To James McHenry
My dear Sir,Mount Vernon 7th June 1799
When I began the enclosed letter (left open for your perusal) I intended to address it to Colo. Biddle; who transacts all matters of that sort for me in Philadelphia; but as I wrote on, it occurred that, possibly, the Quarter Master might be a more appropriate character to accomplish my order: for this reason, I have left the letter without a Superscription, in order that you might direct it to the one, or the other, as you shall deem best. and I give you this trouble for the reason which is assigned in it; and for which, & troubling you with such trifles, I pray your excuse.1
I had thoughts once, of asking Genl [William] McPherson to execute this Commission for me; (believing, thereby, that it would be well done) but never having been in the habit of corresponding with him, I declined it, on reflection; and of course the Stars for my Epaulets have stood suspended, & I would thank you for sending them to me;2 and, if it is not heaping too many trifles upon you, also for requesting Mr McAlpin (if he has been able to obtain the gold thread) for letting me have my Uniform Cloaths by the Anniversary of our Independence—forwarded in the manner he has heretofore been directed.3 I am always and very Affectionately—Yours
Is the Trade with Hispaniola likely to be opened, or not?
ALS, NhD; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC:GW.
1. The text of the letter of 7 June, the letterpress copy of which is identified as intended for Clement Biddle, reads: “Sir, My Ward, Mr Custis, having entered into the Service of his Country as a (subaltern) Officer of Dragoons, I wish to equip him with every thing suitable thereto; in a handsome, but not an expensive style.
“Let me pray you therefore to provide, and send by one of the first Packets bound to Alexandria, the following articles viz.
A pair of Pistols & Horseman’s Sword—Silver mounted
A Saddle—best kind—& proper Halter. A handsome bridle he already has Holsters, & caps, to suit the Pistols
A proper Horseman’s Cap—or Helmet
A horsemans Cloak—suitable to the Unifm
If any other necessary article, is omitted, it may be added to the above list. Let the cost accompany the Invoice, and the amount shall be paid so soon as it is made known.
“I could get these articles in Alexandria, but prefer sending to Philadelphia for them; because the tradesmen of the latter are more in the habit of accomodating Officers in a proper manner; but more especially, because there may have been some direction from the Department of War with respect to some of the Articles, which is better understood there than in the Country Towns: for which reason (wishing to avoid mistakes) I have taken the liberty of passing this letter through the hands of the Secretary of War, open; that, if he shall be pleased to take the trouble of communicating them, his sentiments may be known on any part thereof by you. I am Sir Your most obedt Hble Servant Go: Washington” (letterpress copy, DLC:GW). In his letter to GW of 18 June, McHenry reports that he had engaged Tench Francis, the purveyor of public supplies, to secure these articles for George Washington Parke Custis. McHenry does not indicate that he forwarded GW’s letter to Francis, but clearly he did not send it to Biddle. On 14 July GW wrote McHenry that young Custis was making “Daily, fruitless enquiries” about when his “Military equipments” would arrive. On 29 July McHenry wrote that Francis had in hand the sword for the “young warrior” and would soon have the rest, but it was not until 24 Aug. that McHenry reported that “the articles for my young friend” were “now waiting for conveyance.” And that was not the end of it (see McHenry to GW, 24 Aug., n.1).
3. James McAlpin wrote GW from Philadelphia on 24 June: “This morning— and not before—I had the pleasure of procuring gold thread sufficient to accomplish your Cloaths. They are already in the hands of an embroiderer, who assures me, that not a moment shall be lost, on his part, to finish the work in time. I have great reason to believe that I shall be able to send the whole by the Mail to Alexandria on Monday morning next. I beg leave to assure you that nothing on my part has been Neglected—And I trust they will give you sattisffaction when received” (DLC:GW). McAlpin soon discovered that he had been too sanguine in his predictions (see McAlpin to GW, 27 June).