George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Elbridge Gerry, 26 July 1790

From Elbridge Gerry

New York 26 July 1790


I received a letter from Samuel Russell Gerry Esqr.1 to the Secretary of the Treasury requesting to be nominated to the President of the United States for the office of collector for the Port of Marblehead. his application was made in this mode as he writes me, because not being informed on the subject he was doubtful whether candidates from a principle of attention & respect, with which in his opinion too great a degree of familiarity does not comport should apply in any other mode than thro the head of the department. during the war he was requested by the General Court to provide for troops stationed in that quarter, & gave such perfect satisfaction as to have been remarkable for the accuracy & justness of his accounts, in which he is compleat. he was in every occasion at the call of his country, being at the R. Island expedition & other places. he was appointed naval officer & having served one year resigned it in expectation of a better office under the United States. his conduct therein was as satisfactory to the State as in the other instances mentioned & he is now collector of excise for that place. the voluntary petition2 of the merchants & traders of that place, is an evidence that whilst his conduct in office has been ever approved by Government, it has not been less so by those over whom he has been placed, whose esteem by a mild & decent behaviour he possesses in a high degree. the subscribers to that petition, some of whom are the wealthiest citizens of the place, form as I conceive by far the greatest part of the commercial property thereof. if recommendations out of the town are necessary, to my knowledge he can procure them from the first characters of the State; but as circumstances may not admit of delay, I think it my duty, sir, altho he is a brother, indeed the only one I have & for whom I have a tender regard, to say as I can with great Truth, that he is a man of strict honor, probity & assiduity; & in every respect equal to this office, & that for his conduct therein I pledge myself to be responsible.3

I have sir with reluctance troubled you in this occasion, but am sure your feeling heart will pardon these effusions of friendship, altho their object is the promotion of a brother as well as of the public service: & whatever may be your decision thereon, You may be assured, that with the highest sentiments of respect & esteem I remain sir Sincerely your affectionate & very humb. Sert

E. Gerry


As a congressman from Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814) was a firm supporter of Hamilton’s funding and assumption measures in the House of Representatives during the second session of the First Congress. On 30 June 1790 his brother Samuel Russell Gerry of Marblehead wrote him of the death that day of their sister Elizabeth and sent the regards of her husband Burrill Devereux, a rival candidate for the vacant Marblehead collectorship. In support of his brother’s candidacy for that post, Elbridge wrote also to Vice-President John Adams on 26 July 1790, noting that as commissary and state naval officer, Samuel Russell “gave great satisfaction to the inhabitants of the town as well as to the State and his reputation was so fair with the General Court as that a member of the Committee for liquidating accounts informed me, whenever Mr Gerry’s accounts were presented they were so fair and so well vouched as to require but a few moments examination” (Samuel Russell Gerry to Gerry, 30 June 1790, MHi: Samuel Russell Gerry Papers; Elbridge Gerry to John Adams, 26 July 1790, DLC: Gerry Papers; see also Devereux to GW, 15 July 1790).

1Samuel Russell Gerry (1750–1807) was the youngest child of wealthy Marblehead merchant and Whig Thomas Gerry (1702–1774). Thomas’s sons took over their father’s business and politics upon his death. During the Revolution Samuel Russell served as a member of Marblehead’s committee of correspondence, as commissary for the troops stationed there, and as second lieutenant in the militia. He also watched over brother Elbridge’s business affairs while Elbridge served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. British captures of Samuel Russell’s merchant ships and privateers during the war and unsuccessful investments in fishing vessels after it wiped out Samuel Russell’s inheritance and left him at least $1,400 in debt in the 1780s, when he was the state’s naval officer at Marblehead. His hopes that the federal collectorship would help him pay off his creditors and feed his wife and five children were ill founded. Because the office’s emoluments depended chiefly upon the economic health of the port, and as Marblehead’s economy, as well as that of other fishing villages on the Massachusetts coast, had not yet recovered from the devastation of the Revolutionary War, Samuel Russell earned only a bare subsistence at the post (Elbridge Gerry to Thomas Jefferson, 9 Aug. 1802, DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers; Billias, Gerry, description begins George Athan Billias. Elbridge Gerry: Founding Father and Republican Statesman. New York, 1976. description ends 124, 126, 131; Smith, Journals of Ashley Bowen, description begins Philip Chadwick Foster Smith, ed. The Journals of Ashley Bowen (1728–1813) of Marblehead. 2 vols. Boston, 1973. In Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts Collections, vols. 44–45. description ends 525, 654, 671).

2Gerry may have enclosed the recommendation of his brother signed by fifty-seven Marblehead merchants and traders (Robert Hooper et al. to GW, 16 July 1790, DLC:GW).

3Gerry later had cause to regret his pledge. GW appointed Samuel Russell Gerry as collector of the port of Marblehead on 2 Aug. 1790, the Senate confirmed the nomination the next day, and Lear sent his commission to Alexander Hamilton on 4 Aug. to be forwarded to the successful applicant. Samuel Russell’s tenure in the office was not a happy one. His official accounts were irregularly kept, and his occasional reports to his superiors obscured his delinquency until Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin sent an agent to investigate in November 1801. As a result of the investigation, a discrepancy of $3,831 was discovered. President Jefferson had Samuel Russell removed from office, despite the pleas of Elbridge, who claimed his brother was “an unfortunate, but honest man” who “had never squandered a farthing of the public money” but was a victim of partisan politics. Elbridge, who had entered into suretyship for his brother, still owed the United States nearly $6,792 three years after Samuel Russell’s death in 1807, a burden that contributed to his own financial difficulties (GW to the U.S. Senate, 2 Aug. 1790; Lear to Hamilton, 4 Aug. 1790, DLC:GW; Elbridge Gerry to Jefferson, 9 Aug. 1802, and Jefferson to Gerry, 28 Aug. 1802, both in DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers; Columbian Centinel [Boston], 28 Mar. 1810; 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 2:84, 85; Billias, Gerry, description begins George Athan Billias. Elbridge Gerry: Founding Father and Republican Statesman. New York, 1976. description ends 243, 305–6).

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