George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Ruston, 20 March 1789

From Thomas Ruston

Philada March 20th 1789


The bearer of this, Mr John Churchman, is the person so well known for his discoveries in order to ascertain the method of finding out the Longitude at sea.1 Encouraged by a communication he has had from Sir Joseph Banks, (the President of the Royal Society)2 and others, he is very intent on prosecuting his researches for this purpose, with wch view he is going to New York, and as he is ambitious of being known to your Excellency, I take the liberty of troubling you with this leter of introduction from Dr Sr your obliged and obedient humble Servant

Thos Ruston


1John Churchman (1753–1805), a Quaker and a native of Calvert County, Md., was a surveyor and mapmaker. His investigations in 1787 into the causes of the variation of the magnetic needle embroiled him in acrimonious disputes with the Royal Society and the American Philosophical Society. In the spring of 1789 Churchman attempted to interest Congress in supporting “a voyage to Baffin’s Bay, for the purpose of making magnetical experiments to ascertain the causes of the variation of the needle, and how near the longitude may be thereby ascertained” (De Pauw, Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 3:22). Although he gained considerable support from James Madison and other congressmen for his petition, it was ultimately rejected (ibid., 28–29, 256, 634, 641, 657, 689). For Churchman’s own description of his proposals, see his letter to GW, 7 May 1789.

2During his long tenure as president of the Royal Society from 1778 to 1820, Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820) became one of England’s foremost patrons of science. His magnificent library of manuscripts and published works on natural history collected over many years became after his death part of the collections of the British Museum.

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