George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Henfrey, 22 November 1794

From Benjamin Henfrey

At the Harp & Crown Third Str. north1 [Philadelphia]
Novr 22nd 1794


It is with very great reluctance that I trouble your Excellency as I have not the Smallest Claim nor even the Honor of being known, I have therefore to rely on your Excellencys well known goodness to pardon the liberty I am now taking and the favor I am going to ask, but first I beg leave to State to your Excellency that I am from England and that I have been in America Three Years last April—Some part of the time I spent in Traveling in Search of Mines of Lead Copper or Tin—and in the Discovery of which I have been Very Successfull.

I am now working A Copper Mine near Strasburgh in Lancaster County which is A very Valuable work2—but unfortunately my resources are nearly Exausted when the works are within A few Months of Paying the Company a very great profit, Two gentlemen of great property Are Concern’d with me And I have An Equal Share with them—I have so far Supported my Share of Expence which has been Considerable, And as I am Certain to make A profit So Soon—I wish to Continue my Quota without asking the favor of eather of the Gentlemen Concern’d As I know Shall run some hazzard of becoming less Independant then I am at present—To avoid which I now Venture to ask the Loan of 300 Dolls. from your Excellency for 6 Months When it Shall be return’d With the most Greatfull Acknowligements for the favor.

If permitted the Honor I shall be glad to Show your Excellency samples of the Ore and Assays from it—taken from the Mines we are now working—And to Convince your Excellency that I am not an Importune I beg leave to Mention who the Gentlemen are who have done me the Honor to Join me in the Mine Works and will Show your Excellency proof of the Connection if permitted th⟨e⟩ Honor to wait upon you.

The present Governor of the State of New Jersey and Mr John Ross Merchant of this City are the Gentlemen I alude to3 There is no want of Money on there parts On mine at present there is—I shall leave these with Much Concern at your Excellencys House And shall Wait with Very great anxiety your Excellencys Answer for which I Shall Venture to Call on Monday Evening4 Meantime I remain with The greatest Veneration And respect your Excellencys Most Humble Servant To Command

Benjn Henfrey

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Benjamin Henfrey (died c.1816) came to the United States from England by 1791. In addition to the venture described in this letter, Henfrey became involved in projects for the mining of coal in Maryland, gypsum and sulphur in southwest Virginia, and salt (and perhaps gold) in North Carolina. Henfrey was also something of an inventor, patenting improvements in evaporation for distilling and a use of coal gas for illumination. In 1802 Henfrey demonstrated such illumination as a proposed means of municipal lighting in Baltimore, Richmond, and Philadelphia. He also attempted to interest the U.S. Treasury Department in using the invention for lighthouses. As a commercial enterprise this, too, came to nothing. Henfrey reputedly died in poverty in central Pennsylvania, still engaged in mining and illumination projects (General Advertiser [Philadelphia], 23 Nov. 1791; Federal Gazette [Baltimore], 26 Aug. 1801; The Republican; or, Anti-Democrat [Baltimore], 6 Sept. 1802; Commercial Register [Norfolk, Va.], 23 Aug. 1802; Philadelphia Gazette & Daily Advertiser, 15 Sept., 28 Dec. 1802; Enquirer [Richmond, Va.], 30 Sept. 1806; Henfrey to Thomas Jefferson, 1 Dec. 1807, DLC: Jefferson Papers; Star [Raleigh, N.C.], 1 June 1809; Samuel Latham Mitchill and Edward Miller, The Medical Repository, and Review of American Publications on Medicine, Surgery, and the Auxiliary Branches of Science, 4(1807): 222; Baltimore Patriot, 24 June, 8 Aug. 1828).

1The Harp and Crown Tavern, operated by Barnabus McShane, was located at 43 N. Third St. in Philadelphia.

2Henfrey was interested in developing the Gap copper mines, about five miles from Strasburg and thirteen miles from Lancaster, Pa. For a more detailed description, see Henfrey’s A Plan with Proposals for Forming a Company to Work Mines in the United States; and to Smelt and Refine the Ores Whether of Copper, Lead, Tin, Silver, or Gold (Philadelphia, 1797). In 1799, he and John Ross received a contract to supply copper to the U.S. Navy, but that venture apparently failed. By 1801 Henfrey claimed that the company owed him $1,200 (Henfrey to Thomas Jefferson, 19 Dec. 1801, 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 , 36:167–70).

3New Jersey governor Richard Howell, agreeing to the sale of shares in December 1796, supplied an opinion about the mine that Henfrey published in his Plan with Proposals, 12–13.

4The following Monday was 24 November. No record of any loan from GW to Henfrey has been identified.

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