Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Robert Purviance, 14 June 1803

To Robert Purviance

Washington June 14. 1803.

Th: Jefferson with his compliments to mr Purviance asks the favor of him to give the inclosed letter a passage in any vessel bound from his port to any port of France, but to Bordeaux of preference, if one be bound thither; and to accept his salutations.

RC (NN); addressed: “Mr. Robert Purviance Collector of the customs Baltimore”; franked and postmarked; endorsed by Purviance. Enclosure: TJ to William Lee, 14 June, and enclosure.

Robert Purviance (1733–1806) emigrated from Ireland and was living in Baltimore by the 1760s. There, he became a merchant with his brother Samuel Purviance. During the Revolution, the two engaged in privateering on the patriot side, and they later speculated in western lands. Wartime losses, perhaps compounded by liberal contributions to the Revolution, forced the brothers into bankruptcy during the 1780s, and in 1788 Samuel Purviance was captured and likely killed by Indians on the frontier. Despite being characterized as the lesser-skilled, junior partner in his mercantile business, Robert Purviance successfully applied for the post of naval officer at the port of Baltimore in 1789. He became collector in 1794 and, although a committed Federalist, retained the post until his death (New York People’s Friend & Daily Advertiser, 15 Oct. 1806; Washington, Papers, Pres. Ser. description begins W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, Philander D. Chase, Theodore J. Crackel, Edward C. Lengel, and others, eds., The Papers of George Washington, Charlottesville, 1983- , 57 vols., Confed. Ser., 1992–97, 6 vols., Pres. Ser., 1987- , 16 vols., Ret. Ser., 1998–99, 4 vols., Rev. War Ser., 1985- , 21 vols. description ends , 2:332–3; Vol. 35:444–5).

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