George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Posey, 20 November 1791

From Thomas Posey

Fredericksburg Virginia November 20th, 1791


Some time since I took an ocasion to write to you, but held up the letter untell now, from a thought that I might be too troublesome: but I trust your goodness will excuse my boldness.1

I am more & more confirmd, that a change in my mode of life must take place, and provided I could fall into a business which I might discharge with equal propriety that any other person would in an office under Government, I would give tha⟨t⟩ ⟨mutilated⟩ of life a preference.

I am at a loss at present to know ⟨mutilated⟩ regulation may take place in the militia, but should it be such as may require officers with a salary annexed, I shall be happy to meet with a lucrative appointment there. I will not trespas further upon your patience, but submit to the best that can be done for me.2 I am with the greatest respect Your Obt Humble servt

Thomas Posey

ALS, DLC:GW. According to a note on the address cover, this letter was “Favored Pr Mr Thos Garnett.”

Few facts are known about the parentage of Thomas Posey (1750–1818), who apparently grew up near Mount Vernon at Rover’s Delight, the small plantation of Capt. John and Martha Price Harrison Posey, widow of George Harrison. Posey, according to one rumor, was born out of wedlock to the widow Harrison in Maryland before she married John Posey and moved to Virginia. Other rumors alleged that he was the illegitimate child of the irresponsible and irrepressible Captain Posey and another woman, or that he might even have been the natural son of seventeen-year-old GW and an unnamed “Low Land Beauty” (see Posey, Posey, description begins John Thornton Posey. General Thomas Posey: Son of the American Revolution. East Lansing, Mich., 1992. description ends 6–7, 263–77). Whoever his parents were, Posey was adopted and raised by Captain Posey. In 1769, after Martha Posey’s death and the forced sale of much of the Posey plantation to pay off creditors, including GW, young Posey moved to the Shenandoah Valley, where he married Martha Mathews (c.1754–1778) of Staunton, Va., in 1772 and opened a saddlery shop in Fincastle. He was commissary general for Col. Andrew Lewis’s brigade in Lord Dunmore’s War against the Shawnee in 1774, and he served as a captain, major, and lieutenant colonel in the 7th Virginia Regiment during the Revolutionary War. After the war Posey remarried and settled on his wife Mary Alexander Thornton Posey’s estate in Spotsylvania County with a blended family of four children, to which they had added five more by the time Posey wrote the above letter to GW. Posey was serving as a justice of the peace and county lieutenant when he evidently met GW at Fredericksburg in April 1791 during the president’s Southern Tour.

1Posey’s enclosed letter of 1 June reads: “I beg leave to lay before you a subject that I have contemplated some time since, but have been diffident in bringing forward. My object is to solicit your favor in my interest to the appointment of some post under Government. I know of but few that I think myself adequate to, nor would I wish to accept (was it in my power) of any but such as I could discharge with propriety and advantage to my country, as well as deriveing an interest to myself. My family is numerous and a very great prospect of increasing it. The estate that I am in possession of is not more than will barely subsist my wife & myself, three step children who are hiers to the greater part of the estate, and six sons of my own. This is my situation, which I have often revolved in my mind, and have for several years been endeavoring to strike out some eligible mode that would enable me to bring up my children in such a manner as would render them worthy members of the community, and a support to their country. I have some times had it in contemplation to move to the Western country, or to Georgia, which probably would yield me greater advantages than where I am at present settled; but when I reflect that I must give up the property in a great measure that I now possess, and run a considerable risque as to obtaining an adequate position, it puts me to a stand. Being now in the prime of life, & finding myself to possess a good constitution (which was sufficiently put to the test through the course of the war) I have had a thought to solicit a military appointment to some post on the frontiers; but should I lose the oppertunity of giving my children such an education as I could wish (for that is what I have more at heart than a desire of acquiring property for them) I could not forgive myself. I know my talants are better calculated for a military than any other line; yet I think was I plac’d in some other, that probably what with application, assiduity, and industery, I might discharge the duties of it with a tolerable degree of propriety. Should anyplace offer in the naval, or revenue departments, or in the military that may be desirable, I should conceive myself under very great obligations to my benefactors were I to meet with an appointment! Altho’ my exertions in the service of my country cannot be rank’d among many of the most conspicuous, yet I have the consolation to think they have not been the most feeble, in establishing the ground work of that freedom, which is now the foundation of a Government, that I hope will prove a blessing, not only to the present but to future ages” (DLC:GW).

2No national reorganization of the militia took place at this time (see GW to Tobias Lear, 7 Oct., n.4), but in 1792 GW contemplated appointing Posey adjutant general with the rank of lieutenant colonel in the newly organized army (see GW to Henry Knox, 1 Aug. 1792, Knox to GW, 7 Aug. 1792). In recommending Posey to GW on 16 Mar. 1792, Burgess Ball mentioned that he had served under Daniel Morgan and Anthony Wayne during the Revolution and would be able to raise a “Capital” regiment in the frontier counties, as he had “great Influence” there, “having been bred in Augusta.” Ball added: “I was in Company with him a few days ago, and in Conversation found he wou’d be happy to have the Command of a Regimt (a perminent one) as he means to live in the Western Country, hav’g a large & growing family and but a small fortune” (DLC:GW). On 5 June 1792 George Weedon also recommended Posey to GW, for a brigadier general’s commission, describing him as “a very deserving Officer of our late Army who served during the war with distinguished reputation . . . he is a Gentleman that is well acquainted with Indian Warfare was in that well fought Action at point plesent in the year 1774 and all the Active parts of that Campaign he is intimately acquainted not only with the Geography of our Frontier Counties, but with most of the principle Inhabitants and has some knowledge of the Western country having been once or twice over the Ohio” (DLC:GW). GW offered Posey the position of adjutant general, but Posey replied from Fredericksburg on 10 Oct. 1792: “It has been communicated to me by Mr Robert Lewis, your polite offer of the Adjutant generals place to the regular Army; and if I intended accepting to repair immediately to Fort pitt. I return you thanks for the honor intended me, but must decline accepting the appointment, as I have very lately made an offer of my services to our State for the Adjutant generals place in the militia, and have assureances in a great measure of obtaining the Appointment. My inclination, and interest leads me to a great desire to become an inhabitant of the western country, which probably may take place in the course of a few years; for which reason I think a more active Office would suit me. If any vacancy in the line of the Brigadier generals should take place, and you think me adequate to the Office, I will accept of it, and use my best skill and abilities in the execution thereof” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). When an opening arose in the line of authorized general officers of the new Legion in 1793, GW appointed Posey a brigadier general (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 22 Feb. 1793 [first letter]). After Posey resigned his commission in 1794, he served in the legislature of Kentucky and moved to Louisiana. He represented Louisiana in the U.S. Senate from 1812 to 1813, when he succeeded William Henry Harrison as governor of the Indiana Territory.

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