George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel Caldwell, 14 April 1789

From Samuel Caldwell

[Philadelphia] 14th April 1789

The Petition of Samuel Caldwell of the City of Philadelphia most Respectfully Sheweth. That your Petitioner in the month of March One thousand Seven hundred and Eighty eight, on the demise of the late Tonnage Officer—who was also by Law Secretary to the Board of Wardens for the Port of Philadelphia, was appointed by his Excellency the President and the Honble the Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to fill these Offices.

That this Honble Body were also pleased to renew his appointments under another Law passed the fourth of October last past for regulating this whole Department—and to continue him to the present time.

That he is happy in the belief his appointment met the wishes of his fellow Citizens—and his conduct in the Execution of the Offices was generally satisfactory.

That he is at present wholly disengaged from other avocations—desirous of being usefully employed—and with becoming deference presumes that from his experience and practice in the rotine of business in these Offices, he may be competant to the punctual, faithfull, and exact discharge of the same, under such regulations as will be made by the General Government.

Your Petitioner Therefore humbly solicits your Excellency would be pleased to nominate him for Collector of the Duties of Tonnage and Secretary to the Board of Wardens for the Port of Philadelphia—under which Sanction he can indulge the hope of meeting the approbation of The Honble the Senate of the States—for an appointment to the same. And your Petitioner will ever Pray &c.

Saml Caldwell


Samuel Caldwell (c.1738–1798), a Philadelphia merchant, was born in Ireland. From April 1784 to October 1788 he served as one of the wardens of the port of Philadelphia, resigning when he was appointed by the state collector of the port and clerk to the port wardens. Shortly after writing this letter, Caldwell suffered a paralytic stroke. On 14 Sept. 1789 he informed GW “I am much recovered from my indisposition, and daily gaining ground of my Complaint in so much that I could now attend personally to the duties of that office. . . . A Business that would yield me a prospect of a decent support for my family is the only thing wanting to perfect my Cure” (DLC:GW).

After failing to receive a customs position, Caldwell renewed his application, on 17 July 1789, noting that his state position “is very troublesome and yields me but a scanty compensation. . . . I am at this late period informed, that by the Bill, preparing for your Excellency’s concurrence for collecting the Duties, the Tonnage Office will be done away, and a new Office of Surveyor for the Port created, which will be somewhat similar in its nature, and I hope your Excellency may be pleased to put me in nomination for it. . . . The Gentlemen of the present Congress who are perhaps best acquainted with either my public or private character thro’ life are, the Honorable Messrs Robert Morris, Wm McClay, Thos FitzSimons, Geo. Clymer, Thos Hartley, Genl Muhlenberg, George Read, Wm Smith, Wm Grayson, Lambert Cadwallader, and John Henry” (DLC:GW). When the post of surveyor for the port of Philadelphia fell vacant in September 1789 Caldwell again wrote to GW applying for the job and reminding him that “tho you were not pleased to comply with my request at that time on accot of my bad state of health, I had the satisfaction to find you were pleased to think favorably of my pretensions, and to testify a wish to serve me on any suitable occasion” (DLC:GW). Failing to get this appointment, in October 1789 he solicited the post of superintendent of lighthouses for the Delaware River area. He had, he wrote GW, just received the appointment of clerk of the Pennsylvania district court from Judge Francis Hopkinson, “which may in time afford me the means of supplying the wants of a large family, but cannot be immediately productive, nor engage the whole of my Time. I have however, consulted the Judge, Mr Morris, and some other of my friends, who agree in opinion that the two employments are no way incompatible and have encouraged me to make this application, which if your Excellency shall be pleased to grant, & it should be found that they interfere with each other—I promise immediately to resign the Office of Superintendent with grateful thanks” (14 Sept. 1789, DLC:GW).

GW received a letter in support of Caldwell’s application from James McHenry, who had married Caldwell’s niece, testifying that Caldwell was “an eminent merchant some time since, but from those changes which prevail in human affairs his present office is become his only support. I know he has always been distinguished by his patriotism; and I beleive, has often rendered services to the public to his own detriment” (April 1789, DLC:GW). Hugh Williamson, writing on 29 July, acknowledged that “it has been objected that Mr Caldwell suffered, some Months ago, by a paralitic Affection in one Side. From this however his Recovery is stated by the Certificate of his Physician. To myself who saw him the other Day he appeared in Health though yet weak from his late Regimen. Mr Robt Morris who had sundry Certificates respecting Mr Caldwell has probably before this Time put them into your Hands” (DLC:GW). In October 1789 Caldwell was appointed clerk of the United States district court in Pennsylvania.

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