George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Otho Holland Williams, 5 July 1789

From Otho Holland Williams

Baltimore 5th July 1789

Dear Sir

I participate the general joy, upon your happy recovery, with sincere delight; and I hope that I shall, not untimely, make report on the matters which you were pleased to commit to my enquiries when I had last the happiness of seeing you.1

The inclosed papers contain the best information that I have been able to collect, and my impartial opinion, respecting each of the persons named on your list, so far as relates to their qualifications, and pretensions, as Candidates for public appointments.2

As I have no particular friendship, or connection with any of the Characters, except Coll Hall, it was not difficult for me to express my opinion without prepossession, or prejudice; and I have endeavoured to do it without reserve or affectation. What I have said I believe, and if better information should induce you Sir to think otherwise of any, or of all, the Gentlemen, I perswade myself that your goodness will place my mistakes to their proper account.

It is not pleasant to criticize Characters, nor is it necessary at all times to speak even the truth; But, Sir, when the public service requires, or you request it, I shall not hesitate to declare what I believe, or think, on any subject. With sincere respect—Esteem and attachment I am Dear Sir, Your Most Obedient and very humble Servant

O.H. Williams

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MdHi: Otho H. Williams Papers.

1Williams played an active part in Baltimore’s reception of GW when the president was on his way to New York in April 1789. See GW to the Citizens of Baltimore, 17 April 1789. In mid-April Williams wrote to GW, putting forward his application for the collectorship at Baltimore (see Williams to GW, 18 April), and in early May went to New York to support his ambitions. Writing to David Humphreys on 12 May from that city, he urged the secretary to put his application before the president (DLC:GW). When writing to his friend Dr. Philip Thomas early the next month concerning his stay in New York, he observed that the “American Court . . . is as gay as any Court in Christendom, and for all I know as Virtuous—The Good old Fabius sits at the helm anxious to see the Ship of Salvation fairly under Way—and when that shall be I opine that he will hail the Crew and bid them change the Watch—He is anxious for repose and Speaks, to his private friends, of his home and a quiet ⟨mutilated⟩ in terms that extort esteem even from a tyrant.” GW, who found Williams’s advice on Maryland appointments useful, apparently also found him an attractive guest. “Mrs Washington arrived in New York the Wednesday before last Wednesday—and on Thursday Morning I went to take my Leave. Breakfast was on the table—I was seated; and, the family being retired, conversed two hours with the greatest man on Earth upon Subjects the most interesting to Patriots and to Man—Coll Humphreys came in to say a Gentleman was waiting in the Drawing room—the Gentleman waited—and the conversation continued” (Williams to Thomas, 7 June 1789, MdHi: Williams Papers).

2Although this list has not been identified, it appears to have been similar to “A List of Applications for Appointments from the State of Maryland,” probably sent to Williams from Baltimore during his visit to New York (MdHi: Williams Papers). This list reads:

Names of Persons Offices
Robt Purveyance Esqr. An office in the Customs for himself & Nephew
Doctr McHenry in behalf of Captn Barney A naval Command
Colo. Ballard Clerk of the Federal Court
Mr Jno. Caldwell Attorney in the State Federal Cou[r]t
Gustavus Scott Esqr. Judiciary department
Mr Philemon Downes Nothing specified
Mr Geo. Biscoe Continuance as Naval Offr Patuxt
Mr Jas Kelso Comptroller of the Customs @ Balto. or some other place
Captn Jas Lingum Continuance in Naval Offr G. Town
Mr Robt Young Naval Office on Patuxent
Mr Andw Ellicott Surveyor Genl of the U.S.
Jo. Carvill Hall Esqr. Nothing specified
John Courts Jones Navl officer or—
Alexander Trueman Captn or in Army”

With this letter of 5 July, Williams included his evaluation of James McCubbin Lingan (see Lingan to GW, 13 May 1789), of John Courts Jones (see Jones to GW, 1 June), and of Robert Ballard (see Ballard to GW, 1 Jan. 1789). Concerning James Kelso (see Kelso to GW, 21 May 1789), Williams wrote: “I know Mr Kelso personally, but have no acquaintance with him in business, or society; He has lived many years at Patapsico lower ferry, near Baltimore, where he had some small property; I have understood that Mr Kelso, at a period before the revolution, acquired Some addition to his stock by purchasing, and Selling, Convicts in Maryland; but I do not learn that he ever had much credit as a Merchant, or respectability as a Man; He has, not long since, been unfortunate enough to become a Bankrupt without commisseration, a consequence, generally apprehended, of the want of Capacity—punctuality and integrity in business.

“As a Citizen of Independent America his pretentions to public regard must be very extraordinary. In no instance can I discover that his patriotism has been conspicuous and upon the subject of a new constitution for the United States, his conduct has been distinguished by an inordinate degree of virulence, and insolent, but impotent, opposition. With the semblance of Sagacity, and an assuming address he has never imposed enough on the public understanding to acquire, for himself, any degree of consequence in the State whereof he is a Citizen—Recommendations, I understand, he has been able to procure, even from those who would not trust him for a Shilling. The reluctance with which many Gentlemen, of sense, and honor, deny favors of this sort, even to the least worthy, is to be regretted.

“I report Mr K.—not what I know [of] him, but what common fame, and the information of my acquaintance, speak [of] him. The Inhabitants of Baltimore have heard, with surprize, of his application for an office of trust, and some of them have expressed their astonishment at his presumption” (DLC:GW).

Concerning Joshua Barney, Williams wrote: “Captn Barney’s services during the war are Powerful recommendations of him as a Naval Commander—In that line I am confident those who know him would be glad to see him employed, when there shall be occasion; He is generally esteemd a Brave, vigilant and an enterprising Sea Man—and he wants employment” (DLC:GW). For Barney’s application for office, see his letter to GW, 11 Aug. 1790.

Williams also added comments on Captain Lynn, perhaps John Lynn of Maryland who had served in the Continental army from May 1779 to June 1784. “Captain Lynn served with reputation in the late Maryland line, and is a Young Gentleman of sense and honor—He requests that I would offer his services in the department of the Customs at the Port of George town. He knows and admits Captn James M. Lingans pretentions to a Preference at that Port, and only hopes for an appointment in case the Law should create more Offices there than one for the Collections of the Duties &c.” (DLC:GW).

The unsigned and undated statement concerning Robert and Samuel Purviance (see Robert Purviance’s letter of application to GW, 19 May 1789, source note) has now been identified as Williams’s recommendation and was undoubtedly enclosed with this letter.

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