George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Stephen Sayre, 3 January 1795

From Stephen Sayre

No. 91 Noth 2d Street. Philaa 3. Jan: 1795


May I be permitted to bring myself, once more, to your recollection, without offence1—Presuming you are uninfluenced, by any recommendation to offices, beyond the merit of the person, to be appointed; I come before you, without friends to sollicit, and without fears, from my enemies, if opportunity is offer’d, to vindicate my character, & conduct.

It is not my conjecture, alone, but it is the general belief of those, who think me entitled to some respectable situation in the government, that the cause of neglect, can be no other, than the injury done to my character, by the irresistable weight, & extensive influence, of the British Ministry, in the begining of our Revolution. They did not content themselves, with taking my property, but bent down their whole force, to destroy my reputation.2

I deem it hard indeed, to suffer in the good opinion of my own country, because my attachment to it, made our common enemy singularly virulent & pointedly vindictive—I had no personal foes—indeed, I had some real friends, among the very men, who were compel’d to persecute me—my ruin never was in contemplation, till I had united all the parties of our cause, into a formidable Phalanx—singular as it may appear, I was the only man, who conducted the springs of opposition, in the year 1775—this is somewhat evident, by the letters I now request you to peruse, as far as secret movements can be supposed.

It was my misfortune, not to know, the extent of the power I had acquired; or not to have consider’d, the power of the Minister to punish.

After quiting the Kingdom, I fell into a second error, by puting too much confidence in our own Government—attending one of the Commissioners to Berlin without a Commission in form I have this consolation—that, errors are not crimes—and the day must come, when the world will know, that I deserve well of my country.3

I have done honor to myself, in every situation which accident may have place’d me; and if I possess talents, equal to the office, & if my past Services are equal, & my sufferings, infinitely greater, than any other citizen: can I expect disappointment from a character, whose highest ambition leads to justice?

Pardon me, if I appeal to your feelings, as our political Father, requesting your protection, to one of the family, who has been deeply injured.

It was my Intention to have publish’d the strange events of my life—when combined together my conduct must be approved—my reasons for doing this are—that while alive, I can defend my good name, & confirm the truth, by fresh proofs, as it meets with opposition: but some circumstances forbid my doing it, at this moment. I have the original letters by me, from which those extracts, I now enclose, are taken—they may be refer’d to if demanded.4 I am with great veneration & all due respect

Stephen Sayre

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1Sayre had written GW most recently circa 10 Dec. 1793.

2In October 1775 Sayre was arrested and held for a time on a charge of treason for, it was alleged, having plotted to abduct the king (London Chronicle, 21–24 Oct. 1775; Middlesex Journal, and Evening Advertiser [London], 24–26 and 26–28 Oct. 1775; The Trial of the Cause on an Action Brought by Stephen Sayre, Esq. Against the Right Honourable William Henry Earl of Rochford … For False Imprisonment … [London, 1776]). Perhaps in consequence, Sayre’s banking partnership dissolved in June 1776, and Sayre and his former partner were declared subject to bankruptcy in November of that year. His furniture and leasehold estate were sold at auction (London Gazette, 15–18 June, 19–23 Nov. 1776; London Evening-Post, 7–9 Jan. 1777; Public Advertiser [London], 10 Jan. 1777; Daily Advertiser [London], 4 March 1777).

3Sayre claimed that he had accompanied Arthur Lee to Berlin as secretary and that he remained in Berlin after Lee’s departure in the expectation that he would be instructed about making contracts for the supply of the Continental army. He “conceived himself entitled to the support commonly allowed to Charge des Affaires, on Mr. Lee’s quitting Berlin, because he was so actually, though not under a regular commission” (deposition of 29 March 1794, The Case of Stephen Sayre [Philadelphia, 1803], 5–7; see also The Following State of Facts, Is taken from the papers now lying on the table; it is presented to the members to save them the trouble of perusing them [Philadelphia, 1778?]).

4The surviving extracts include a letter from Francis Lewis to John Jay, 16 March 1785, testifying to Sayre’s character and stating that Sayre had secured the promise of a loan to the United States during the Revolution, an offer not taken up by Congress; two letters from Benjamin Franklin to Sayre, 25 Dec. 1778 and 31 March 1779, approving an unspecified “proposition” and expressing satisfaction at Sayre’s information about “the disposition of the Swedish Court”; and two letters of 25 Dec. 1778 and 12 Jan. 1779 from Mr. Dellon[?], a German merchant at Stockholm, who was acting as Sayre’s agent there, describing his efforts to forward “the known affair.” It seems possible that more extracts were sent, as the two Franklin extracts are on a cut sheet at the bottom of which is the start of a heading: “E⟨x⟩t⟨rac⟩t ⟨o⟩f ⟨a⟩ L⟨e⟩tt⟨er⟩ from Mr Dellon acting as his agent.” In addition Sayre enclosed an eight-page printed document, A Short Narrative of the Life and Character of Stephen Sayre, for the Information of His Fellow-Citizens, Is Now Ready for the Press, Which Would Have Been Presented to the Representatives of the People, Previous to Their Vote Respecting Compensation, Had He Found Time to Print It—He Now Must Content Himself with Having Only a Few Letters Printed, Adding References to Others, Lodged in the House for Their Inspection.” The letters printed there, from Lord Chatham and other British officials, concern Sayre’s efforts to garner support for America in Great Britain. Sayre also mentions his efforts to enlist Prussia and Sweden in an “armed neutrality” during the Revolution (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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