George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel Wall, 16 September 1791

From Samuel Wall

Newport [R.I.] 16 Sept. 1791


I have this Inst, learn’d the Unwelcome & Melancholy tidings from the Cape where I have liv’d near nine Years. My Acquaintance is general & intimate with not only the Citizens of that Town but throughout the Island therefore I need but say, to be believed that I feel the most sensible distress for their Shocking Situation—I am told an Express has arriv’d to you, praying your Assistance 1—which none ever ask’d in Vain. As the people of that Island possess my Affections, I am willing to share in Common with them their danger & offer my Services in any Capacity you may be pleas’d to place me without a wish of any pecuniary reward—I have serv’d this, my Country, both by Land & Sea in respectable Stations—I am personally Known to Mr Lear your Secretary who has been at my House in the Cape2 I am perfectly Acquainted with all the landing places about the Cape, the People their Manners & Language which leads me to believe I cou’d be of Service—should you be Convinced of this, I beg Sir you’l Command me by a Line direct’d to me at York to Care Henry Bowers Esqr. or to Providence to myself, & say, how I shall proceed be pleas’d to pardon the incorrectness of this Scrawl as ’twas wrote in a hurry the Packet being on the Point of sailing.3 I am respectfully Sir Your Most Obt & Very Humble Servant4

S. Wall

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

According to Nathaniel Cutting, who recommended him to Thomas Jefferson on 8 July 1790 (DLC:GW), Maj. Samuel Wall (1738–1813) served in the Revolution, was captured at the fall of Charleston, S.C., and later toured France to acquire the language (see also D.A.R. Patriot Index, 3:3083). Wall wrote GW from Philadelphia on 14 Dec. applying for the post of U.S. consul for Hispaniola after having heard of the resignation of Sylvanus Bourne: “I enterd early in the Service of my Country in the late War & Continued untill its close, when I visited the Island of Hispaniola, where I have form’d an Establishment & resided seven Years, having Acquired a knowledge of the People, their manners & Language I flatter myself that invested with The Authority I solicit I should be serviceable to my Country. Numberless Impositions are practised upon the Americans—the Public Bureaux exact much higher Port-Charges than they have a right to demand & the Law directs—having lived long at the Cape & done Business as a Merchant—I think that as I am more perfectly Acquainted with that Island & the Abuses which the Americans are Subject to there, I cou’d do them away with more facility & more effectually than a person who should go a perfect Stranger. If you think the Circumstances of my having served my Country during the late War & being Acquainted with the Island, where I wish still to Continue in its service, can give me pretensions to the appointment I ask, I shall ever retain a grateful & respectful remembrance of the Honour done me. Permit me to add that I am well known to Mr Lear, who has been at my House at the Cape also to many Gentlemen members of both Houses of Congress from whom I can bring Letters of Recommendation if necessary” (DLC:GW). Wall also sent a similar application to Jefferson on 15 Dec. (DLC:GW).

1Late on 22 Aug. a general uprising, which had been coordinated weeks in advance by slaves Boukman Dutty, Jeannot Bullet, Jean-François, and Georges Biassou, was announced by the burning of several plantations in the Acul district on the North Plain in Saint Domingue and the murder of planter families. The next day almost two thousand slaves marched west into Limbé district, as those on plantations in Petite-Anse parish also rose up and destroyed that village by the night of 24 August. Upon meeting armed resistance on 25 Aug. at Plaisance, the insurgents in the western part of the plain fell back into Limbé, set up military outposts, and fortified their troops, while other rebels marched on Quartier-Morin, Limonade, Plaine du Nord, and Morne-Rouge. The rebels were to converge on the capital and burn Cap Français with the assistance of rebellious slaves and mulattoes in the city, but only desultory attempts were made on 30–31 Aug. against the upper part of the city of 50,000 people. On 24 Aug. Governor Blanchelande dispatched deputies to solicit provisions and military supplies from Cuba, Jamaica, and the United States (Fick, Making of Haiti, description begins Carolyn E. Fick. The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below. Knoxville, Tenn., 1990. description ends 91–103; Independent Chronicle: and Universal Advertiser [Boston], 22 September). See also Charles Pinckney to GW, 20 Sept., Sylvanus Bourne to Thomas Jefferson, 8 Sept., Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 22:133–34, and General Advertiser and Political, Commercial and Literary Journal (Philadelphia), 10, 11 October.

2Little is known of Lear’s early years, and no other evidence has come to light proving that he traveled to Saint Domingue before he was named U.S. consul there by President Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Wall possibly might have mistaken Lear for his father, Tobias Lear of Portsmouth, N.H. (1737–1781), a West Indies sea captain and trader, or Lear actually might have sailed to the Caribbean on one of his father’s vessels sometime before leaving Governor Dummer Academy in Byfield, Mass., in 1779 (Brighton, Checkered Career of Lear, description begins Ray Brighton. The Checkered Career of Tobias Lear. Portsmouth, N.H., 1985. description ends 18–20).

3Merchant Henry Bowers lived at 63 King Street in the North Ward of New York City (New York City Directory, 1790, 16; Heads of Families [New York] description begins Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790: New York. 1908. Reprint. Baltimore, 1966. description ends , 124).

4No evidence suggests that Lear opened and forwarded this letter to GW at Mount Vernon, and thus GW probably did not read it until after his return to Philadelphia on 21 October. GW’s first notice of the uprising in Saint Domingue was probably that sent by express by Henry Knox on 22 Sept. (first letter; see also Lear to GW, 21 Sept. [second letter]). GW received Lear’s first letter of 21 Sept., mentioning rumors of the slave revolt, sometime after 23 Sept. (see GW to Lear, 26 Sept.), and received before 2 Oct. Ternant’s letter of 24 Sept. detailing its outbreak (see GW to Ternant, 2 October).

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