George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joseph Wharton, 21 October 1793

From Joseph Wharton

Philada October 21st 1793.


My condition in life, through unmerited sufferings, which brought upon me the sacrifice of faithfull industry for many years, deprived me of the means of supporting an aged wife, and five Children—whose Characters are, in just estimation of my fellow Citizens, eminent for their virtue, and respectability.1

It is not for the honor of Truth, that my failings should be withheld from your knowledge, nor do I suppose, that the conduct of a Citizen, who once partook of your esteem, hath been undiscovered to you. But, as the great Doctor Franklin said, “that part of a Truth, is sometimes worse, than the whole Truth”2—so may my infirmities have been exagerated, without those extenuations, which Charity would have mollified, and which good Men deplored. Those sufferings, and the consequent distresses to those, who ought not to have felt them—drove me to a temporary excess—which, however injurious to a once well earned reputation, brought it’s own remedy, by the severest contrition. It hath God! to grant me fortitude, to withstand the only temptation, that ever sullied my fair fame: and I have a well founded hope, that it will never revisit me, either to my friends anxiety, or my own dishonor. There are Men Sir, whose afflictions, cramp their virtues—whose confidence becomes annihilated, and constrains them to acts, which their very Souls abhor. This, unfortunately, has been my case. For, having formerly had the closest connection, with most of the trading Gentlemen in the United States, as well as with the principal Merchants in Europe—and foreseeing no prospect of reganing my station in the Commercial line, nor of aiding those Ties, who are nearest to me—I fell. It is not, nor ever was, the lot of humanity, in such scenes of complicated misery, which I have endured for nineteen years, “to bring the mind, instantly, to its’ condition”: It was not mine. For it requires time, and an exertion, not common, and scarcely known, to recover a firm dignity of conduct, and lament over a fatal secession from it.

I have had the honor of a small correspondance with your Excelle⟨ncy⟩ respecting our quondam friend Colonel Mercer, and I have enjoyed the felicity of your favor at my House—on board my Ship, and at the Tables of your particular acquaintance, in this once blessed City.3 nor have my principles been adverse, but on the contrary, always flow from the purest motives, to the sacred Rights of my Countrey—which in fact, was the cause of my Ruin.

Thus having presumed to lay my circumstance, and my change of life, before your rational and humane disposition—I beg leave to offer myself a Candidate for the Naval Office of the District, vacant by the death of Mr Frederick Phile. And, if it is expedient, that a powerfull recommendation, should preced appointment; I have not the least doubt of procuring signatures pleasing to your Excellency, and honorable to myself—nor shall competent security be unobtained from those, who are equally wealthy as they zealously disposed to serve me. I foresee but one obstacl⟨e⟩ in my progress of Recommendation, and that is, the extremely scattered residence of my fellow citizens in this calamitou⟨s⟩ affliction.4

I beg leave to sollicit your favorable acceptance of my application, and to pardon the freedom of this tedious narrative—which is written solely, that I may recover you⟨r⟩ esteem, favor and confidence. I am Sir, with the grest Respect Your most ob: hl. Ser⟨vt⟩

Jo. Wharton


Joseph Wharton (1733/4–1816) of Philadelphia was a Quaker merchant who suffered large losses in the American Revolution.

1Wharton married Sarah Tallman (b. 1740) in 1760. Their five surviving unmarried children were Thomas Parr Wharton (1763–1802); Nancy (Ann) Wharton (1770–c.1852), who married James Cowles Fisher in 1804; Sarah Wharton (1772–1847), who married Jonathan Robeson in 1795; Martha Wharton (1774–1861); and Eliza Wharton (1781–1869).

2Wharton may have had in mind Benjamin Franklin’s “Remarks on a late Protest against the Appointment of Mr. Franklin as Agent for this Province,” in which he wrote: “A falshood may destroy the innocent; so may part of a truth without the whole; and a mixture of truth and falshood may be full as pernicious” (Franklin, Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces . . . [London, 1779], 413).

3GW’s diary entry for 12 Oct. 1774 notes that he “Dined at Mr. Josh Whartons” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:285). For the correspondence regarding Col. George Mercer, see GW to Wharton, 15 Sept. 1779.

4Wharton did not receive the appointment.

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