George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edward Church, 11 May 1789

From Edward Church

New York 11th May 1789

May it please your Excellency

I am one of that unfortunate number whom the late revolution has precipitated from a state of decent competence, and reduced to the necessity of joining the class of your most humble and needy petitioners; but it is not to be expected that the most fortunate revolutions can be favorable to the interest of every individual, I therefore presume not to complain, or to found any pretensions to favors on common, or unavoidable calamities; nor dare I presume to encroach upon that time which is devoted to more important purposes with a minute detail of my particular concerns, yet it may not be totally foreign to observe to your Excellency, that my Ancestors were among the first and not least respectable Emigrants to America, I was an wholesale Merchant in Boston before the late War, and since the peace have made various unsuccessful attempts in several foreign countries to repair a ruined fortune, but I find it too late for me to begin the world anew with any probable prospect of success. I have been much abroad before the late war, and since the peace, and have endeavoured to profit of the opportunities which offered of information—about two years since I embarked from Ostend in Austrian Flanders for Savannah in Georgia with a view to propagate the Culture of cotton upon a large scale in that state, but the gentleman who embarked with me in the scheme thought proper upon experiment to decline the undertaking. Since the meeting of the present Congress I have been induced from exigence to come forward to offer myself a candidate for the office of Collector of Imposts for the Port of Savannah.1 I have a Wife and five Children, and at present without means for their support, I have sustained some very heavy losses in that State; I was educated at Harvard University in Cambridge, cotemporary with his Excellency the vice President, and the honble Jonathan Trumbull, Paine Wingate, and Elbridge Gerry Esquires, Members of Congress; Mr Wingate is more intimately acquainted with my former and present situation than the other Gentlemen, but for my Character, uniform sentiments, and attachment to my Country I dare appeal to either of those Gentlemen. The Honble Mr [William] Smith Delegate from Maryland has been informed of me; as also the Honble Charles Carrol, John Henry, Daniel Carrol and George Gale Esquires delegates from the same State. General [James] Jackson & Colonel [James] Gun from Georgia though in favor in other Candidates, will I have no doubt do justice to my Character and Conduct during my residence in that State. if notwithstanding there should be found one more eligible, I would then most humbly intreat your Excellency to nominate me to the appointment of Consul in Holland. I am not alone in the opinion that the appointment of a person competent to the office might be very beneficial to the commerce of America, as also to that defenceless class of men the american Seaman whom I have known frequently to suffer great injuries and impositions in foreign countries for want of a friend able and disposed to redress them: There are who think I might be useful in that department, no endeavours on my part should be wanting to render myself so to my Country at large and to the interest of every individual, by every possible exertion, and communication. I have the most perfect reliance on your Excellency’s sacred regard to equal impartial Justice, and am equally aware that it is not in your power to gratify every wish or expectation; if therefore it should be my lot to be rejected, I will never cease to venerate your name, and to rever your Justice; but if the consideration of my former eligible situation in life, my character, the sacrifices which I have made my experience in business foreign and domestic, a most sincere wish to serve my Country, the importance of my request not to myself alone, but to a most amiable wife and five young Children, and to two venerable aged relations whom the fortune of war has reduced from affluence to a state of needy dependence, if these Sir should claim a preference in your estimation, and either of the foregoing petitions should be granted it would restore happiness to a family threatened with speedy distress.2

With the most profound veneration of your truly illustrious Character, signal services, approved justice, generosity, and benevolence—and with the most ardent wishes that you may long be preserved a constant blessing to this people, I beg Leave most humbly to subscribe Your Excellency’s most faithful, most devoted and most obedient Servant

Edward Church


Edward Church (1740–1816) was born in the Azores and educated at Harvard, graduating in 1759 and settling in Boston. In 1774 he was a member of the Massachusetts provincial congress and in 1776 served on the Boston committee of correspondence. By 1789 Church was living in Georgia.

1When Church wrote GW on 30 Sept. 1789 he had undoubtedly learned of the fierce competition for the Savannah customs posts. Realizing that “the possibility that certain considerations unknown to me might justly preponderate in favor of my Competitors without affecting my other pretensions,” he again brought up the possibility of foreign service: “Were my situation as to Climate, and the opportunities of education more favorable, it would be with no small reluctance that I should quit my native Country, and transplant a young and increasing family of Americans into any foreign State; although I consider the appointment in itself useful, and respectable—it is in every view greatly preferable to my present situation, and the more, that I have been materially injured deceived, and defrauded in this State, without the possibility of legal redress even in a single instance in the present lax state of the government, where paper money depreciated to one sixth of its’ nominal value, is a lawful Tender in payment of all debts sued for; and where also the flattering prospects of repairing a ruined fortune, which alone induced me to remove hither are thereby totally defeated: thus circumstanced it is my most ardent desire to change my situation, and I should deem myself highly honored and obliged, should your Excellency be pleased to grant my petition” (DLC:GW).

On 1 July 1789 Church renewed his application, stating that “I mean not to recapitulate the causes which constrained me to come forward on the 11th May last, to offer myself to your Excellency as a Candidate for the office of Collector of Imposts for the Port of Savannah. A plan of Arrangement, which I could not foresee, but which it is thought will be adopted, has since provided three Officers for the Port of Savannah, of nearly equal rank, and emoluments—a Collector, a naval officer, and a Surveyor. I therefore could not but consider it a duty which I owed to myself, to a large family, and to two very respectable aged dependents, farther to explain to your Excellency, that I shall hold myself equally obliged by your nomination of me to either of those offices, in case they should be established, without presuming on my part to intimate any particular choice, or preference, lest it should militate with your ideas, and thereby tend to defeat my own views, which are simply a decent employment” (DLC:GW).

2In June 1790 GW appointed Church consul at Bilbao (Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1147, 50, 51). In the summer of 1791 he proceeded with his family as far as Bordeaux on his way to his new post when he learned that he might not be received by Portugal as consul at Bilbao (Church to Jefferson, 27 July 1791, in 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 20:681–82). In May 1792 GW, knowing that Church had indeed not been received at Bilbao, nominated him consul at Lisbon (Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:121, 122).

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