George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Milligan, 13 January 1784

From James Milligan

Comptrollers Office Philada 13th January 1784


I have the Honour, and the singular pleasure of transmitting, inclosed to your Excellency, copies of your Accots for family expences, Secret Services, and other Contingencies, commencing in June 1775 and ending Decemr 8th 1783, as officially Stated at the Treasury, By which it appears that a balance of Seven hundred and twenty Seven dollars & 7/10 of a dollar Specie, is due by the United States to your Excellency on this Account.1 For this Sum I have transmitted my Certificate to the Superintendant of Finance, who has assured me that he will direct payment of the Same to be made without delay.

You will be pleased Sir, to observe, that in the Account marked D, you are debited with Fifty Guineas paid to Doctor William Smith for his Bill of Exchange upon you, which Bill was transmitted you, as appears by the Superintendants letter to your Excellency, dated Decemr 26th 1782, to which, with Doctor Smiths letter accompanying it, I beg leave to refer. This Sum, Mr Morris informs me, was a Donation made by your Excellency to Washington College in Maryland. The manner of its having been paid, without going through your hands, and the Great attention you always gave to the more important duties of your high Station, Sufficiently Account for its escaping your notice at the time the Accounts were made up, but I doubt not, you will, upon this explanation, consider it as a proper charge.2 Notwithstanding this debit, it is no unpleasing circumstance to me that I can inform your Excellency that the balance now Stated, still exceeds that Struck by yourself, by a fraction of 37/90ths of a dollar. This is owing to your having on the other hand, omitted to charge Interest on Five hundred and Ninety one 31/90ths dollars (paid by Colo. Baylor & Colo. Cary to Major Gibbs) from the 1st December 1776 to 1st July 1783, Which I am of opinion you are entitled to, as it appears you were that Sum in advance on the said 1st of Decemr over and above the Sum for which you had charged Interest.3

This being carried to your Credit, over balances the charge of Fifty Guineas, by the fraction mentioned.

As all Accounts, when liquidated, are regularly entered in the Treasury Books, and the original papers carefully filed, it is not customary or deemed necessary, for Accountants to receive any official papers, unless a Warrant for the balance, if any due; But your Excellency having in your Accounts, clearly displayed that degree of Candor and Truth, and that attention you have constantly paid to every denomination of Civil Establishments, which invariably distinguish all your actions, I could not resist the inclination I felt, of transmitting you these papers, in hopes that it may prove a matter of some Satisfaction to you.4

If it has this effect in the smallest degree, it will give me great pleasure. Sorry I am Sir, that I have not been able to do it so soon as I proposed; This unavoidable delay, I hope your Excellencys goodness will pardon.

As soon as you can favour me with your Account of Expences incurred after the termination of this, it shall be Expedited with all possible dispatch.5

To the universal congratulations of your applauding Country, and of an Admiring World, Suffer me Sir, to embrace this opportunity of offering to add the mite of a Sincere Individual, on the Great events that have taken place under your Auspicious Command. That Heaven may protect and preserve you long in happiness here, and at last Reward such Virtues as this World cannot, is the fervent prayer of Sir your Excellencys Most obt and Very Humble Servant

Jas Milligan Comptr of the Treasury


James Milligan (d. 1818) was comptroller for Congress from the creation of the office at the time Congress reorganized the treasury for Robert Morris in 1781 until the office was abolished in 1787.

1In his address to the Continental Congress, 16 June 1775, accepting command of the American army, GW wrote: “I do not wish to make any proffit from it: I will keep an exact Account of my expences; those I doubt not they will be discharged & that is all I desire” (Papers, Revolutionary War Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. 25 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1985–. description ends , 1:1–3). GW’s own account of his expenses for the war until 1 July 1783 is in DNA: RG 56, General Records—Treasury Department. There is also a copy of the accounts, in GW’s hand, in DLC:GW. The treasury’s account of GW’s receipts and expenditures from June 1775 to 8 Dec. 1783 (DLC.GW) that Milligan enclosed in this letter runs to twenty-four pages. For the correspondence leading to the adjustment of this account and its final settlement, see particularly Robert Morris to GW, 14 Feb., GW to Milligan, 18 Feb., Milligan to GW, 9 Mar., and GW to Milligan, 1 April 1784.

2On 8 July 1782 William Smith (1727–1803) wrote GW that the Maryland legislature had renamed the Kent County School at Chestertown, of which he was rector, Washington College. In response, GW wrote on 18 Aug. 1782: “If the trifling sum of Fifty Guineas will be considered as an earnest of my wishes for the prosperity of this Seminary, I shall be ready to pay it to the order of the Visitors whenever it is their pleasure to call for it.” On 23 Dec.1782 Smith informed GW that he had drawn on Robert Morris in GW’s name for “fifty Guineas” in order to buy “an Elegant Air-Pump & some optical Instruments” for the new college. Morris then wrote on 26 Dec. 1782: “I do myself the Honor to enclose to you a Bill of Exchange for fifty Guineas drawn by Doctor Smith upon yourself together with a Letter which I presume advises of it. Conceiving that a small Remittance might not be useless to your [military] Family I have indorsed it accordingly and of Course it will be chargable in the Public Books to your Household” (DLC:GW). There is this notation for the entry in the account that Milligan enclosed here: “Amount of a Warrant drawn 4th December 1782 by the S. I. of Finance in favour of James McCall Esqr. for 50 Guineas, which Sum does not appear Credited in the Generals Account & being paid to Doctor Smith.” GW readily conceded the correctness of the charge and apologized for having overlooked it (GW to Milligan, 18 Feb. 1784).

3Richard Cary and George Baylor were aides-de-camp to GW early in the war, Cary beginning 21 June 1776 and Baylor from 15 Aug. 1775 to 9 Jan. 1777. Caleb Gibbs of Massachusetts was a commander of GW’s guards from 12 Mar. 1776 to 1 July 1781. During these years Gibbs handled the payment of GW’s military household accounts. In his public accounts, June 1775–1 July 1783 (see note 1), GW has an entry dated December 1776 in which he enters 725 1/2 dollars or £217.13 for “Household Expenses paid by Majrs Cary and Baylor in Octr & part of Novr while Captn Gibbs was absent with the Baggage.” In explaining how he happened to overlook the interest upon the 591 31/90 dollars, GW wrote Milligan on 18 Feb.: “As the principal was rescued from error, & brought into a subsequent accot, I never thought about interest.” One of Milligan’s treasury accounts with GW, which he enclosed in this letter, credited GW with £45.13 from Baylor on 26 Nov. 1776 and £126 from Cary on 21 Nov. 1776, a total of £171.13 or 591 31/10 dollars, undoubtedly the principal “rescued from error,” i.e. £217.13 or 725 1/2 dollars.

From June 1775 to 1 Jan. 1777, GW himself bore a considerable part of his expenses, about 15 percent, for his military household. When he submitted his accounts for settlement on 1 July 1783, he entered £599.19.11 as the balance due him at the end of 1776, to which he appended the explanation: “This Balle arises from the Expenditures of my private purse—From which . . . my outfit to take the Command of the Army at Cambridge—The Expences of the Journey thither—and disbursements for some time afterwards were borne—It being money which I brought to, and recd at Philadelphia while there as a Delegate to Congress, in May & June 1775.” In another entry, 1 July 1783, GW claimed interest on this amount that he was out of pocket: “To Interest of £599.19.11 being the Balle due me Decr 31st 1776—The amount having been applied to Public uses in the preceeding year—from whence to wit July 1st 1775 I charge Intt at 6 pr Ct pr Ann.—288.” Milligan’s account with GW has an entry marked “Balance of Account Commencing June 1775 and Ending Decemr 1776 as ⅌ Account herewith marked A,” which allows GW’s claims in dollars rather than pounds: 1,999–⟨37/90⟩dollars, principal, and 959.89 dollars, interest.

4The following item, from Boston, dated 5 Feb., appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette on 25 Feb. 1784: “Extract of a letter from Philadelphia, Jan. 8. ’As every anecdote respecting great men is important, I will tell you one about General Washington.—While in town he delivered in his accounts to the Comptroller, in a book. It comprehends a period of 8 years, all in his own hand writing,—and every entry made in the most particular manner, stating the occasion of each charge, so as to give as little trouble as possible in examining them. In this you see he has been as exemplary as in every other part of his conduct. . . . ”

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