Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Documents Accompanying a Memorial of Sarah Easton and Dorothy Storer to Congress, [ca. 1814]


Documents Accompanying a Memorial of Sarah Easton and Dorothy Storer to Congress

[ca. 1814]

The following documents accompany the memorial of Sarah Easton and Dorothy Storer.

THE services rendered by the late Col. Robert H. Harrison, in our revolutionary war, were of that distinguished character, to be known to the whole army, to the Congress who conducted the affairs of the revolution, and in general to the American people. In the commencement of the war, being a neighbor of General Washington’s, and well known to him, he was invited by the general to join him as aid-de-camp and principal secretary, and he served in that station with as pure and unsullied a fame as any person ever enjoyed. In all the actions in which general Washington commanded, colonel Harrison was present, near the person of the general, and exposed with him to equal danger. He assisted, as I have always understood, in the councils of war, where his opinions were highly respected. He was the faithful depository of the secret councils of the general, of the confidential communications to him from Congress, of the military movements that were intended to be made, and of all those secret councils, on the preservation of which the success of the army, and of the revolution itself, depended; and he was a most virtuous, able, and active agent in promoting every measure that was decided on.

In the most gloomy periods of the revolution, he was firm, persevering, and undaunted. I particularly remember that in the ever memorable retreat through Jersey, his example, in aid of that of the illustrious commander in chief, cheered the drooping spirits of others, and animated them to action. No person was more brave than Col. Harrison, none more faithful, and I say with confidence, that few, very few, rendered more important services to their country. Had he sought promotion in the army, there can be no doubt that he might easily have obtained it; but he had no such ambition. To be eminently useful in the station which he held, was the sole object of his heart. It is impossible to look back to this eventful period, and especially to the great achievements of the army, in which he sustained so distinguished and useful a part, by the various, important and complicated duties he had to perform, without being deeply impressed with a sense of his rare merit, and acknowledging, with gratitude his very important services. He did not leave the army until the liberties of his country were secured; nor then, till his constitution had received a severe shock. No sooner, however, was an opportunity afforded to the late commander in chief, than he seized it, to bestow on him a new and strong proof of his confidence and attachment, as well as of his high respect for his merit. On the adoption of the present constitution of the United States, when general Washington was called to the head of the government, he appointed Col. Harrison a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. His constitution, however, was too far exhausted to permit him to enter on the duties of that office. He set out to undertake them, but did not survive the effort.

I certify1 these facts from a personal knowledge of them, in their most important circumstances, having served myself in our revolutionary war three campaigns, those of 1776–’7, and ’8; in the first as a lieutenant in the third Virginia regiment, and in the two last, as aid-de-camp to major general lord Sterling, and they were afterwards known to me in common with other citizens who enjoyed public trusts, by which they became acquainted with public affairs. The documents, however, of the late army, and of the Congress, will sufficiently prove the facts. Of the recompence which Col. Harrison received for his important services, I can say little: I have no doubt, however, that he received nothing more than his pay by the month, depreciated as it was when received. He was among the most diffident and modest of men, and the last to set up a pretension, or to make any claim for his services.

Given under my hand, at Washington, this   


[The following letters, which were found among the papers of Colonel R. H. Harrison, will establish some of the important facts set forth in the Memorial, and stated in the above certificate, and particularly the great confidence reposed in Colonel Harrison by General Washington. They form a small portion only of the correspondence which took place between them, as nearly the whole of the valuable papers of the former were unfortunately lost after the death of his widow, Mrs. H.]


Morristown, January 9th, 1777.

My Dear Harrison,

I often intended, but before I had it in my power forgot, to ask you whether your brother-in law, major Johnson, would not, in your opinion, make a good aid-de-camp to me; I know it is a question that will involve you in some difficulty, but I beg you will not consider the connexion between you in answering of it. I have heard that major Johnson is a man of education, I believe him to be a man of sense; these are two very necessary qualifications; but how is his temper? As to military knowledge, I do not expect to find gentlemen much skilled in it; if they can write a good letter, write quick, are methodical and diligent, it is all I expect to find in my aids. Do not, therefore, if major Johnson possesses these qualities, and a good disposition, refrain (from false modesty) to withhold your recommendation, because, in that case, you will do him injustice and me a disservice.

If you think Mr. Johnson will suit me as well as any other, I should prefer him, and therefore beg that he may be sent hither immediately, as Webb only waits the arrival of another aid to set out for Connecticut,

I am, ever, Your affectionate friend, And obedient servant,



Morristown, January 10th, 1777.

My Dear Sir,

Enclosed are unsealed letters for Baylor and major Clough; let every thing be put in motion agreeably to them, as speedily as possible; and Clough or Starke, or both, set off as speedily as possible for Virginia.

If Grayson accepts the offer of a regiment, he should set out immediately to raise it, in doing which he will, I expect, derive great assistance from Levin Powell, if he inclines to serve as lieutenant colonel; the other officers, under the reserve of a negative, I leave to themselves to name. Young Ross I shall put into Gist’s regiment.

Let me have a copy of the instructions given to Sheldon; and if you could let me know exactly how the matter stands with respect to the exchange of prisoners, I should be glad to be furnished with it as soon as possible, as I am blamed, it seems, for not facilitating that matter more; take the most speedy and effectual measures to communicate the releasments that have come out, in order that the several officers concerned may be under no doubt or embarrassment with respect to the part they are to act.

The inclosed came to me from Richard Henry Lee, Esquire; I send it, that if Grayson thinks proper to make use of captain Kendal, he may. Colonel Lee gives a good character of him. I shall add no more at present, than that I am most sincerely, yours,


P. S. Send me a copy of that resolution of Congress relative to general Lee; I hear they are about to try him as a deserter.

G. W.


Morristown, January 20th, 1777.

My Dear Sir,

Mr. Johnson (who is now become a member of my family) delivered me your letter of the 18th, last night.

I beg of you to consult, and in my name advise and direct, such measures as shall appear most effectual to stop the progress of the small pox. When I recall to mind the unhappy situation of our northern army last year, I shudder at the consequences of this disorder, if some vigorous steps are not taken to stop the spreading of it. Vigorous measures must be adopted (however disagreeable and inconvenient to individuals) to remove the infected and infection before we feel too sensibly the effect.

I wish to Heaven the expected reinforcements were joined. (Under the rose, I say it) my situation, with respect to numbers, is more distressing than it has ever been yet; and at a time when the enemy are assembling their force from all quarters, no doubt with a view either to rout2 this army or to move towards Philadelphia, as I cannot suppose them so much uninformed of our strength as to believe they are acting upon a defensive plan at this hour.

I am exceeding glad to hear you are getting better of your complaints. I would not wish you to come out too soon, that may only occasion a relapse, which may add length of time to your confinement.

Be so good as to forward the enclosed to captain Hamilton.

Most affectionately, I am yours,


P.S. Doctor Cochran will set out to-morrow for New-Town, and will assist you in the matters before mentioned relative to the small-pox people.


Mount Vernon, November 18th, 1781.

Dear Sir,

A few days previous to my leaving the camp before York, I was favored with your letter of the   ultimo. Thinking I should see you on my return, I postponed acknowledging the receipt of it till now that I despair of that pleasure, being on the eve of my departure for Philadelphia, without making any stay on the road, except one day at Annapolis, if the governor should be there.

I desired doctor Draper, who came to this place with me on Tuesday last, and proposed being at Port Tobacco next day, to let you know I should stay a few days at home, and should be glad to see you; he possibly did not go there, or you might be attending the courts.

I thank you for your kind congratulations on the capitulation of Cornwallis. It is an interesting event, and may be productive of much good, if properly improved; but if it should be the means of relaxation, and sink us into supineness and security, it had better not have happened. Great Britain for some time past, has been encouraged, by the impolicy of our conduct, to continue the war; and should there be an interferance of European polities in her favor, peace may be further removed from us than we expect; while one thing we are sure of, and that is, that the only certain way to obtain peace is to be prepared for war. Policy, interest, economy, all unite to stimulate the states to fill the continental battalions, and provide the means of supporting them. I hope the present favorable moment for doing it, will not be neglected.

Mr. Custis’s death has given much distress in this family. I congratulate you on your late change, and am, dear sir, your most obedient and affectionate servant,


Robert H. Harrison, Esquire.

Mount Vernon, July 3d, 1785.

Dear Sir,

In the interval between your leaving this and the arrival of Mr. Briscoe, Mr. Montgomery (of Dumfries) recommended a young man whom he thought would answer my purpose;3 and being desired to speak to him, he accepted my offer, and will be with me in the course of a few days. Had it not been for this, the good character given of Mr. Briscoe by you, and others, would have induced me, without hesitation to have accepted his services. I thank you, very sincerely, for the ready and early attention you paid to my enquiries. To assure you of the great esteem and regard I have for you, is unnecessary, because you must be convinced of it; I shall only add therefore, that I am, very affectionately, your obedient and obliged humble servant,


Robert H. Harrison, Esq.

New-York, September 28th, 1789.

Dear Sir,

IT would be unnecessary to remark to you, that the administration of justice is the strongest cement of good government, did it not follow as a consequence, that the first organization of the Federal judiciary is essential to the happiness of our country, and to the stability of our political system.

Under this impression it has been the invariable object of my anxious solicitude, to select the fittest characters to expound the laws and dispense justice. To tell you that this sentiment has ruled me in your nomination to a seat on the supreme bench of the United States, would be but to repeat opinions with which you are already well acquainted; opinions which meet a just coincidence in the public mind.

Your friends, and your fellow-citizens, anxious for the respect of the court to which you are appointed, will be happy to learn your acceptance, and no one among them will be more so than myself.

As soon as the acts which are necessary accompanyments of these appointments, can be got ready, you will receive official notice of the latter. This letter is only to be considered as an early communication of my sentiments on this occasion, and as a testimony of the sincere esteem and regard with which, I am, dear Sir, your most obedient and affectionate humble servant,


The honorable Robert H. Harrison.

New York, November 25th, 1789.

My Dear Sir,

SINCE my return from my tour through the Eastern states, I have received your two letters, dated the 27th of last month, together with the commission which had been sent to you as a judge of the supreme court of the United States.

I find that one of the reasons which induced you to decline the appointment, rests on an idea that the judicial act will remain unaltered. But in respect to that circumstance, I may suggest to you, that such a change in the system is contemplated, and deemed expedient by many in, as well as out of Congress, as would permit you to pay as much attention to your private affairs, as your present station does.

As the first court will not sit until the first Monday in February, I have thought proper to return your commission, not for the sake of urging you to accept it contrary to your interest or convenience, but with a view of giving you a further opportunity of informing yourself of the nature and probability of the change alluded to. This you would be able to do, with the less risque of mistake, if you should find it convenient to pass some time here, when a considerable number of members of both houses of Congress shall have assembled; and this might be done before it would become indispensible to fill the place offered to you. If, on the other hand, your determination is absolutely fixed, you can without much trouble, send back the commission under cover.

Knowing as you do the candid part which I wish to act on all occasions, you will, I am pursuaded, do me the justice to attribute my conduct in this particular instance to the proper motives, when I assure you that I would not have written this letter if I had imagined it would produce any new embarrassments. On the contrary, you may rest assured, that I shall be perfectly4 satisfied with whatever determination may be consonant to your best judgment and most agreeable to yourself.

I am, dear Sir, With sentiments5 of real esteem and regard, Your most obedient and affectionate servant,


P. S. As it may be satisfactory to you to know the determination of the other associate judges of the supreme court, I have the pleasure to inform you that all of them have accepted their appointments.


Bladensburg, January 21, 1790.

My Dear Sir,

I left home on the 14th inst. with a view of making a journey to New York, and after being several days detained at Alexandria, by indisposition, came thus far on the way. I now unhappily find myself in such a situation as not to be able to proceed farther. From this unfortunate event, and the apprehension that my indisposition may continue, I pray you to consider that I cannot accept the appointment of associate judge, with which I have been honored. What I do, my dear Sir, is the result of the most painful and distressing necessity.

I entreat that you will receive the warmest returns of my gratitude, for the distinguished proofs I have had of your flattering and invaluable esteem and confidence, and that you will believe that I am and shall always remain, with the most affectionate attachment, my dear sir,

Your most obedient and obliged friend and servant,


 (Endorsed private)
The President of the United States.

Mr. Harrison lived to return home, and died in March following.



No. 300.      To lieutenant colonel Robert Hanson Harrison.

I certify that Robert Hanson Harrison, Esquire, lieutenant colonel in the continental army, entered the service in the month of October, 1775, as one of my aids-de-camp, and in May following became my secretary; the duties of which offices he discharged with “conspicuous abilities:” That his whole conduct, during all the interesting periods of the war, has been marked by the strictest integrity, and the most attentive and faithful services, while by personal bravery he has been distinguished on several occasions.

Given at head quarters this twenty-fifth day of March, 1781.


I certify that the above is a true copy taken from a volume in my possession, containing private letters from general Washington, from January, 1780, to December 18, 1782. Marked P. vol. 2, page 201.


Broadside (DLC: TJ Papers, 221:39509–11); with final page trimmed to a half sheet; undated; brackets in original. Broadside (DLC: Rare Book and Special Collections); with final page intact, on the lower portion of which is printed the “ACT concerning Sarah Easton and Dorothy Storer” passed by the Virginia General Assembly on 9 Feb. 1814, in which Easton and Storer were awarded the bounty in lands and depreciation in pay allowed to a lieutenant colonel in the revolutionary army (Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1813–14 sess.], 145–6); addressed: “Honble James Birdsall.” All of the George Washington documents above are, or will be, printed in Washington, Papers description begins W. W. Abbot and others, eds., The Papers of George Washington, 1983– , 69 vols.: Colonial Ser., 10 vols.; Confederation Ser., 6 vols.;Pres. Ser., 21 vols.;Retirement Ser., 4 vols.;Rev. War Ser., 28 vols. description ends , and ASP, Claims, 1:850–3. In some cases they are based on versions that include additional text touching on personal matters, not accounted for here.

Robert Hanson Harrison (1745–90), attorney, soldier, and judge, was born in Charles County, Maryland, and practiced law in Virginia in the Fairfax County Court by 1769. In 1774 he was a member of the Fairfax Independent Company of militia, and the following year he was a lieutenant in the 3d Virginia Regiment. George Washington appointed Lieutenant Colonel Harrison an aide-de-camp in 1775, and he served as one of Washington’s military secretaries from 1776 until 1781. In the latter year Harrison accepted appointment as chief judge of the General Court of Maryland, a position he held until his death. In 1789 Washington nominated him to be a justice of the United States Supreme Court, but Harrison declined. That same year he likewise declined election as Maryland’s chancellor. Harrison died at his home in Charles County (George T. Ness Jr., “A Lost Man of Maryland,” Maryland Historical Magazine 35 [1940]: 315–36; Washington, Papers description begins W. W. Abbot and others, eds., The Papers of George Washington, 1983– , 69 vols.: Colonial Ser., 10 vols.; Confederation Ser., 6 vols.;Pres. Ser., 21 vols.;Retirement Ser., 4 vols.;Rev. War Ser., 28 vols. description ends , esp. Colonial Ser., 8:252–4, 10:173–4, Rev. War Ser., 2:308, 4:310, Presidential Ser., 4:98–102; Heitman, Continental Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783, rev. ed., 1914, repr. 1967 description ends , 13, 277; Annapolis Maryland Gazette, 8 Apr. 1790).

The memorial of sarah easton and dorothy storer was not itself sent to TJ. Their petition was presented to the United States Congress on 28 Feb. 1822. In it they described the service of Harrison as Washington’s aide-de-camp and secretary and explained that poor health forced him in 1781 “to retire, on furlough, from active service”; testified to Harrison’s sense of patriotic duty, as evidenced by his death on the way to the capital after Washington appointed him to the United States Supreme Court; declared that “much pains has been taken” to discover what happened to Harrison’s papers after his wife died; and asked that “the commutation of half-pay and the bounty in lands provided by Congress for the officers and soldiers of the revolutionary army … be extended to them, the only legal representatives of their father” (ASP, Claims, 1:850).

Beginning as early as 1810, Easton and Storer frequently and unsuccessfully petitioned Congress for remuneration that they believed was still owed to Harrison’s heirs (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States description ends , 4:462, 480 [19 Mar., 9 Apr. 1810]). On 29 May 1830 Congress finally passed “An Act for the relief of Sarah Easton and Dorothy Storer, children and heirs at law of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Hanson Harrison, deceased,” which awarded the daughters 450 acres of military bounty land and “five years’ full pay, being the commutation for half pay for life, due to their said father in his life-time, for services by him rendered to the United States in their army, during the revolutionary war, as a Lieutenant-Colonel on the continental establishment” (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 6:437).

lord sterling (Stirling): William Alexander. The original statement by James monroe is dated 23 Nov. 1812 (MS in Vi: RG 3, Governor’s Office, Executive Papers). under the rose: “sub rosa.” Harrison had congratulated Washington on the capitulation of cornwallis in his letter of 21 Oct. 1781 (DLC: Washington Papers).

1Printed text: “certtfy.”

2Printed text: “route.”

3Printed text: “purpore.”

4Printed text: “perfcctly.”

5Printed text: “rentiments.”

Index Entries

  • Alexander, William; and J. Monroe search
  • Baylor, George; and G. Washington search
  • Briscoe, William; recommended by R. H. Harrison search
  • Clough, Alexander; and G. Washington search
  • Cochran, John; and smallpox search
  • Congress, U.S.; and Revolutionary War compensation claims search
  • Continental Congress, Second; resolution on desertion of C. Lee search
  • Cornwallis, Charles, 2d Earl Cornwallis; surrender of search
  • Custis, John Parke; death of search
  • Draper, George; and G. Washington search
  • Easton, Sarah Harrison (David Easton’s wife; Richard H. Harrison’s daughter); and R. H. Harrison’s Revolutionary War pension search
  • Gist, Nathaniel search
  • Grayson, William; and G. Washington search
  • Harrison, Grace Dent (Richard H. Harrison’s wife); death of search
  • Harrison, Robert Hanson; and A. Hamilton search
  • Harrison, Robert Hanson; as secretary to G. Washington search
  • Harrison, Robert Hanson; correspondence with G. Washington search
  • Harrison, Robert Hanson; death of search
  • Harrison, Robert Hanson; family of search
  • Harrison, Robert Hanson; health of search
  • Harrison, Robert Hanson; identified search
  • Harrison, Robert Hanson; personal papers of search
  • Harrison, Robert Hanson; Revolutionary War service of search
  • Harrison, Robert Hanson; Supreme Court appointment of search
  • health; smallpox search
  • Johnston, George; as G. Washington’s aide-de-camp search
  • Kendall, Woffendall; Revolutionary War officer search
  • Lee, Charles (1731–82); accused of desertion search
  • Lee, Richard Henry; recommends W. Kendall search
  • Monroe, James (1758–1831); and R. H. Harrison’s Revolutionary War service search
  • Monroe, James (1758–1831); Revolutionary War service of search
  • Montgomerie, Thomas search
  • New Jersey; G. Washington’s retreat through search
  • Powell, Leven; and G. Washington search
  • Revolutionary War; compensation claims search
  • Revolutionary War; G. Washington’s retreat through N.J. search
  • Revolutionary War; prisoners of war search
  • Ross, David (Maj.); and G. Washington search
  • Sheldon, Elisha; and G. Washington search
  • smallpox; and Continental army search
  • Starke, William A.; and G. Washington search
  • Storer, Dorothy Hanson (Richard H. Harrison’s daughter); and R. H. Harrison’s Revolutionary War pension search
  • Supreme Court, U.S.; appointments to search
  • Washington, Bushrod; and papers of G. Washington search
  • Washington, George; and A. Hamilton search
  • Washington, George; and G. Johnston search
  • Washington, George; as army commander search
  • Washington, George; as president search
  • Washington, George; correspondence with R. H. Harrison search
  • Washington, George; judicial appointments of search
  • Washington, George; on federal judiciary search
  • Washington, George; on smallpox search
  • Washington, George; papers of search
  • Washington, George; travels of search
  • Webb, Samuel Blachley; as G. Washington’s aide-de-camp search