George Washington Papers
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To George Washington from John Searson, 13 September 1796

From John Searson

Philada 13 Sepr 1796

The misfortunes of an honest man Struggling with dire distress, has in all ages been look’d upon, by Compassionate and Benevolent minds with noted Commisseration, Scenes of a truly afflictive nature (tho’ Innocent of the Cause of them) has fallen to my Lot, notwithstanding my formerly being a Reputable Wholesale merchant in this City. from such vicissitude in Human affairs, Have made application to the Humane for Relief, And Since my late arrival in this City, your Excellency was pointed out to me by Some friends as most Suitable, from your Excellency’s Humane and Charitable Character—I was lately Informed there was a vacancy for the place of Clerk at the War office—Two of my friends viz. Blair McClenaghan & John Taylor Esqr. accompanied me to Willm Symmonds Esqr. first or disposing Clerk in that office, But alas! Could not Succeed. Nothing therefore offering, that I can yet see for a Support, beg leave to throw my Self at the feet of your Excellency’s Humanity for such Relief as to your Humane Breast may Seem meet. Should my application meet notice, I Lodge at No. 22 Carter’s alley near 2nd Street—I have the Honor to be, (may it please your Excellency) with the most profound Regard, Humility and Respect, and with Prayer to Heaven for long Life prosperity and every Earthly Bliss—Your Excellency’s Most Devoted and Humble Servant

Jno. Searson


Searson previously had written GW from Philadelphia on 19 Aug. to explain that he “formerly Intermarried a Reputable female of the City of Philadelphia” and “liv’d in the Character of accomptant with a principal Merchant of that City.” After his wife’s death, “he took to the Education of youth” and “hath been Reputably Employd both in America & Ireland” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; see also Searson to GW, 9 April 1798, in Papers, Retirement Series, description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series. 4 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1998–99. description ends 2:232–34).

According to the various statements in his books and letters, John Searson was a native of Ireland who apprenticed briefly in the West Indies before coming to America while quite young and spending more than twenty years as a tutor, bookkeeper, and merchant at New York and Philadelphia. Meeting with financial misfortunes during the Revolutionary War, he returned to Ireland, spent about fifteen years as schoolmaster at Colerain, issued poems in 1794 and 1795, and then returned to the United States. Searson subsequently issued three more books of poetry, dedicating the latter two volumes to GW: Poems on Various Subjects and Different Occasions, Chiefly Adapted to Rural Entertainment in the United States of America (Philadelphia, 1797); Art of Contentment; With Several Entertaining Pieces of Poetry, Descriptive of the Present Times, in the U. States of America (Baltimore, [1797]); and Mount Vernon, A Poem: Being the seat of his excellency George Washington, in the State of Virginia; Lieutenant-general and commander in chief of the land forces of the United States of America (Philadelphia, [1800]).

In the dedicatory letter to GW in the Art of Contentment, Searson reminded GW: “I did myself the honor to wait upon your Excellency, in September, 1796, before your resignation of the Presidency of the United States. …

“Your Excellency was so humane and condescending, as to countenance my intention of publishing by subscription, a Poem, suited to the then present state of America, for which I obtained above 1200 subscribers. And your Excellency’s condescending and polite letter, for transmitting a Poem to you at Mount Vernon, merits [m]y most sincere gratitude” (see also GW to Searson, 20 Aug. 1797, in Papers, Retirement Series, description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series. 4 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1998–99. description ends 1:311).

Although Mount Vernon was printed after GW’s death and included “Elegiac Verses, on the Decease of His Late Excellency, the Illustrious and Ever-Memorable, Great and Good General George Washington, of Immortal Memory,” Searson presumably wrote the dedicatory letter to GW before his decease. Searson again mentioned his 1796 visit to GW and added that he had “the honor to visit your Excellency 15th May last, so as to obtain an adequate idea of Mount-Vernon; wishing to compose a poem on that beautiful seat.”

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