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To George Washington from Timothy Pickering, 27 January 1798

From Timothy Pickering

Philadelphia Jany 27 1798


In my last I forgot to mention, that Mr Nancrede from Boston, had just left with the three volumes of the Studies of Nature which he dedicated to you, without your permission, but for which you desired me to subscribe, in your behalf. I did so. But the set he has left with me for you are elegantly bound in red Morocco and gilt; and from the manner of the delivery (sending them to my house without a bill) I presume he wished to have the honor of presenting them to you as a testimony of the respect he expressed in the dedication. When he was here in 1796, he informed me that he was at the siege of Yorktown, a subaltern officer in Count Rochambeau’s army. He is married in Boston—keeps a large book store—teaches the French language in the University of Cambridge—and enjoys, I believe, a very fair reputation.

The 3 volumes are too bulky to send by post, and the books too liable to injury in that mode of conveyance: I will therefore keep them for a private oppertunity. If any gentleman of your acquaintance should be coming here, to return to Alexandria or Mount Vernon, & who could conveniently receive them, I shall be obliged by your noticing it in a line to me.1

The inclosed Philadelphia Gazette contains a specific charge against me, which by the subjoined refutation you will see was equally false and malicious. I at first supposed the charge had not even the colour of foundation: but on enquiry, to my astonishment Mr Blackwell confessed the fact, of his taking the five dollars for the passport; and, what is still more to be regretted, Mr Taylor has been alike faulty, and this too, after I had expressly declared, upon Mr Taylor’s putting the question to me, so long ago as when my office was kept in Arch Street; that it would be improper to receive a farthing for such passports, whatever might be offered. The passports themselves are marked Gratis. I sign them (as my predecessors used to do) and leave them with Mr Taylor to fill up, seal and deliver. In his absence, Mr Blackwell did the same. The latter I dismissed yesterday, & shall forthwith discharge Mr Taylor, who has been most faulty of the two, and most frequent in offending.*2

William Cobbett has just published the inclosed answer to Paine’s insolent letter to you. In his Porcupine’s gazette, Cobbett speaks very handsomely of the answer: I have not read it.3 I am, sir, with great respect, your obt servt

Timothy Pickering

*Is this conduct of Mr Taylor to be accounted for, at least in part, by his being a Democrat) Yesterday I was informed that he was one—that he busied himself in favour of Mr Jefferson’s election; and even in Swanwick’s for Philadelphia displayed much zeal.4

ALS, DLC:GW; retained copy, MHi: Pickering Papers.

1Paul Joseph Guérard de Nancrède (1761–1841), a bookseller and printer on Malborough Street in Boston, returned to America from France in 1785 and in 1788 married Hannah Dixey in Boston. A translation of Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Studies of Nature was published for Nancrède in three volumes in Boston in 1797. The set that he had bound for GW and inscribed to him has not been located. Nancrède wrote to GW about this work on 11 May 1796.

2The Philadelphia Gazette, and Universal Daily Advertiser for 26 Jan. included a letter reprinted “From the Aurora of Wednesday last” addressed to “Mr. [Benjamin Franklin] Bache,” from “South Front Street.” In this letter Pickering was accused of taking five dollars from a merchant after informing him that there was “no particular fee charged” for the passport, but that compensation was left to “people’s own generosity.”

In his letter of reply, reprinted “From the Aurora of this morning,” Pickering indignantly denied the charge and enclosed an affidavit from Thomas Wotherspoon, the merchant in question, who confirmed that the man to whom he had given money and thought to be Pickering was later found to be the clerk Jacob Blackwell. Blackwell served as a clerk at the Department of State from the beginning of Thomas Jefferson’s term as secretary.

George Taylor, Jr., of Virginia had served since 1785 as a clerk first in the Office of Foreign Affairs and subsequently in the Department of State. He was appointed chief clerk in 1792. Taylor also in 1781 had been employed by Richard Varick as one of his clerks to copy GW’s Revolutionary War correspondence.

3In his open letter to GW from Paris of 30 July 1796, which was first printed in America by Benjamin Franklin Bache, Thomas Paine charged GW with being, among other things, “treacherous in private friendships” and “a hypocrite in public life.” In his 5 Jan. 1798 edition of his Porcupine’s Gazette (Philadelphia), William Cobbett printed the following notice: “I have now in the press a most elegant and spirited answer to Paine’s brutal letter to General Washington. It was published in London about three months ago. The author is P. Kennedy, Esq. The vile traducers of the old General must blush to read what a foreigner and a Briton says of him.” On 20 Jan. Cobbett inserted a notice of his publication of Kennedy’s answer to Paine, commenting at some length on Paine’s letter. The enclosure, An Answer to Paine’s Letter to General Washington: Including Some Pages of Gratuitous Counsel to Mr. Erskine (Philadelphia, 1798), remained in GW’s library at the time of his death (Griffin, Catalogue of the Washington Collection description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends , 115). Kennedy attacked Paine as an irreligious "pest in society" who had been employed by French agents to perpetuate American hostility to Great Britain and then had returned to Europe because of "The contempt he fell into, the total disregard and abhorrence which he experienced among the circles of the great and good in America." Paine was a "little Ingrate" who "arrogantly arraigns the man to whom Europe has long since conceded the merits of consummate wisdom, the wreathe of military merit, obtained by the exertion of abilities, and by the noblest instances of prudential caution and firmness" because "the great and revered Washington wishes to avert the pernicious and pestilential influence of Gallic incendiaries from the peaceful shores of America."

4John Swanwick (1740–1798), a Philadelphia merchant, was elected as a Republican to the fourth and fifth congresses, serving from 4 Mar. 1795 until his death on 1 Aug. 1798. In the retained copy of this letter at MHi the question is raised whether this paragraph should be omitted.

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