George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Hugh West, 6 August 1791

From Hugh West

[Philadelphia, 6 August 1791]


I took occasion to wait upon your Excellency this fore-noon, but was unable to gain personal access, by reason of your then present Engagements. It was alledged, that my Business might be imparted, by means of a Secretary, to your Excellency: but which for a very obvious reason, I declined. It is of such a nature, I presume, as to suit your Excellency’s ear alone. It is not improbable, that while you are prompt, from the exalted consideration of the common Interest, to the most arduous vigilance and noblest care; you may deem it an intrusion upon your Excellency to be addressed by a Stranger to your Person, for the purpose of a private Interview with your Excellency. For had I not all along anticipated this mode of communication to your Excellency, it would have behoved me to have premised certain particulars by which to make myself known in a satisfactory manner. But lest your Excell. should think it proper to refuse me the honour of your presence upon this occasion, I proceed to subjoin a few circumstances relative to my last design. I am the youngest Son of John West jun. (Deceas’d) of Virginia, with whom, in his life-time, your Excel. had some acquaintance.1 For several years I enjoyed a small paternal Estate in the vicinity, of Alexa. near which I was born: but having, in part expended it in order to consummating the study of a medical profession to which I was designed; it hath become expedient that I should now engage in some certain Employment, whereby to acquire a subsistance for my family. Herein I have been exceedingly perplexed. A few days ago I applied to a Mr Nourse, Register: with whom I deposited a specimen of my Hand-writing (having had a previous Recommendation from Dr B. Rush) of which he approved. But there being no vacancy at that time, I have the promise of only succeeding to the first that shall take place in that Office—However he was candid enough at the same time to suggest, that there was but little probability of it at all. While I am unwilling to prescribe a sentiment of Hospitality to the President of the U. States; with all humility, I present a picture of my complicated distress—It is enough, that my wife (to whom I have been united for a bout 18 months) and myself have been uniformly subject to a wretched dependance on our Relations.

I would farther beg leave to observe, that having learnt there will be an Auditor appointed in a short time, His Excellency may ⟨do every⟩ necessary service to me by a Letter recommendatory to him, for such employment as he may esteem me to be capable of. His Excel. will be pleased to decide this matter agreeably to his leisure; he either to appoint any hour determinately at which I may see him upon the subject abovementioned, or give me such general recommendation as may ensure success to my undertaking, who have the honour to be, His Excellency’s most obedt & Devoted Servant

Hugh West

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters. The dateline is supplied from a later notation on the letter: “File Aug. 6. 1791.”

The application of Hugh West (c.1755–1801) was supported by a lukewarm recommendation of 1 Aug. from William Herbert of Alexandria: “My knowledge of this young Gentleman, these two last Years, will not warrant my saying much of him, farther than, that I have been credibly informed, that he is greatly altered for the better, for it must be confessed his Conduct, prior to that period, was that of an extravigant & dissipated young Man—but I hope & believe he has discover’d his error & that he is thoroughly Reclaimed & that in case he should be nominated to any place, by which he could Obtain a livelihood, he will conduct himself with Care & fidelity in the discharge of the duties of his Office & thereby merit any favor done him” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Roger West of West Grove, Va., on 10 Aug. also assured GW: “It is with peculiar pleasure I have marked the change in Mr Wests Conduct for these two years past for the better; indeed, I verily believe that a thourough reformation has succeeded in him, and that he sees with horror and detestation the impropriety of his former Idle and dissolute habits, and resolves with Religious firmness in future, to abandon them, and to Seek usefull and honorable imployments wherever He may find them. If you should be dispos’d to interest yourself for this Young Gentleman I have no doubt but He will with an honest Zeal discharge any trust reposed in him to your Satisfaction, and thereby merit a continuance of your favor” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). On 11 Aug. James Craik also reported to GW that he had no personal acquaintance with West “and therefore am at some loss how to present him to you, yet from the opinions of Some which I think I can rely upon, Am induced to think him qualified to transact Business that will Occur in the Subordinate Grades” of the Treasury Department. “There are two Circumstances attending this Gentleman that are matters of Notoriety at this place. in the early part of his life he was an extravagant, and a Dissipated young man which led him to dispose of all his Patrimoneal Estate. And that for these two years past he has manifested a desire to be usefully imployed, which I beleive to be truly the case—Should it be agreeable to you to interest yourself for his advantage I think he will Act with Circumspection & propriety” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). GW immediately employed West as a recording clerk under the direction of Tobias Lear. West remained in GW’s official household until 1792, when GW certified on 15 Aug. his sobriety, diligence, prudence, and integrity (GW to West, 11 April 1798, n.2). West wrote GW on 20 Sept. 1792 that, having failed to find employment in one of the executive departments, he had decided to open a grocery store. His brother Thomas West had given him a house, and other relatives “will afford me some present assistance, but they can not immediately advance a competent sum: I have therefore to request the loan of 100 Dollars from you Sir—upon the most Satisfactory security you may demand. You may possibly be surprized after all that you have done for me, that I should ask so considerable a favor: but, Sir, permit me just to remark, that, as by means of the abovementioned business I shall be enabled both to support my family in Philadelphia, which are very destitute, as well as to discharge the sum I am now sollicking; you will do me a great service, without affecting (I hope) your own interest. But, Sir, relying that your determination will be equally founded in the proper regard to your benefit, and the nicest principles of humanity, as it relates to my truly calamitous situation; after mentioning that, should it better suit your convenience to furnish me with any less sum than that cited in the former part of this letter it will be most gratefully received” (DLC:GW). GW responded on 21 Sept. 1792: “Your Letter of this date is now before me. I am very sorry that your endeavours to be employed in some one of the public Offices in Philada, have been unsuccessful; & hope the business which you have now in contemplation to undertake, may be attended with advantage. if, therefore, I can make it comport with my own numerous calls for money, I will furnish you with the sum requested in your Letter, before my return to Philadelphia” (LB, DLC:GW).

1John West, Jr., of Fairfax County was GW’s coexecutor of the estate of Thomas Colvill (see James Tilghman, Sr., to GW, 6 Oct. 1790, n.2).

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