George Washington Papers

To George Washington from David Plunket, 7 August 1793

From David Plunket

Baltimore August 7th 1793


The office of Surveyor of this Port haveing become vacant by the death of Colonel Ballard,1 I take the liberty of recommending to your consideration in the appointment to be made, Mr John H. Purviance son of the late Mr Samuel Purviance of this town—The essential services rendered by his Father in the late revolution—The severe reverse of fortune he experienced, and the Unhappy circumstances attending his Death, will I am persuaded have some weight in your determination—Permit me Sir to inform you and assure you most Solemnly, that Mr Purviance’s principles and talents have secured the esteem of his fellow Citizens—his Character is unspotted—His education has been liberal—He possesses considerable commercial Information, and is Completely Master of the French language, which in the present Situation of our Trade is of Importance. Mr Purviance has been established in business for some time past at Norfolk, But has not been Successfull. he is now on a voyage to the West Indies and is very shortly expected. Should he be nominated—a person in every respect qualified will act for him untill he arrives—A long and intimate acquaintance with Mr Purviance has given me an opportunity of knowing his worth, being without any other source then his Industry and Talents, and haveing three Sisters depending on him for Support.2 I cou’d not forbear makeing the present application—more particularly as I have been urged to it by a number of Citizens, who have the Honor of being personally known to you I entreat Sir you will pardon the Liberty I have taken, and that you will consider me as acting from Motives pure and disinterested.3 I have the Honour to be—With sincere attachment & Respect Sir, Your obedt Servt

David Plunket


Irish immigrant David Plunket, who was an elder brother of William Conyngham Plunket, the lord chancellor of Ireland from 1830 to 1841, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and a Baltimore merchant. He was lost at sea later this year (Robert Purviance, A Narrative of Events Which Occurred in Baltimore Town during the Revolutionary War [Baltimore, 1849], 105).

1Robert Ballard had served as the surveyor of customs for the port of Baltimore since 1789 and also as the inspector of customs since 1791 (Ballard to GW, 1 Jan. 1789, and source note). Following Ballard’s death, at least nineteen persons, including John H. Purviance whom Plunket recommends in this letter, either sought or received recommendations for the vacant surveyor’s position: George Buchanan (Buchanan to GW, 21 Aug.); James Burn (Burn to GW, 14 Aug.); Daniel Delozier (Delozier to GW, 8 Aug.); Samuel Dodge (Dodge to GW, 10 Aug.); Joseph Donaldson (Donaldson to GW, 8 Aug.); Martin Eichelberger (Eichelberger to GW, 8 Aug.); Andrew Skinner Ennalls (John Henry to GW, 13 Aug.); George P. Keeports (Keeports to GW, 8 Aug.); John Kilty (Kilty to GW, 13 Aug.); John Kirwan (Kirwan to GW, 13 Aug.); James Lloyd (Lloyd to GW, 14 Aug.); John Lynch (Lynch to GW, 10 Aug.); Alexander McCaskey (McCaskey to GW, 19 Aug.); Joshua Merryman (Merryman to Tobias Lear, 15 Aug.); David Porter (Porter to GW, 17 Aug.); George Salmon (James McHenry to GW, 8 Aug.); Samuel Sterett (Sterett to GW, 8 Aug.); and Robert Walsh (Thomas Fitzsimmons to Alexander Hamilton, 13 Aug., Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 15:232).

2John Henry Purviance (1763–1820) was the son of Baltimore merchant Samuel Purviance, Jr. For the bankruptcy and death of his father and for a previous attempt to obtain a federal appointment, see Robert Purviance to GW, 19 May 1789, and source note, and John H. Purviance to GW, 1 Aug. 1789. Purviance later served as a secretary and interpreter for James Monroe during the latter’s tenure as the U.S. minister plenipotentiary to France, 1794–96, 1803, and again during Monroe’s ministry to Great Britain, 1803–7 (Ammon, James Monroe description begins Harry Ammon. James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity. New York, 1971. description ends , 143; 620, n.28). In 1815 Monroe appointed him to a clerkship in the State Department, where Purviance remained until his death (Monroe to James Madison, 6 May 1815 [DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers]; 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 2:308).

Purviance had four sisters: Letitia (c.1768–1802); Elizabeth Isabella, who married Henry Courtenay (1776–1854) in 1811; Susanna (b. 1772), who apparently married Robert Hughes prior to the writing of this letter; and Isabella (1779–1804), who married Henry Courtenay in 1799.

3Maryland congressman Samuel Smith, writing from Baltimore, recommended Purviance in his first letter to GW of 8 Aug., which GW received on 10 Aug. 1793. After mentioning the patriotism and death of Purviance’s father and the three sisters who needed support, Smith wrote that Purviance’s conduct “has been unexceptionable & without reproach—His knowledge of the French language & of Commerce would be singular Advantages” (DLC: GW). James McHenry’s letter of 9 Aug. on Purviance’s behalf has not been found. GW explained his reasons for not appointing Purviance in a letter to McHenry of 28 Aug. 1793.

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