George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Fulwar Skipwith, 25 November 1792

From Fulwar Skipwith

Portsmouth [Va.] 25 Novemr 1792


In the present urgency and peculiar hardship of my situation I am led with some persuasion of success to call a moment of your Excellencys attention to a short history of my distress, and to hope, that if I may be found to possess merit or talents sufficient to fit me for any little employment under Government, your Excellency may be induced to confer on me the honor of a future and second recommendation.1

Under an impression that the one, which favoured me with my appointment of Consul from the U. States for the Island of Martinique and its dependencies, would have also induced Government to make some provision for its support, I was tempted with what little property I had to leave my native Country in August 1792, when I arrived at Mtque at the moment of the commencement of its civil troubles. these disorders have continued with more or less abatement ever since, and have precluded me from opportunities of gaining a livelyhood in business, which I might have promised myself, from a more settled state of things. The ignorance of the french Colonial Governments of any Treaty or Convention which authorises the U. States to establish Consuls among them has destroyed every hope or prospect of my being acknowledged as one thus, from long delay and fruitless attention, I have been obliged to leave the Island in indigence.2 Conscious that my endeavour, and intentions of Serving my Country cannot, in return, deserve distress; and resting much of my hope in the benevolence of your Excellency’s heart, I do not altogether despair of your future notice.

Having never been honored with a personal acquaintance with your Excellency farther than that of a bare introduction, I flatter myself that Mr Jefferson, [Tobias] Lear, [John] Langdon, or any one of the Virginia delegation, to whom I have the pleasure of being known, would venture to give a favourable opinion of my deserts.

Sincerely wishing your Excellence the full enjoyment of all earthly happiness I have the honor to remain Your Excellencys Most Ob. and Most Hb. Servant

Fulwar Skipwith

ALS, DLC:GW. The cover is postmarked “PORTSMOUTH Novem. 27.”

1The appointment of Virginia merchant Fulwar Skipwith (1765–1839) in June 1790 as consul for the island of Martinique included responsibility for the nearby islands of Cayenne, Saint Lucia, and Tobago (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 4 June 1790; 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 16:560). Skipwith remained in that position until 1794, when he was appointed secretary for the new American minister to France, James Monroe. In 1795 GW appointed Skipwith the consul general to France, a position that he held for only a year (see Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 189, 191). Skipwith served as the commercial agent in Paris from 1801 to 1808 and again as the consul to France from 1814 to 1815.

2Skipwith arrived in Martinique in the summer of 1790 shortly after his appointment, and he immediately encountered difficulties. Skipwith wrote Thomas Jefferson on 30 Aug. 1790 that he could not obtain the necessary exequatur because the French government had not sent notification of the Franco-American Consular Convention of 1788 to the island’s governor, Claude-Charles de Damas (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 16:561n). For background on problems with differing French and American interpretations of this consular convention, see Jefferson to William Short, 26 July 1790, 25 April 1791, ibid., 17:280–81, 20:254. The emerging civil war and nascent rebellion that Skipwith encountered on Martinique in 1790 was a much greater obstacle to the success of his consulship and his hopes of using his position for personal economic gain. For Skipwith’s descriptions of the political and social unrest on the island, see his letters to Jefferson of 18 Sept. and 10 Oct. 1790, ibid., 17:510–11, 585–90.

Skipwith had left Martinique in the summer of 1791, leaving Nathaniel Barrett, nephew of New Hampshire senator John Langdon, to represent the United States. Congress’s failure to provide financial support for its consuls, combined with the island’s continued civil unrest and Skipwith’s own lack of authority, contributed to his decision in 1791 and again in 1792 to return to the United States. Despite these problems Skipwith resumed his duties in Martinique in March 1793 (see Skipwith to Jefferson, 1 May, 20 July 1791, and Jefferson to Vicomte de Rochambeau, 6 Mar. 1793, ibid., 20:342, 655, 25:321). Skipwith was not the only U.S. consul to find the lack of remuneration a problem (see Jefferson to Sylvanus Bourne, 14 Aug. 1791, ibid., 22:40; Jefferson to GW, 19 Aug. 1792, n.2).

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