George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Carter Burwell, 20 April 1755

To Carter Burwell

[Mount Vernon, 20 April 1755]

To Carter Burwell Esqr.—Chairman of the Military Commee Williamsburgh

From the goodness kindness of your offer last Assembly,1 I flatter myself you will be kind enough so obliging as to acquaint the Gentlemen of the Committee (at this eir next meeting) with the loss I sustaind during my Appointment as Paymaster to the Virginia Forces (either by Robery, or neglect of charging) and so far favour my Pretensions as to sollicit them in my behalf, which I am convinced will propose the reimbursement of it—Your interest in this matter will I am persd be a the means of their refunding me the money I lost to the amount of of my obtaining 50 odd pounds which I have lost—I shoud not have presum’d to ask this favr, (nor shall I in any shape urge press it) as the Gentlemen were so kind good as to grant make me an allowance for my trouble in paying out the money if I had not, in other respects, sufferd considerably in the Service;2 for besides the loss of many valuable Paper’s, a valuable Servant (who died a few days after of his Wounds)3 my Stores wearing Apparel, Books, & Horses, &ca which amounted to no trifling Sum in the whole, and in which I alone sufferd was in a manner singular by being the only person who got out their things but a few days their baggage up before the Engagement I say not to mention happened—Besides the above things, I lost at the same time a very valuable, and uncommon Circumferentor Theodilate calculated not only for Superficial Measure, but for taking of Altitudes, and other useful purposes which I carried out solely for the Publick use Service imagining it might be necessary for laying of out Grounds for Fortins &ca;4 I also lost many other things wch I sd have receivd, and shd have mention’d in a Publick way These things I should have mentioned upon my first comg in had I not been Sensible that the Gentn were pretty much pester’d but I found the Committee were surrounded with complaints of this sort from several a similar nature from most of the Officers, whose losses, tho’ I knew them to be were greatly inferiour to mine, yet I also knew they were less able to bear them, & this motive alone prevented me from mentg any thing relating to myself on this hd till now, when before I hope you will be kind enough to serve me. now.

I am just ready to embark a 2d time in the Service of my Country; to merit whose regard approbation & esteem, is the sole motive that enduces me to make this Campaigne; for I can very truely say I have no views, either of profitting by it or rising5 in the Service as I go a Volunteer witht illegible⟩ of Pay, & am certain it is not in Genl Braddocks power to give a Comn that I wd accept; nay I might further add—that so far from being serviceable, I am thoroughly convinced it will prove very detrimental to my private Affairs, as I shall leave a Family scarcely Settled, & in gt disorder; but however prejudicial this may be, it shall not stop me from going—A happy Issue to all your resolves is most sincerely wishd by Sir Yr most Obt Servt

Go: Washington

LB (original), DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW.

Carter Burwell (1716–1756), who lived at Carter’s Grove on the James River about 6 miles from Williamsburg, served James City County as burgess from 1742 until shortly before his death. Well connected politically, he had recently emerged as one of the foremost men in the House of Burgesses. He was a member of the committee of propositions and grievances, the committee of privileges and elections, and the 14–member legislative committee named in the military spending act of Oct. 1754 to oversee the disbursement of the £20,000 appropriated for protection of the colony’s frontiers against the French. He was named to other similar oversight committees by acts passed in Feb. 1754, Aug. 1755, and April 1756.

1The Virginia General Assembly had last met 17 Oct. to 2 Nov. 1754. A new session was to begin 1 May 1755. For Burwell’s offer, see GW to John Robinson, 20 April 1755.

2The position of paymaster went to the commander of the Virginia Regiment, who received a percentage of the gross payroll besides his own pay. GW succeeded Col. Joshua Fry as commander of the Virginia forces in June 1754. See John Carlyle to GW, 28 June 1754.

3Apparently GW’s servant was a slave.

4“Theodilate” seems to be the correct term for the surveying instrument described by GW. A circumferentor, or plain surveying compass as it was often called in America, could be rigged with a plumb line to gauge vertical angles (Gibson, Practical Surveying description begins Robert Gibson. A Treatise of Practical Surveying; Which Is Demonstrated from Its First Principles. 6th ed. Philadelphia, 1792. description ends , 173–74), but it was designed and commonly used to measure only horizontal angles. Consisting essentially of a magnetic compass with a pair of sighting bars, this light, simple, and relatively inexpensive instrument was the one most favored by early American surveyors. Although subject to the vagaries of magnetic deflection, it enabled a surveyor to run lines quickly on compass bearings through areas of limited visibility such as were frequently encountered in the American forests. A theodolite equipped with a telescopic sight, as many were after 1720, permitted vertical angles to be read easily and accurately in conjunction with horizontal angles, the sight being designed to move both vertically and horizontally along precisely graduated scales. Heavier, more complex, and more expensive than the circumferentor, the theodolite was also more accurate and versatile but normally required careful visual sighting both forwards and backwards at each survey station. Theodolites were commonly used by military engineers, who worked in relatively open areas and demanded considerable precision in laying out fortified positions.

5A tilde appears above “rising” in the original letter book, but the clerk did not change the spelling of the word when he copied this letter.

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