George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Stelle, 1 March 1790

From Benjamin Stelle

Providence [R.I.] 1st March 1790.

May it please the President of the United States

Before this will reach your Hands it is confidently expected that this State will become a member of the federal Union.

Having spent the chief of my time since the beginning of the late War in the public Service, I feel an ambition to receive an appointment under the new Government, as well to promote the public Service, as to find Imployment for myself & Subsistance for a dependant Family. The Credentials accompanying this will more fully explain that it is my wish to obtain an appointment among the officers for collecting the federal Revenue.

Should the President deem me worthy of his Confidence and appoint me to the Place of naval officer for the Port of Providence I should not fail to exert the best efforts in my Power to discharge the Duties of it, with Integrity & Impartiality. With great Deference & Respect I have the Honour to be your most Obedient and very Humble Servant

Benja. Stelle


Benjamin Stelle (1746–1819), a native of New Jersey, graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1766 and moved to Providence where, with the support of James Manning, a friend of his family and president of the College of Rhode Island (Brown), he established a Latin school in the city. During the Revolution Stelle served as adjutant of two Rhode Island regiments and as deputy paymaster from June 1779 to April 1781. By 1790 he had become a prominent Providence businessman, holding a number of offices in local organizations and establishing, with Benjamin Bowen, a chocolate mill and an apothecary shop (McLachlan, Princetonians, description begins James McLachlan et al., eds. Princetonians, 1748–1794: A Biographical Dictionary. 5 vols. Princeton, N.J., 1976–91. description ends 595–97; Heitman, Historical Register, description begins Francis B. Heitman. Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783. 1893. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C., 1914. description ends 381).

On 1 Mar. Dr. James Manning wrote GW a letter of recommendation for Stelle, stating that if “capacity and attention to business, and tried integrity in the discharge of the duties of public offices may be considered as founding any claim to this appointment, he stands, I believe second to none in this competition. From a long and intimate acquaintance I conceive him to be a Gentleman of an independent spirit; and as free from Mercantile influence as any man in Providence He has not sought to come forward supported by a long Catalogue of names, judging that Gentlemen in Trade might be supposed to be biassed by views to future Interest; the two only Gentlemen in this line Messrs Nicholas Brown and John Jenckes from whom he has asked and taken Testimonials, though men of large business have ever borne an open testimony against illicit Trade; and are peculiarly desirous that the officers of the Customs should be men beyond the reach of influence to warp them from their duty; and, I am in sentiment with them, that the man who has sustained the offices which they have mentioned; and, who has yet to receive almost the whole of the compensation for his faithful and approved services, notwithstanding he, for so long a time, had the sole command of the Military Chest for the Eastern department, may with safety be entrusted with the office which he solicits” (DLC:GW). The letter of recommendation from Nicholas Brown and John Jenckes, 25 Feb. 1790, is in DLC:GW. Stelle did not receive the appointment as Providence naval officer, the post going to Ebenezer Thompson. Anticipating a vacancy in the Providence customs office, Stelle again wrote GW on 19 June requesting the post. A letter of 22 June 1790 from John Henry to GW, recommended Stelle and enclosed another supporting letter of 7 June 1790 from James Manning. Stelle again wrote GW on 14 July, this time asking for the appointment as commissioner of loans for Rhode Island. All of these letters are in DLC:GW. The applications were unsuccessful.

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