brave defender of her natural liberty, and the glorious protector of her constitutional rights, stimulate them, for their own honour, to attend to whatever your Excellency shall condescend to approve: and the honor of your Excellency’s presence, would insure to these poor orphans, a considerable emolument; which emolument, permit me to assure your Excellency, is to be appropriated solely to defray the expence of schooling, which they greatly stand in need of. It is for their benefit alone, and which benefit, would be publickly advertised, but from a point of delicacy, and the uncertainty of success.

Suffer me further to inform your Excellency, that I would not presume to solicit the honor of your Excellency’s presence but that the entertainment is wholly of the genteel kind, and calculated entirely for the amusement of persons of fashion; and tho’ truly comic, is at the sametime strictly moral. With profound respect, and the most perfect esteem, I have the honor to subscribe myself, Sir, Your Excellency’s most devoted and most obedt Servant

Sarah Gardner.


Sarah Gardner had appeared at the Drury Lane Theatre in London in 1763 under the name of Miss Cheney. She was supposed to have trained under David Garrick and Samuel Foote and had acted at the Covent Garden and Haymarket theaters. She is undoubtedly the same Mrs. Gardner who appeared with the Old American Theatre Company in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1778 (Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, description begins George C. D. Odell. Annals of the New York Stage. New York, 1927. description ends 1:174). Mrs. Gardner gave an entertainment at the City Tavern in New York City on 17 Nov. 1789 and subsequently appeared with the Old American Company at the John Street Theatre, although she was probably not a member of the company (Seilhamer, American Theatre, description begins George O. Seilhamer. History of the American Theatre. 3 vols. 1888–91. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends 298).

1Dennis Ryan and his wife, actors who were probably of Irish origin, began appearing with the Baltimore theater company in 1782, and in February 1783 Ryan assumed management of the company. After a season in New York in 1783, the company returned to Baltimore, and Ryan remained in charge through the 1783 season (Seilhamer, American Theatre, description begins George O. Seilhamer. History of the American Theatre. 3 vols. 1888–91. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends 85, 96, 114). He then apparently found himself in serious financial difficulty and may have considered opening a theater in Richmond. For GW’s marginal involvement in his business affairs, see GW to Alexander Henderson, 20 Dec. 1784, Henderson to GW, 11 Jan. 1785, GW to Bushrod Washington, 22 Jan., 3 April 1785, James Rumsey to GW, 10 Mar., 24 June 1785, and GW to Rumsey, 5 June 1785. Ryan died in Baltimore in 1786. He is occasionally confused with the Ryan who was prompter and actor with the Old American Company in New York during the 1790s.

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