George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Silas Talbot, 31 January 1790

From Silas Talbot

Johnstown [N.Y.] January 31st 1790


My motives for presuming to address you at this time is to solicit your particular favor & notice so far as to take into consideration the propriety of my being again employed in some public service in case any should offer, in which I might be thought adequate to the performance of.

I have been Informed Sir by a member of Congress, that new arrangements will probably take place in some or all of the principal Harbours in the United States and that in order to carry such Laws or regulations as may be made for that purpose into effect, there will likely be a Harbourmaster appointed to each post:1 should it be deemed necessary to make any appointment similar to what I have before described for the Harbour of New-york, I have the Vanity to believe from my former acquaintance, & present knowledge of Shipping, that I could do the duties of that office And if my abilities might be viewed in so favorable a light I solicit the favor of your Excelly to nominate me to that Office. Should this request be granted I pledge myself to do my best endeavours to justify the appointmt by paying all suitable attention to the duties that shall be required of me in that station I could feign hope that my former services might in some small degree recommend me at this time; And in order that they may more readily occur to your mind, I take the liberty to inclose several copies of Original papers now in my possession;2 besides these if it were necessary, I could have forwarded copies of Three Letters from Major Genl Sullivan wrote to Congress while I was under his immediate command3 in these Letters he is pl[e]ased to mention me to that Honorable Body in terms of high approbation of my conduct as an Officer—I could likewise forward three other copies of Letters from Major Genl Gates to Congress in 1779;4 in these Letters the General was also pleased to hold me up to them in a light very much to my Honour And was it not Sir for taking up too much of your time I could furnish copies of Letters from other General Officers of less rank, & particularly one from the Governor and Council of the state of Rhode Island in the begining of the year 1780 to Congress, stating my services to them, in a manner very flattering to me.

The inclosed Certificates &ce. I trust will be satisfactory in regard to my public character, as to that of my private or the Identity of my persn I must beg leave to refer your Excellency to Major Generl Knox,5 who I trust will be able to give you Satisfactory information on that head.6 I am &ce.

AL (copy), NNGL.

Silas Talbot (1751–1813), a native of Dighton, Mass., moved to Providence, R.I., in 1772 and served with distinction as a Continental officer during the first years of the Revolution, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. Talbot was commissioned a captain in the Continental navy in September 1779 but put to sea as commander of the privateer General Washington in August 1780 after failing to obtain a ship worthy of his rank. He was soon captured by the British and imprisoned at New York and in England until December 1781. After his return to America, Talbot pressed his claims against the government and speculated in Kentucky and Ohio lands. He settled on the forfeited estate of Sir John Johnson near Johnstown in Montgomery County, N.Y., in June 1786 after completing a tour of his western properties earlier that year (Nathanael Greene to GW, 28 July 1776, n.1; Talbot to GW, 8 July 1782, DLC:GW; Schultz, Inventory of the Talbot Papers, description begins Charles R. Schultz, comp. Inventory of the Silas Talbot Papers, 1767–1867. Mystic, Conn., 1965. description ends 1–6).

1Talbot probably had in mind the legislation that the First Congress postponed on 16 Sept. 1789 until its second session, which commenced on 4 January. When a quorum was reached on 7 Jan., the house appointed a committee to consider the unfinished business of the previous session. It reported on 11 Jan., specifically mentioning the bill “prescribing regulations for the harbors of the United States.” On 22 Jan. the joint committee appointed two days earlier by both houses to confer on this and other bills made its report. On 25 Jan. both the Senate and the House resolved “that the business unfinished between the two Houses at the late adjournment, ought to be regarded as if it had not been passed upon by either” (Joseph Willard to GW, 1 Jan. 1790, n.1; 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 3:250, 251, 256–57, 268, 270, 273, 5:939).

2The enclosed copies have not been identified but probably consisted of certificates from Talbot’s former superiors attesting to his exemplary Revolutionary War service.

3These letters have not been positively identified but probably included John Sullivan to Henry Laurens, 31 Aug. 1778 and 31 Oct. 1778 (DNA:PCC, item 160).

4These unidentified letters may have included Horatio Gates to John Jay, 20 July 1779 (not found, but referred to in Jay to Gates, 30 July 1779, DNA:PCC, item 14). See also Jay to Talbot, 18 Sept. 1779, enclosed in Jay to Gates, 18 Sept. 1779 (both in DNA:PCC, item 14).

5Talbot sent a copy of this letter enclosing “copies of several papers” to Henry Knox on the same day, acknowledging “that the success of my present application will very much depend on your friendship being convinced that a word from you to him [GW] in due season will have a powerfull effect on his mind and in my favor, for which I shall ever feel myself under very great Obligations to you” (Talbot to Knox, 31 Jan. 1790, NNGL). No correspondence between Knox and GW concerning Talbot’s application has been found.

6GW appointed Talbot on 3 June 1794 captain of one of the six ships to be procured under “An Act to Provide a Naval Armament,” which commission he accepted on 9 June. Talbot supervised construction of the 44–gun frigate President at New York from Aug. 1794 to June 1796 when work on it was suspended. GW then appointed him an agent to negotiate for the release of American seamen impressed by the British in the West Indies. After returning from Jamaica Talbot assumed command of the frigate Constitution, which he held until retiring from the navy in 1801 (Benjamin Hoyt to Talbot, 2 Feb. 1794, Talbot to Henry Knox, 9 June 1794, Knox to Talbot, 8 Aug. 1794 [first letter], all in CtMyMHi: Silas Talbot Papers; Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:160–61, 213, 274, 275; 1 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 350 [27 Mar. 1794]; Schultz, Inventory of the Talbot Papers, description begins Charles R. Schultz, comp. Inventory of the Silas Talbot Papers, 1767–1867. Mystic, Conn., 1965. description ends 7–11).

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