George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Louis de Pontière, 6 May 1789

From Louis de Pontière

Nancy in Loraine [France] 6th May 1789

My General

Altho’ I am very uncertain whether this letter will reach you or not, I have nevertheless, taken the liberty to write to you, exposing my situation which becomes more & more deplorable—while I had friends & Relations I asked of them whatever was necessary for me during the American war, & since my return to France while the hope the interest of my Captaincy would be paid I have been received among them with pleasure, but as soon as it was known that I received neither principal nor interest they have ceased to make advances—you may imagine therefore, my General, how unhappy my life must be to be continually among them.1 I also pray you my General, once more to bring good fortune to us by doing everything in your power to have us paid as soon as possible—I assure you I am one of those who have the greatest need—Others have had sufficient influence to get into service—Consider, my General, that I have done everything for America—my fortune has been employed in it—Observe also, my General, that the debt is of the most sacred nature which you have to pay—and remember, above all, how much I have the honor to be Yr most Obedt Hbe Sert

Depontere—A.D.C. to the Baron Stuben

Translation, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters. Pontière’s original letter has not been found. The text has been taken from a translation evidently made for GW.

Louis de Pontière served with the Continental Dragoons and as an aide-de-camp to Baron von Steuben from February 1778 to April 1784. In September 1783 he was brevetted major.

1For the debt owed French officers, see La Radiere to GW, 26 April 1789, note 1. Pontiere returned to France in 1784 and on 20 Mar. 1787 wrote to GW complaining that he had left the United States “in full confidence of receiving my interest annually, notwithstanding which more than two years have elapsed and I have not recd anything, which has deprived me of the means of support” (translation, DLC:GW). Pontière did not rely only on GW. On 6 May 1789 he wrote to Jefferson in Paris an even more desperate letter outlining his needs and his disillusionment at the failure of Congress to provide any payment of capital or interest to foreign officers (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 15:98–99). Jefferson replied 17 May that he had “never ceased to take every measure which could promise to procure to the foreign officers the paiment of these arrears. At present the matter stands thus. Congress have agreed to borrow a sum of money in Holland to enable them to pay the individual demands in Europe. They have given orders that these arrearages shall be paid out of this money when borrowed, and certain bankers in Amsterdam are charged to borrow the money. I am myself of opinion they will certainly procure the money in the course of the present year. But it is not for me to affirm this, nor to make any engagement” (ibid., 132–33). Jefferson was overly optimistic. It was to be another three years before provision was made to pay the debt owed to the foreign officers. In 1792 Section 5 of “An Act supplementary to the act making provision for the Debt of the United States” authorized the president “to cause to be discharged the principal and interest of the said debt, out of any of the monies, which have been or shall be obtained on loan” (1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 282 [8 May 1792]). Interest on the debt was payable at Ferdinand Grand’s bank in Paris, and a sum of 105,000 guilders to cover the payments was placed in the hands of Willink, Van Staphorst & Hubbard, the bankers of the United States in Amsterdam. Principal was payable only in the United States after 15 Oct. 1792 upon presentation of each officer’s certificate by himself or his legal representative (Alexander Hamilton to Gouverneur Morris, 13 Sept. 1792, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 12:370–74). After 1793 many of the officers became refugees from the French Revolution, and both principal and interest were payable at Philadelphia.

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