George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Lucas, 4 May 1792

From John Lucas

Boston, 4th May 1792.


I take the liberty to communicate to you, for the purpose of perpetuating the evidence of a singular patriotic transaction of Elisha Brown, a poor man of this town, who in defence of liberty and the laws of his country, undauntedly stood alone as a barrier to our liberties,1 “Agreeably to the Inscription, on the Monument,” which I have the honor to forward to you, through the medium of General Knox, who was, at that time, in this place and, may, perhaps, confirm what I now relate.2 We read, that “a poor wise man delivered a city; yet no man remembered that same poor wise man.”3 Brown’s case I conceive to be analogous to this. My ardent desire, that every patriotic transaction, out of the common course, relative to our struggles for the rights of man, either of the poor or the rich, the wise or heroic, may have an equal chance to be transmitted to posterity, has constrained me to present the above mentioned Monument to the President of the United States and his Successor in Office.

That you may long live and see your country continue to prosper under your Presidency, is the sincere prayer of, Sir, Your most obedient And very humble servant,

John Lucas


1In October 1768 Elisha Brown (1720–1785) of Boston became a local celebrity through his refusal to allow Col. Campbell Dalrymple to use the manufactory house for the quartering of his regiment. Even after Gov. Francis Bernard had ordered Brown and his fellow tenants to evacuate the premises, the doors of the building remained closed to the British soldiers, and Brown hotly denied that Bernard had the right to dispossess him. After the standoff had lasted for several weeks, Dalrymple’s men were lodged in Faneuil Hall (see Samuel Adams Drake, Old Landmarks and Historic Personages of Boston [Boston, 1900], 303). Reports of the incident were published in Massachusetts and in several other colonies; see, for example, Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 24 Oct. 1768; Pennsylvania Gazette, 13 Oct., 3, 24 Nov. 1768, 17 May 1770.

2Lucas also wrote Henry Knox on 4 May: “You would oblige me to forward to the President of the United States the picture of Elisha Brown and the circumstance of his defending himself and Manufactory-House, when the British made an attempt, agreeably to the relation under the picture. This evidence is substantiated from the best information I can obtain. You may, perhaps, recollect the siege and circumstances. If you have any evidence to the contrary of what is related, I would not admit it into the Museum of the United States, or into any other. I have placed a Pyramid over his dust, in this place—describing &c. which I would brake down, were not the transaction founded on facts. Brown was left neglected by his Brother-patriots, and would have suffered, had not he possessed that conscious rectitude, which gave evidence to poor surrounding mortals, that he was more than a man—he was a hero—breathing his last, giving thanks to the Great first Cause, who gave his fellow men that dear liberty for which he dared to risque his life, (and when obtained) to defend, in full confidence of enjoying a blessed Immortality.

“If you can confirm the account, which I have given of Mr Brown, and it be admissible into some public Depository, I shall answer my wishes, if not, you will please to return it again” (NNGL: Knox Papers; because Lucas mistakenly wrote “1798” in the dateline, this letter is presently catalogued under 4 May 1798, not 1792). Although Knox forwarded Lucas’s letter to GW, it has not been determined whether or not Knox confirmed Lucas’s story.

3Lucas is quoting from Ecclesiastes 9:15.

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