George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 23 June 1791

From Tobias Lear

Philadelphia June 23d 1791


After acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 19th Inst. with which I have been this moment honored, I have to communicate to you the melancholly account of the death of the good and amiable Doctor Jones. He died this morning! He had for two or three days past been so much indisposed as to be confined to his bed; but his friends had no idea of his being in immediate danger. I saw him the day before yesterday & yesterday. And when I visited him yesterday he thought himself much better than he was the day before, and expressed his hopes & expectations of getting abroad in a few days. Last evening he took 3 grains of opium which not having the desired effect, he, this morning, took some of his own Elixir—and soon after fell a sleep. A short time afterwards Dr Foulke called to see him, and being informed that he was a sleep, he sent his servant up to see if he had not awoke. The Servant found him dead. These are the particulars as they have been related to me.1

Fraunces has been strenuous in his endeavours to get Mrs Read into the family; but having met with so peremptory a refusal from Mrs Washington & myself to listen to the matter, I presume he has laid aside the idea of effecting it. Her coming would certainly be attended with all the evils which you suggest; and in addition to them I have no doubt but she would oblige Mrs Emerson to quit the family, which, in my opinion, would be an irreparable loss. Mr Fraunces is stongly guarded in his agreements against the use of any kind of wine at the second Table under any pretence.

I received, by the last Post, a letter from Major Jackson covering a Commission for the office of Comptroller of the Treasury, which I had filled with the name of Mr Wolcott & after the seal was affixed to it & countersigned by the Secretary of State⟨,⟩ I delivered it to that Gentleman. A letter from Messrs Fenwick & Mason, explanatory of the wine from Charleston, was received at the same time. The Cases are agreeable to the Invoice and appear to be in good order; but how their contents are I know not. I intend, however, to have them examined to know whether they may be depended on or not. Mr Jefferson tells me that the wine which he has for you shall be attended to as soon as he can find a little leisure from the business that has pressed upon him since his return from his Northern Tour.2

I need not tell you, Sir, how happy I am to find that my doings in your absence, so far as they have been communicated to you, meet your approbation. I entertain strong hopes that the Servants will be fully impressed with the folly of any attempt to frustrate the determination of establishing order & industry in the family. Rhemur has given notice that he shall quit the family at the expiration of the present month; not from any disgust, but that he may live in New York with his wife, whose parents, he says, will not permit her to come to this place. Fraunces says a man in his place is indispensable, and he must therefore get another. This being the case, I am sorry that Rhemur cannot continue; for he has conducted himself in a quiet, peacable, and so far as I can learn⟨,⟩ honest manner since he has been with us.3

I shall not fail to pay particular attention to your wishes respecting the Blankets—And the two kinds of Turnip seed (if they can be got) shall be procured and sent to the Major by the first vessel that sails for Alexandria. At present there is no vessel up, but one is expected here every moment from Alexa which will return thither immediately. I will follow the directions respecting boys for the Stable, and if any vessels arrive with Emigrants from Germany I think they may be procured from that quarter; otherwise there is no doubt but they may be obtained in the City.

I do myself the honor to enclose Mr Payne’s Answer to Mr Burke. I enclosed one in my letter of the 22d of may which I presume has not yet got to your hands. In Mr Fenno’s papers of Saturday last, & this day, are two Numbers signed Publicola, taken from the Massachusetts Centinel, in answer to Mr Payne. The general voice says they are written by Mr Adams; but those who are best acquainted with his style say they are not.4

In my letter of the 19th I mentioned my intention of transmitting, for signature, some blank Commissions for the Revenue Cutters; but upon looking over those which had been struck off for that purpose, and of the parcel which had been filled & transmitted to their respective addresses, before you left this place, I found there was an important error, as you will see in the last line of the one enclosed. I shewed it Colo. Hamilton who observed that it would never answer to have these issued, and if those which had been transmitted to the Officers were of the same kind it would be proper to recall them and have others issued without the limiting clause. I then applied to the Office of State where the Commissions were filled up & recorded—and found that those which had been transmitted were of this kind. Mr Jefferson immediately gave directions for striking off a number of Blanks without that clause, which will be ready for your signature on your arrival in this City—which the Secretary of the Treasury says will be in season for them. I never before examined one of these commissions. Those which were completed before your departure came with the Seals affixed from the Office and were returned immediately after being signed, to be transmitted. There were never any of the Blanks in my possession.5

Mr Wolcot received his Commission with expressions of gratitude, and at the same time asked if any person had been fixed upon for the Auditor’s office. I told him I had not understood that there was; but that several, whose names I mentioned, had been brought to view. He observed, that knowing as he did the duties & importance of that office, he did not hesitate to give it as his opinion that the credit & respectability of the department of Finance, depended more upon that Officer than upon any one in the department except the Secretary. He had it more in his power to give a complexion to the business done at the Treasury than any other officer. Every person who had accounts to settle there necessarily had more to do with the Auditor than with any one else; and from the manner in which that officer did his business they would be led to form their opinion of the department. The harmony of the department, he added, likewise much depended on that officer; for if his doings were not so executed as that they could meet the approbation of the Comptroller it would cause a discord between the two—and unavoidably throw an enormous weight of business on the latter—more, perhaps, than it would be possible for any man to execute in addition to the other duties of the Office. After making these observations he said there was no doubt, but that your mind would naturally turn itself to the Southward for a Character to fill that place. In which case he could not help expressing a wish that Mr Kean might be thought the suitable man; for from the knowledge he had of his talents & disposition, Industry & Integrity he had no doubt but he would fill the place with much credit. I then expressed the idea which had been suggested by some that he would not accept it. Mr W. said he knew nothing of that, for he had never expressed to him anything which could lead to the discovery of a sentiment on that point. I, afterwards, fell in with Colo. Hamilton, who introduced the subject, & said he had no doubt but Mr Kean would accept the appointment if it should be offered to him, and appeared to speak as if from Authority. I have had no opportunity since my last, of learning anything more of the public opinion respecting a District Judge.

Unless I hear from undoubted authority that you will come through Baltimore I shall not write again, unless some special circumstance should require it. If you come through Baltimore I shall have the honor to address a letter to you at that place.

Mrs Washington is uncertain whether she shall write at this time, and in case she should not she directs me to tell you she is well & to rember her to you in suitable terms. Washington has recovered from the effects of the Chicken pox; but Nelly has been for some days past sadly afflicted with a sore throat. She is now a little better. Mr Dandridge is quite well—Mrs Lear & the child enjoy good health. She unites with me in a grateful & respectful remembrance to yourself & best wishes to all at Mount Vernon. I have the honor to be with the greatest gratitude & respect Sir, Your obliged & Obedt Sert

Tobias Lear


1The prominent Philadelphia physician John Jones attended GW during his near-fatal illness of May 1790. See William Jackson to Clement Biddle, 12 May 1790, editorial note. On 29 July Jones’s brother Edward, a clerk in the Treasury Department, requested from GW appointment to a more responsible position if a vacancy occurred, stating: “By one of those sudden Vicissitudes, to which all mankind are Subjected, I became reduced to the necessity of accepting of a Clerkship in the Treasury to shield a Wife and Children from the evils incident to a State of want. It was natural however to suppose, that in accepting of this place, I was not without hopes, that my own Talents and Industry, seconded by the interest of my friends, would enable me on some future day, to obtain a post of greater emolument. Buoyed up therefore, with the expectation of seeing better times, I submitted with cheerfulness to my lot—until inexorable death steped in and depriving me of my best friend and brother Dr John Jones of this City, has blasted all my future prospects” (DLC:GW).

2According to Thomas Jefferson’s letter of 24 June to Lear, Jefferson had that morning endeavored “to make a statement of the cost & expences of the President’s wines, but not having a full account of the whole from Fenwick he is unable to do it but on sight of the acct rendered by him to the President. if mister Lear the first time any circumstance shall give him occasion of doing Th: J. the honour of calling on him, will put that acct in his pocket, the matter can be completed in two or three minutes. the cloudiness of the present day renders it favourable to remove the 4. hampers of Champagne from Th: J.’s cellar, if mister Lear thinks proper to send for them. it would be well to open a case of every kind & place the bottles on their shelves that they may be settled before the President’s return” (owned by Mr. Dudley Stoddard, New York).

3Liveried houseman Henry Rhemur was replaced by Charles Liddle. See Lear to GW, 10 Oct. 1790, n.4, and Decatur, Private Affairs of George Washington, description begins Stephen Decatur, Jr. Private Affairs of George Washington: From the Records and Accounts of Tobias Lear, Esquire, his Secretary. Boston, 1933. description ends 252.

4For the first “Publicola” essay reprinted from Benjamin Russell’s Columbian Centinel (Boston) in “Mr Fenno’s papers,” see Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia), 18 June. The essays, actually written by the vice-president’s eldest son, John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) who recently had been admitted to the Boston bar, continued in the Centinel on 11, 15, 18, 22, 29 June, 2, 9, 13, 20, 27 July and were widely reprinted.

5The enclosed cutter commission has not been found. Lear discussed the flawed commissions with Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Tench Coxe, who wrote of the objectionable clause to Lear on 27 June: “I have now before me Captn Montgomery’s commission, which contains the error you supposed, being limited by the end of the next session of the senate” (DLC:GW). Lear replied to Coxe on 29 June that “Commissions have been struck off for the Officers of the Cutters without the error contained in those which have been issued; and if the Secretary of the Treasury thinks proper, they shall be filled with the names of those persons who have been appointed, & be ready for the Presidents signature on his arrival, that those which have been issued may be recalled, & these sent in their places. Should this meet the Secretarys idea, I will be obliged to you for a list of the persons to whom commissions have been sent that no error may happen in inserting the names & offices” (DLC:GW). Coxe sent Lear the same day a return of the officers of the revenue cutters whose appointments were known at the Treasury and noted: “the dates of the old commissions cannot be furnished from this office. The Secretary is of opinion that Capt. Cochrans, Capt. Cookes, & Mr Wallaces, commissions should be of the dates of the letters announcing their appointments which are noted at the foot of the return, unless it may contravene the rules in the Department of State” (DLC:GW). On 7 July Coxe further informed Lear that John Howell was appointed commander of the Georgia cutter, with Hendrick Fisher and John Wood, first and second mates, respectively, as evidenced by GW’s letter of 20 May in the Treasury Department’s files (DLC:GW). The State Department memorandum book notes that on 13 July: “The Officers of the revenue cutters were commissioned anew on account of an imperfection in their first commission, and these new Commissions were sent to the Secretary of the Treasury for transmission; and the expediency of obtaining from the said Officers their first commissions, was suggested to & left with him” (DNA:PCC, item 187, 113). Lear returned unidentified letters to Hamilton on 13 Aug. with commissions for the mates of the Virginia cutter as well as commissions for excise inspectors Thomas Marshall in Virginia, Sylvanus Walker in South Carolina, and Josiah Murdaugh in North Carolina (DLC:GW).

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