George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Rodolph Vall-travers, 6 June 1792

From Rodolph Vall-travers

Rotterdam, June 6th 1792.

May it please Your Excellency!

The Packet, with instructive Materials, collected from the Academies of Berlin, Leipzig, Petersburg and Hamburg, in Aid of Mr John Churchman’s, your ingenious Countryman’s, Labors, towards an experimental very interesting Theory of magnetical Motions and their Variations, transmitted to Your Excellency, by Captn Bell, from Hamburg, in March 1791.1 having been kindly received & forwarded to that worthy Gentleman, by Tobias Lear, Esqe your Exccy’s Secretary, the 10th of Septembr following, to his very great Joÿ: I now take the Liberty, to have again Recourse to the same secure Channel of Your generous Protection, in conveying this new Packet of further important Materials, towards the same Doctrine; collected during a Twelvemonth’s Stay in these Parts; in Behalf, not only of my indefatigable Friend, but of Navigation & philosophical useful Investigations in general, from the first Characters of the Age, in Point of solid mathematical Knowledge.2 A third Packet, not less valuable, shall get ready in the Course of this Summer, & be transmitted the same, with Your Excellency’s kind Leave & Approbation.3 The present is entrusted to the special Care of my much esteemed Friend, Mr Chrn Maÿer, agent to Mr Adrn Valck of Baltimore, sailing back on Board the good Ship, Wackzamkeed, commanded by Captn Tys Van Haas, with a Cargo of about 400. Passengers, chiefly Germans, bound to Philadelphia; followed with an other Cargo of the Same, of about 300. more, shipt off to New-York, on Board the Rodolph & Elizabeth, Captn Jürgens Commander, both from this City; This Accession of industrious Emigrants is, in great Measure, owing to the patriotic Zeal & Activitÿ of Mr Mayer, from whose Talents your prosperous Commonwealth is likely to derive many further Benefits.

I hope, Your Excellency has received long ago, my Letter of July 21t 1791. from this Place, along with my Manuscript Work, collected from Mr Eshelscrown’s german Materials, furnished me, when at Hamburg, entitled: The present political & mercantile State of all the chief European Settlements in East India in 3. Vols. 4º. 1789–1790;4 entrusted to the Care of Captn Folger, of Baltimore, a Relation of my deceased great Friend, Dr Benjn Franklin; who, I hear, arrived safe in August following. He promised me, to deliver my Manuscript to Yr Exccy in Person; and to dispose of it, agreable to your kind Commands; when found of some public Utility to that important Branch of your extensive Trade & Navigation. Yr Exccy’s Silence, as well as his, concerning this Object, on which I have bestowed much Time and Labor, make me anxious about its Fate.5 I am equally ignorant of the Fate of a 3d Letter of mine to Yr Excy conveÿed by Captn Stuart of Baltimore, last ÿear, on the 1t of Augt inclosing Six Copies of mÿ german Publication and Dispersion of Dr Franklin’s Instructions sent me to Vienna, from Paris, & advice to all those, who propose to Settle in N. America; which I got inserted, from Time to Time, in various Almanacks, Newspapers, and other periodical Works throughout Germany; the good Effects of which still continue to be sensibly felt. Capn Wm Dolliver of Boston, bound from this Place to Savannah, in Georgia, with his Brig, the Massachuset, took Charge of a further Letter to your Excellency, dated Novr 19th 1791; containing a Series of Objects, in which I am still ambitious to signalize my Sincere Veneration & Attachment to the Service of your confederate Union;6 ever since my first Acquaintance with Dr Bn Franklin, as Fellow-Member of the roial Society in London, 35. Years ago; and afterwards with yr worthy Patriot, H. Laurence Esqe yr unfortunate Predecessor in the Presidency of your States in Congress; with both whom I had the Honor to correspond, ever since.

All these; besides my several Letters to the learned, encouraging Societies of your Continent, with Offers of interesting literary Communications, to promote every Branch of useful Knowledge & Industry, to the utmost Stretch of mÿ small power and Sphere of Action; remaining unnoticed: it wd argue the highest Degree of Presumption in me, were I to flatter myself with any further Hopes of mÿ wellmeant Tenders having been acceptable.7

Nor will the Narrowness of my present Fortune, greatly impaired by mÿ manÿ liberal Sacrifices, together with my advanced Age, permit me now, to repair to N. A. to reside there some Time, & to recieve your Commands & Instructions in Person, without some adequate Aid & Compensation: Great as my Desire is, to be an Eye-Witness of that flourishing State of public Felicity, of which Yr Excellcy has been, & please God! will long continue to be, the chief Promoter and Support.

Mr Short’s Destination, as your public Minister to this Republic, having, I hear, been changed to a particular Service at the Court of Spain and good Mr Dumas’s unhappy Situation at the Hague, obnoxious to the Court from his Attachmt to the french Interest, and quite Sunk by the Weight of his Sufferings in Body & Mind, having it no longer in his Power, to be of actual Service to his Principals, in this important Station, wou’d willingly accept of my Assistance in his Functions, were I duely authorised to relieve him.8 The present general Strugle, between Liberty & Despotism, affords no indifferent Matter of Contemplation to yr happy Commonwealth, even as a peaceable Spectator of all the inhuman Horrors of so bloody a Contention.

Tho’ nine Years more advanced in Age, than Your Excellence, I feel myself, as ardent as ever, to exert every Ability in mÿ Power, in the Execution & faithful Discharge of whatever Commands Yr Exccy shall be pleased to intimate to Your Excellence’s Most sincerily devoted humble Servant

Rodolph Vall-travers.


2The packet that accompanied Vall-travers’s letter of 6 June has not been identified, but on 15 Oct. 1792 Tobias Lear forwarded the “letter and papers” intended for John Churchman to William Barton “as it appears that in case of Mr Churchman’s absence from home they are to be left” in his care (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

3Whether or not a third packet for transmission to Churchman was sent to GW in the summer of 1792 has not been determined. The next extant letter from Vall-travers to the president is dated 12 Nov. 1792.

4For more information on Adolph Eschelcrown and his work on the East Indies, see Vall-travers to GW, 21 July 1791, and note 2.

5Although Capt. Frederick Folger arrived in Baltimore in September 1791, he did not send Vall-travers’s letter and its enclosure to GW until early February 1792 (see Vall-travers to GW, 21 July 1791, source note and note 2).

6GW had received at least one and perhaps both of these letters. For Valltravers’s letter to GW of 1 Aug. 1791, see Vall-travers to GW, 21 July, nn.2–5. For his letter of 30, not 19, Nov. 1791, see Vall-travers to GW, 21 July, n.5, and 19 Nov. 1791 (letter-not-found entry), n.1.

7In early 1792 GW had referred Vall-travers’s letters of 15 Nov. 1789, 20 Mar., 21 July, 1 Aug., and 30 Nov. 1791 to Thomas Jefferson, who replied to Vall-travers for the president on 2 April 1792 (see 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 23:366–67). Notwithstanding the lack of encouragement he received, Vall-travers wrote at least seven more letters to the president between the winter of 1792 and the spring of 1796.

8Vall-travers never received either aid to allow him to come to America or an appointment from GW. For information about William Short’s diplomatic appointment to the Spanish court, see GW to the U.S. Senate, 22 Dec. 1791, source note, 11 Jan. 1792, and The Controversy over Diplomatic Appointments to Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands, c.3 Jan. 1792, editorial note.

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