George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joshua Barney, 15 September 1790

From Joshua Barney

Baltimore Septr 15th 1790


On my arrival from the Easternshore I found your Excellency had left Baltimore in the morning of that day.1 By Mr William Smith I was informed you had done me the honor to enquire if he knew my determination respecting the Outfits of Cutters in this Bay for the protection of the Revenue.2 I received a letter from Mr Tench Coxe on that Subject a Copy of which and my Answer I have taken the liberty of enclosing3 to your Excellency, and have now to express my great pain in being obliged to relinquish a Command in which I might again be of Service to my Country, but unfortunately my circumstances will not admit of my confining myself altogether for the Allowance Stipulated by Law. It is for me an unfortunate circumstance indeed. The Inspectors which are the lowest Officers in the Customs have a larger Salary, and are not confined to such severe duty, as they can attend their families and other business, both of which these Officers are deprived. I hope your Excellency will believe me sincere, when I declare my every Ambition is to render service to my Country, but my family require my Consideration, and unless I leave them to suffer, I cannot accept the Commission offered me, upon the present establishment. I have taken the liberty to express myself freely & to lay before your Excellency my true situation, hoping something may offer, in which I may once more be called into public life so as to render services to my Country, and a Comfortable subsistance to large family, And have the Honor to remain your Excells. Most Obt And Very Humble Servt

Joshua Barney


Joshua Barney (1759–1818), a naval hero of the American Revolution, presented the miniature ship Federalist to GW upon Maryland’s ratification of the federal Constitution. He informed the president that he “was Clerk to the Circuit & District Court of this State, but finding that insufficient to maintain a large family, . . . was under the necessity of resigning and going to Sea, that likewise has proved ineffectual,” when he applied for the post of surveyor for the port of Baltimore upon the death of its incumbent, Robert Ballard, on 11 Aug. 1790 (DLC:GW). Barney had served as vendue master for the state of Maryland since November 1789 and previously solicited GW for the position of federal marshal for Maryland, which went to Nathaniel Ramsay in September 1789. Barney unsuccessfully applied to the president on 21 Feb. 1791 for an excise collectorship (DLC:GW), but GW did appoint him captain of one of the frigates authorized by Congress in 1794 (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; see also GW to Joshua Barney, 24 Mar. 1784, source note; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:339; JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 287, n.1; Syrett, Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 7:62, n.3).

1GW left Baltimore at six in the morning, 10 Sept. 1790.

2For the background to the establishment of the Revenue Cutter Service, see Alexander Hamilton to GW, 10 Sept. 1790, n.1.

3On 19 Aug. 1790 Tench Coxe sent Barney an extract of the 4 Aug. 1790 Collection Act and requested his ideas on the Chesapeake Bay revenue cutters. Barney’s 25 Aug. 1790 reply advised that the best use of the two vessels would be to stop all vessels near the mouth of the bay and have revenue inspectors board them at the Capes to examine manifests and cargoes. Barney also noted that in response to Hamilton’s request for nominations for cutter commands he would make inquiries among Virginia revolutionary naval officers and concluded: “There is now in this port three row Boats and ten men at 15 Dollrs pr month each, for the purpose of merely boarding vessells in the harbour to put Inspectors onboard, no doubt every port in the Bay employ such boats & men, if the mode I have proposed is adopted there will not be a necessity for either. This would be a saving more than equal to the Expence of two Vessells” (DLC:GW).

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