Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Richard Willson, 21 August 1803

From Richard Willson

Washington Augt. 21. 1803


It is with surprise that I observe the friends of Government destitute of a Coffee House or Hotel to assemble at, on Capitol Hill, at a period when the opposite party are supporting the only House with energy & spirit.

I have formed the plan of opening a National Coffee House and Hotel, on the Hill for the entertainment of the Republican friends, and my finances having continued totally deranged since my application for the appointment of Librarian, on the recommendation of Mr. Wright and Mr. Nicholson, added to the misfortune I experienced a few weeks past of losing my little all in a gale of wind. I am impelled to solicit a small loan from your Excellency & Secretarys and such Gentlemen as may be induced by their benevolence to patronise the undertaking.   And as the day on which Congress is to convene is so near at hand as to render promptitude in preparation necessary, that circumstance will I hope excuse me for addressing you on the subject, instead of waiting on you personally to obtain your signature and advance. Any loan from 10 to 50 dollars1 returnable with Interest in 12 months, will be gratefully received.

I have the honor to be, your Excellencys most Obed. & most Hum Servt

Richard Willson

RC (CSmH); at head of text: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 24 Aug. and so recorded in SJL.

destitute of a coffee house: the national capital was not without coffee. Republican supporter William Lovell ran a coffee room in his Union Tavern and Washington Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, the “first house east of the President’s, and one mile from the Capitol.” There he catered to “Members of Congress, Travellers, and those gentlemen whose business calls them to the City of Washington.” Lovell built the tavern in 1801 and operated it until 1804 (Alexandria Advertiser, 31 Jan. 1803; National Intelligencer, 14 Feb. 1803; Wilhelmus B. Bryan, “Hotels of Washington Prior to 1814,” RCHS description begins Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 1895-1989 description ends , 7 [1904], 82-3).

Willson continued to worry about his finances. In March 1803, Washington newspapers announced his insolvency. Eight months later he posted a notice about his “limited pecuniary resources” and abrogated any responsibility for payment of articles not received or for contracts not executed by him in person or by his written order. Willson made an unsuccessful bid to become librarian of Congress in 1802. He eventually found employment as a clerk in the Treasurer’s Office under Thomas Tudor Tucker from 1804 until January 1808, for which he received about $1,000 in annual compensation. Even while he held that post and later resigned to pursue a line of business that fell victim to the embargo, he continued to solicit other lucrative government positions (National Intelligencer, 25 Mch., 15 Nov. 1803; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 6:505; testimonial of Thomas Tudor Tucker, 13 June 1807, in DNA: RG 59, LAR; Willson to Madison, 16 June 1808, in same; Gallatin, Papers, 13:651; 15:394; Vol. 35:451; Vol. 36:436).

1Willson here canceled “will.”

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