George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 24 September 1793

From Henry Knox


SirElizabeth Town New Jersey 24th Septr 1793

I arrived here on the 19th after much delay and difficulty on the road. The alarm of the people in all the Towns and villages on the road, and at New York, on account of the prevailing fever is really inexpressible. The militia are posted at Trenton Brunswick and Newark and New York. This place seems to possess less fear and more reason. At New York reason appears to been entirely lost. Among many serious evils such as frightning some Philadelphians to death by placing them on Governors island without proper accommodations the following laughable incident is said to have occured a day or two past. A Boat arrived at NewYork from Jersey with passengers. the Mob collected and insisted upon it they were infected, and after they had landed the Mob forced them on board again, and with them a Mr Mercier of New York, who plead in vain, that he had not been out of New York for along time. the Mob however swore otherwise and the poor man was forced into the boat with persons whom he believed to be infected with the plague and did not return to his family for a day afterwards.

Poor Courtney the Taylor with his family were at a tavern on 2d river at which place he felt the symptoms of an intermittent or yellow fever—He took rushs medecines so frequently that he really became ill—The people ordered his coffin in his presence, and his wife sent to Newark for a Physician who pronouncd it a common intermittent But to mark the monstrous absurdity which prevails the people came into the sick mans room in shoals to see the curious fever, and he has been so worried that his life is in great danger—There are innumerable instances of the like unreasonable conduct.1

I sent to NewYork to endeavo⟨ur⟩ to get a passage to Rhode Island—But the Masters of the packets said that it was as much as their lives were worth, as it was reported at Newport that the yellow fever, or plague killed in NewYork 40 people per day. If a person has been from Philadelphia 14 days and continued in perfect health during that time he may be admitted into New-York. I have yet six days quarantine to perform, which of the choice of evils is the least. This circumstance will retard my return as soon as I intended, for it is of the highest personal importance to me that I should go to Boston, and I am too bulky to be smuggled through the Country.

The french fleet is still in New-York, in a wretched state of disorganisation which prevents its sailing. Mr Genet has been low spirited for ten days past. The fleet have been told by him that the executive of the United States prevents their selling their prizes, and Citizen Bompard who belongs to a club in france as well as all his sailors, say that they shall represent the matter upon their return in its proper colours—some of the sailors lately attacked the Marquis de Rouvrays house with an intention it is said of Massacring him and his son. They have fled to this Town.2 I do not find Mr Genet has promulgated the last letter of the secretary of state, excepting as to the effect of the measures with the Consuls, which prevent their selling their prizes—Would to God it had been thought proper to publish the letter to Mr Morris.3 The minds of our own people would have been convinced of the propriety of the measures which have been adopted, and all cavil at the meeting of Congress prevented!

Colonel Hamilton experienced inconveni⟨ences⟩ on the road. Not being ad⟨mit⟩ted into NewYork he has gone to Albany. ⟨mutilated ⟩ respectful compliments to Mrs Washington, I am Sir with perfect respect Your humble Servt

H. Knox


1Richard Courtney (d. 1793) was a merchant tailor at 27 N. Second Street in Philadelphia. GW’s household account book indicates that he paid Courtney $311.88 on 30 Aug. for “his Taylor’s bill in full to this date,” and that Courtenay’s widow, Sarah, was paid $75.50 on 23 Dec. “for taylor’s work done by her late husband” (PHi; see also Account Book, 2 Sept. 1793–4 April 1794, DLC:GW). Second River, now Belleville, N.J., lay on the west bank of the Passaic River about three miles north of Newark. For discussion of Dr. Benjamin Rush’s medicine, see Knox to GW, 15 Sept., n.8.

2Jean-Baptiste François Bompard (1757–1841) commanded the French frigate Embuscade. Serving in the French navy by 1778, he participated in engagements at Grenada and Savannah during the Revolutionary War. He was promoted to captain in 1793. Laurent François Le Noir, Marquis de Rouvray (1743–1798), began serving in the French army as an ensign in 1756. Sent to Saint Domingue in 1761, he made his military career there, rising to the rank of maréchal de camp. Deported from Santo Domingo in late 1792, by January 1793 he had arrived at New York City, where he resided at 27 Great George Street.

3Knox was referring to Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Gouverneur Morris of 16 Aug., laying out for presentation to the French government the case for Edmond Genet’s recall (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 , 26:697–715), and Jefferson’s letter to Genet of 7 Sept. informing him of that action (see Cabinet Opinion, 7 Sept., and n.1 to that document).

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