George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomasin Gordon, 28 November 1789

From Thomasin Gordon

[New York, 28 November 1789]

Worthy Sir,No. 4 Crown Street

The Very distressed and Melancholy Situation I am in at this time occasions my taking a Liberty with your Excellency, which otherwise woud Be unpardonable. I am Sir Confind to My bed, with A Violent fever, in a Strange City, far Remov’d from Every friend and Connection, and have not one Shilling to Support myself, or to buy a morsel of Bread for my fatherless Child, for those two days past. I have therefore app[l]y’d to your Excellency Begging your kind assistance with a few dollars To Save me from Starving. as I Realy have not the Common necessaries of life. the Publick Is Indebted to My late husband Colo. John White of Georgia. but I Cannot Get a Settlement of his Accts till Congress Sits again. for Gods Sake Worthy Sir afford Me a little Assistance. And Reap the Reward in a better World than this, Colo. Alexander hamilton Can make you acquainted With my Character and wretched Situation—with Respect I am Worthy Sir Your Excellencys most obedie[n]t and very distresd humble Sert

Thomasin Gordon

ALS, ViMtvL.

Thomasin Gordon was undoubtedly in New York to pursue her late husband’s claim with Congress. On 22 Aug. 1789 she presented her petition “praying that the accounts of her late husband, Colonel John White . . . deceased, may be liquidated in such manner that his child may receive in common, the benefits which have been granted to the heirs of other officers deceased.” On 21 Sept. the petition was referred to a committee on claims and on 25 Sept. was listed among those referred to the secretary of the treasury to report on at the next session of Congress. Hamilton never reported on the petition, and on 5 Jan. 1795 he enclosed Thomasin Gordon’s name in an alphabetical list of ninety-nine individuals who had submitted petitions on which he had not reported (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 , 3:165, 219, 233, 256; Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 18:13; Petitions, Memorials and Other Documents Submitted for the Consideration of Congress, 70). The list was enclosed with Hamilton’s report to the House of Representatives, 5 Jan. 1795, DNA: RG 233, Reports of the Secretary of the Treasury, 1784–95, vol. 4. John White’s claim was settled under the terms of “An Act providing for the settlement of the Claims of Persons under particular circumstances barred by the limitations heretofore established,” passed 27 Mar. 1792. A certificate for $3,150 was issued on 1 April 1793 and one for $3,553.57 on 4 June 1793 (1 Stat. 245; ASP, Claims, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 392, 394).

Thomasin Gordon’s situation deteriorated after her letter of November to GW. In a letter that is undated but endorsed December 1789 she wrote: “your Excellency w⟨ill⟩ no doubt Pardon the Liberty I have taken in ⟨reque⟩sting Your Charitable Assis⟨tance⟩ To a person Suffering under the Greatest distress In a Loathsome prison—In an Unjust Cruel Manner. By the daughter of My deceased Hus⟨band⟩ Colonel John White, who has Imprisoned Me To Give an account of his property which Woud not pay his debts, as an Inventory Which is in Georgia in the hands of the Register of Probate will fully Shew—Now Sir as I am an Intire Stranger in this City I am not able to Give Security till I Can Send to Georgia to have the Business Explaind I am doom’d to Suffer in this Place both With hunger and Cold. I have not a bed to Lay on nor a Blankett to Cover with nor a Stick of Wood Neither have I a Shilling to Buy my daughter Kitty White nor myself a morsel of Bread—I hope your Excellencys Humane, and Charitable heart will Be open to the Cries of a poor distressd woman Who is Suffering in a Cold prison and afford Me Some Relief—and Reap your Reward in A Better world—your Excellency I hope will Pardon this Intrusion and Impute it to absolute distress and Poverty, and must beg your Excellency Will Intercede ⟨mutilated⟩ those whom providence has Bless’d with ⟨mutilated⟩ to open their Ears to My distress and help me” (ViMtvL). It is uncertain whether or not GW came to her aid with a contribution. There are frequent entries in GW’s ledger of household accounts for sums given to “a poor woman,” to “a poor man,” for “a load of wood for a poor Widow,” “cash given to an Indian,” and recipients are rarely identified by name. See entries under “Contingent Expenses” in the Household Accounts, CtY, for examples.

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