George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Stephens Smith, 7 December 1790

To William Stephens Smith

Philadelphia December 7th 1790.


As I find the duties of your office can be executed by a deputy during your absence, and the business which calls you to Europe appearing to be important to your private interest; I feel a pleasure in complying with the request for leave of absence made in your letter of the 1st Inst., and sincerely wish you a pleasant voyage—a prosperous completion of your business & a happy return to your Country1—With very great esteem & regard I am Sir Yr Mo. Ob. St


Copy, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

1William Stephens Smith, U.S. marshal for New York, wrote to GW from New York City on 1 Dec. 1790: “The situation of some private affairs of my family, which Mr King will do me the honor of explaining to The President, obliges me to leave my Country and friends on a visit to England, where I flatter myself I shall be able to settle the business which forces me there, so as to return with the march Packett, the vessel in which, I propose to embark sails in the course of the ensuing week—The President I flatter myself will excuse my not addressing him sooner on this Subject when I assure him, that I had no Idea of the necessity of the movement nor in the least contemplated it, previous to yesterday noon.

“With respect to the business of the office which I have the honor to fill, I will only observe, that the enumeration act of the last session, is in perfect train of execution, and as to the executive business of the Courts, with permission, I shall leave it in charge with my Brother Justus B. Smith, (connected with the other Deputies appointed,) who from being constantly with me in the office is fully competent to the discharge of its duties, and for which I shall consider myself responsible—should this latter arrangement not be agreable to The President and he should think proper to appoint some other Gentleman to fill the office previous to my return, I shall as I have been accustomed to do, bow with respect to his arrangements” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Justus Bush Smith (d. 1816) was the younger brother of William Stephens Smith. This formal exchange between Smith and GW reveals nothing of the more important purpose of Smith’s trip to England, which was to act as an unofficial emissary to the British ministry (see William Stephens Smith to GW, 6 June 1791). Smith was married to Abigail Amelia Adams, daughter of John and Abigail Adams, and his unexpected departure caused considerable concern in the Adams household. On 12 Dec. 1790 Abigail Adams wrote to Mary Cranch: “I have a source of anxiety added to my portion on my dear daughters account, Col. Smith having saild last week for England. His going was sudden and unexpected to us, but some private family debts which were due in England to his Fathers estate was one motive, and some prospect of assisting his Family by his voyage was a still further motive. I do not know what has really been the cause why he has been so poorly provided for in the distribution of offices. The P[resident] has always said that he was sensible to his Merrit & meant to Provide for him, but has not yet seen the way open to do it; She, poor Girl, is calld to quite a different trial from any she has before experienced, for tho the Col. was once before absent, she was in her Fathers House. Now she writes that she feels as if unprotected, as if alone in the wide world. One of his Brothers & Sisters remain with her during the Cols. absence. I have Johnny here with me, and would gladly send for her, to pass the winter with me, but a young Baby and some other obstacles prevent” (Mitchell, New Letters of Abigail Adams, description begins Stewart Mitchell, ed. New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788–1801. Boston, 1947. description ends 65–67). The baby to which Abigail Adams referred had nearly died of smallpox a few weeks earlier. Abigail Adams wrote to Mary Cranch again on 12 Mar. 1791: “the Col. is expected back in May, if he arrives as I hope he will, he will come immediatly into an office, which will afford to him and his Family a very handsome support. It will be a very Arduous office in the State of N[ew] York, but he is of a very active disposition, and very well calculated for the discharge of it. A prospect of a Provision for himself and Family has releived my mind from a very heavy burden. I hope nothing will arise to detain him abroad longer than we expect, and this provision for him at Home, is much more agreeable to us than any employment abroad, which would have carried from me my only daughter” (ibid., 69–71). On 4 Mar. 1791, while Smith was still in London, GW appointed him supervisor of the revenue for New York (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 4 Mar. 1791).

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