George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 6 January 1795

From Edmund Randolph

Department of State, January 6th 1795.


I have taken into consideration the petition of James Kerr, which you did me the honor of referring to me.1

It appears from the testimony of the Reverend John McMillan, and Thomas McNary, that James Kerr did actually sign the paper of submission in time, and exhorted others to do the like.2 The persons who thus testify are intimately known by Mr James Ross, the Senator of the United States, to bear fair characters. It was no part of the terms offered to the Insurgents, that the subscribers should undertake for the safe delivery of the paper: the act of subscription saves them, if before the first day of June next, they shall not forfeit their title to favor.

In this view, I cannot hesitate to say, that James Kerr should be discharged, if upon an examination of the Commissioners, who were to receive the submission the facts should be clearly, as they are stated by McMillan and McNary; and that in the interim, he ought to be released upon light bail.3

I believe, that Justice cannot be ensured against the Offenders, who are not protected by a timely submission, if any untenable strictness of construction be now pushed against those, who may be ultimately found to be protected. I have the honor to be, Sir, with the highest respect, Yr mo. ob. serv.

Edm: Randolph.

Copy, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1James Kerr was among the twenty men arrested in mid-November 1794 and confined at Washington, Pa. Later that month he was among those sent to Philadelphia for trial. His petition has not been found.

2John McMillan (1752–1833) graduated from Princeton in 1772. After visiting the area around Fort Pitt in 1775, he agreed in 1776 to become pastor of the Chartiers Creek and Pigeon Creek Presbyterian churches, and in 1795 he was still the pastor for Chartiers Creek. He was also instrumental in the founding of an academy at Canonsburg, which in 1802 became Jefferson College, where he served for a number of years as professor of divinity. During the Whiskey Insurrection he was considered a strong voice for submission to the laws. Thomas McNary (1744–1820), who served as a captain in the York County militia during the Revolutionary War, purchased land near Chartiers Creek in late 1782. He was an elder of the Presbyterian church. For discussion of the papers of submission, see the Commissioners Sent to Western Pennsylvania to GW, 24 Sept. 1794.

3Kerr was granted bail on 13 Jan. (Brackenridge, Western Insurrection description begins H. M. Brackenridge. History of the Western Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania, Commonly Called the Whiskey Insurrection. 1794. Pittsburgh, 1859. description ends , 330). James Ross wrote Attorney General William Bradford, Jr., on 18 April that there was “no doubt” Kerr had signed the submission paper, and it does not appear that Kerr was prosecuted (letter offered for sale by Matthew Bennett International, Sale 319 [20–22 June 2007], lot 242).

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