George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Christian Febiger, 5 December 1789

From Christian Febiger

Phila. Decembr 5th 1789.


Pardon this Intrusion and believe me, when I solemnly aver, that I have no other Motive, than a real Inclination to promote by every means in my power the Prosperity of our dear Country. At the Time, when we first attempted the manufactury of Cotton in this City, I was one, who paid much Attention to it, I usd every Endeavour to obtain Information on a Subject then little understood, This drew me into a Correspondence with various people, among others with Thomas Diggs Esqr. of Virginia1 then in Ireland, from whom I have receivd a Number of intelligent Letters, among others the one inclosd.2 Permitt me Sir to introduce the Bearer of both Mr Thomas McCabe junr of Belfast, he has been here about a Week and much with me, he appears to be a young Man of Probity and well vers’d in his Bussiness, he has won my Friendship, which prompts me to sollicit in his Behalf your Excellencys Patronage & Protection.3

He has a great Desire to bring his Family to this Country, he will more fully explain his Intentions & Motives to your Excellency; if your Excellency will condescend to inform me through Mr McCabe, whether & through what Channel a Loan of the Brass Model mentiond by Mr Diggs could be obtaind, it would lay me under singular Obligations.4

I further beg Leave respectfully to inform your Excellency, that I had lately the honor of being appointed Treasurer of this State, if in that Capacity or as an Individual, I can render any Information or other Service to Your Excellency or my Country; none will more chearfully do it than he, who has the honor to be with every Sentiment, which the sincerest Veneration & Respect can dictate Your Excellencys Most obedient and most humble Servt

Christian Febiger

ALS, DNA:PCC, item 78.

For an identification of Christian Febiger, see his letter to GW applying for a post in the customs, 6 May 1789.

1Under “Virginia” the word “Maryland” appears in a different hand.

2For Thomas Digges’s controversial Revolutionary War career, see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:333. Finding himself in serious financial difficulty at the end of the war, Digges went from London to Dublin where he soon became heavily involved in the investigation of Irish textile manufacture and the exportation of Irish indentured servants and, in defiance of official policy, encouraged the immigration of artisans skilled in the making of textiles to the United States. For an appraisal of Digges’s activities in this field, 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 20:315–22. See also Parsons, “The Mysterious Mr. Digges.” description begins Lynn Hudson Parsons. “The Mysterious Mr. Digges.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 22 (1965): 486–92. description ends The enclosure has not been located.

3Thomas McCabe, Jr., is probably a son of Thomas McCabe of Belfast, Ireland. The elder Thomas McCabe was originally a London watchmaker who in 1777 formed a partnership with Robert and Henry Joy and John McCracken to operate a mill on Francis Street in Belfast. The mill employed some ninety workers, many of them children from the poorhouse, and received substantial government assistance. By 1789 McCabe was associated with William Pearce, an artisan from Manchester, in the invention and development of textile machinery. In 1791 Pearce went to the United States in the hope of securing an American patent on his newly invented loom (Elias, Letters of Thomas Attwood Digges, description begins Robert H. Elias and Eugene D. Finch, eds. Letters of Thomas Attwood Digges (1742–1821). Columbia, S.C., 1982. description ends 423–29, 432–34; Digges to GW, 12 Nov. 1791).

4Febiger may be referring to models of one of Pearce’s inventions, perhaps the one later described by Digges as an invention “for Spining Flax thread (which I saw in a small brass miniature model that convincd me of the principle)” (Elias, Letters of Thomas Attwood Digges, description begins Robert H. Elias and Eugene D. Finch, eds. Letters of Thomas Attwood Digges (1742–1821). Columbia, S.C., 1982. description ends 426).

William Jackson responded to Febiger for GW on 11 Dec.: “The President of the United States directs me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, with the enclosure, which is returned, by Mr McCabe. He is not possessed of such information on the subject of Mr McCabes enquiry, as would enable him to offer any opinion thereon—and, altho’ he is much disposed to promote every undertaking that promises advantage to our country, yet, in this particular case, he thinks that a better judgment may be formed from the sentiments to be collected among the Gentlemen, who conduct the Cotton-Manufactory in Philadelphia, than from anything that could be offered on the subject by an individual, unacquainted with its operations, and incompetent, from other causes, to a decision respecting it.

“Mr McCabes knowledge of the business, his opinions on its probable progress in your City which being the wealthiest and most populous, is the best theatre of observation, combined with the advantages of your acquaintance, are sources of intelligence on this subject far superior to any that the warmest zeal, otherwise unassisted, could furnish—The President, in a conversation with Mr McCabe, learns that he is not anxious to see the model, mentioned in Mr Diggs’s letter, as more recent inventions and improvements have, in some measure, superseded its utility; He desires me to make his acknowledgments for the polite offer you are pleased to make of your services” (DLC:GW).

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