George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Wilson, 23 January 1778

To James Wilson

Head Quarters [Valley Forge] 23d Jany 1778

Dear sir

I have received your favor of the 11th Instant. Captain Smith obtain’d leave of Absence some time ago, & I understand is gone to Baltimore. If upon your Writing to him, he will return to Carlile, he has my permission to remain with you a short time, for the Settlement of your Business.1 I am Dear Sir your mo. Obedt Servant

Go: Washington

LS, in John Fitzgerald’s writing, PHi: Washington Papers. GW signed the cover of the LS, which was addressed “To James Willson Esqr. Carlisle.”

1James Wilson (1742–1798) of Philadelphia, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, had been elected a delegate to the Continental Congress in May 1775. He was given leave of absence in May 1777 “to transact some private affairs,” and the Pennsylvania general assembly replaced Wilson as a delegate in September of that year (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 7:367, 8:746). In part because of political controversy related to his opposition to the Pennsylvania constitution, Wilson spent much of the winter of 1777–78 in Annapolis, Md., where he established a short-lived legal practice in addition to those he had established in Reading and Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In the summer of 1778 he returned to Philadelphia, where he gained notoriety as a counsel for Loyalists and as a land jobber, and in October 1779 an anti-Loyalist mob attacked his Philadelphia home, forcing him to barricade himself inside in what became known as the affair of “Fort Wilson.” Wilson returned as a delegate to Congress in 1783 and 1785–87, and he played an important role in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. GW appointed him an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1789, a post that he held until his death. Wilson’s letter to GW of 11 Jan. 1778 has not been found, and “Captain Smith” has not been identified.

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