George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 22 June 1793

From Alexander Hamilton

Treasuy Departmt 22d June 1793.


I have the honor to submit to the consideration of the President [a report] of the 4th inst. from the Commissioner of the Revenue on the subject of compensations to Keepers of Light houses, being the result of an enquiry some time since instituted.1

When this business was first organised,2 the only guide which presented itself was the previous arrangements of the respective States. It is found upon examination that these arrangements were made without much principle or system & that an alteration will conduce not only to œconomy, but to more equal justice.

The subject does not indeed admit of a very precise rule. Something after all must be a kind of arbitration of circumstances, but the present extremes may be corrected and a progress made towards a more equitable apportionment.

Upon a conference with the Commissioner of the Revenue, the following rates of compensations have been adjusted in the cases which appeared to require revision, to be submitted to the consideration & decision of the President, vizt

1st for the Keeper of the Lighthouse,
Thatcher’s Island:                    266.⅔
2. Do Boston bay                    266.⅔
3. Do Plymouth                    200.
4. Do Portland head                    160.
5. Do Conanicut                    160.
6. Do New London                    120.
7. Do Sandy Hook                    266 ⅔

to commence from the 1st of July ensuing.3

There can be no doubt of the impropriety of a Keepers acting by Deputy. If the President approves therefore, it will be signified to the Keeper of the Portsmouth Lighthouse, that he is either to take up his residence on the spot or relinquish the appointment.4

The same thing cannot, it is presumed, be done with regard to the Keeper of the Plymouth establishment, because his right is represented to be founded on a condition of the original cession of the land on which the Lighthouse stands.5 With perfect respect I have the honor to be &c.

Alexandr Hamilton


1The entry in GW’s executive journal for 17 July 1793 recorded GW’s receipt of Hamilton’s letter and the enclosed “Report” of 4 June from the Commissioner of the Revenue Tench Coxe (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 202). The report has not been identified.

2See “An Act for the establishment and support of Lighthouses, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers,” 7 Aug. 1789, 1 Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends ., 53–54.

3For the compensation paid to the keepers of these lighthouses in 1792, see ASP, Miscellaneous, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:68. On the petition for a salary increase from William Martin, the keeper of the lighthouse on Conanicut Island, R.I., see Hamilton to GW, 22 Sept. 1792, and note 5. The other lighthouse keepers affected by this proposal were Joseph Seward at Thatcher’s Island, Thomas Knox at Boston Bay, John Thomas, Jr., at Plymouth, and Joseph Greenleaf at Portland Head, all of Massachusetts, plus Daniel Harris at New London, Conn., and Matthew Ely at Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

4On the Portsmouth, N.H., lighthouse and Titus Salter’s responsibility for it, see Hamilton to GW, 3 Jan. 1790, and 8 Jan. 1791, and note 1. Tobias Lear wrote Hamilton on 18 July 1793 that GW “Approves of the Alterations of certain compensations as suggested the Secretary … to commence from the 1st day of the present Month. The President thinks it proper that the Keeper of the Light-House at Portsmouth be informed, that he must reside on the spot where the Light House is, if he continues in that Office, and that he will not be permitted to employ a deputy to take care of the Light House, unless upon some special occasion” (DNA: RG 26, Inventory NC-31, entry 17J, Records Relating to the DLC Exhibit, “Papers Signed by Tobias Lear, 1789–93”). For an increase in the salary for the keeper of the Portsmouth, N.H., lighthouse, see Hamilton to GW, 23 July, and note 2.

5On John Thomas, Jr.’s, position as the lighthouse keeper at Plymouth, known also as the Gurnet Point lighthouse, see Hamilton to GW, 3 Jan. 1790, and note 3. This lighthouse had been built in 1769 on land that John Thomas, Sr. (1724–1776), had ceded to Massachusetts for that purpose.

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