George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Maclay, 20 July 1789

From William Maclay

New York 20th July 1789


My brother in law David Harris of Baltimore is among the applicants for an Office in the Revenue of that Port.1 Should you wish to make inquiry respecting his Character, I beg leave to refer you to Mr Henry of the Senate and Mr Smith of the House of Representatives, both from the state of Maryland.

I pray you Sir to have the goodness to excuse my not having waited on you, before my leaving Town, as I have been much indisposed for some time past. I am, with the highest respect Sir your most Obedt & most Hble Servt

Wm Maclay


1David Harris (1754–1809) was the son of John Harris, founder of Harrisburg, Pa., and his wife Elizabeth McClure Harris, the sister of William Maclay’s wife Mary McClure Harris Maclay. Harris apparently moved to Baltimore before the Revolution. During the war he served as paymaster of Thompson’s Pennsylvania rifle battalion in June 1775 and as a lieutenant in the 1st Continental Infantry in January 1776. He was promoted to captain in August and assigned to the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment in January 1777. He resigned from the Continental army in October 1777 and had returned to Baltimore by 1780 when Samuel Smith wrote to Otho H. Williams that Harris “is married to a Miss [Sarah] Crockett & Major Jack Stewart was damn’d nigh it, How he escap’d I know not” (Otho Holland Williams Papers description begins Maryland Historical Records Survey Project. Calendar of the General Otho Holland Williams Papers in the Maryland Historical Society. Baltimore, 1940. description ends , 22–23). In 1789 Harris was serving as a commissioner of Baltimore (Jensen and DenBoer, First Federal Elections description begins Merrill Jensen and Gordon DenBoer et al., eds. The Documentary History of the First Federal Elections, 1788–1790. 4 vols. Madison, Wis., 1976–89. description ends , 2:196). In 1791 he returned to Baltimore to settle his father’s estate, and Thomas Mifflin appointed him one of the associate judges of Dauphin County (Egle, Notes and Queries, description begins William Henry Egle, ed. Notes and Queries Historical and Genealogical Chiefly Relating to Interior Pennsylvania. 2 vols., 1st and 2d ser. 1894-95. Reprint. Baltimore, 1970. description ends 1st and 2d ser., 1:333). In DLC:GW there is an undated letter to GW from Harris stating that “your Petitioner, being Settled in the Town of Baltimore . . . where untill lately he had an extensive Concern in Commerce, which unforeseen & unavoidable Misfortunes have put an End to, And having a Competant knowledge of Accounts, and Commercial affairs, Considers himself qualified to discharge the Duties of Comptroler or Surveyor of the Port of Baltimore, in the Collection of the Revenue—Your Petitioner forbears applying for the appointment of Collector, as he Considers it to fall Naturally to General Williams the Present Naval Officer—Your Petitioner cou’d wish to decline Mentioning any of his small services, as a Captain, in the first Pennsylvania Regiment, in the late War, under the Command of your Excellency, as any thing of that Kind, was the Common duty of every American, but as he trusts your Excellency has Some remembrance of his feeble services, as well as that of a Promotion to his Prejudice in that line, being his only Motive for quiting the Service, he hopes that if his Qualifications in Other respects are found Adequate to the Appointment, that his services in Army will not operate to his disadvantage—He therefore humbly Prays, that your Excellency, will be Pleased to put him in Nomination, for One or the Other, of the Offices aforesaid, when the appointments are to be Made for the Revenue of Baltimore” (DLC:GW). Maclay evidently hoped that his brother-in-law’s petition would be supported by Robert Morris, Maclay’s fellow senator from Pennsylvania. An entry in his journal for 27 June notes that he “went a little before 10 to deliver a letter to Mr. Morris, in favour of Mr. Harris from a Mr. Ridley—Mr. M. read the letter and only remarked Mr. Harris’s Friends are much in earnest. I mentioned the Petition which I held in my hand from Mr. Harris the point I wished to bring Matters to, was for him to deliver it in—he was guarded and threw out such Sentiments as shewed me he would not move in the Matter, said the Petition had best be enclosed in a Cover and directed to the President. I held it up, said it was directed already. that Mr. Harris wished it might be put into the hands of Col. Humphrey’s. That I thought I had best follow his directions” (Bowling and Veit, Diary of William Maclay, description begins Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, eds. The Diary of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates. Baltimore, 1988. description ends 89–90). Harris apparently engendered a considerable amount of support in Baltimore. Samuel Chase, a connection of Harris’s by marriage, enlisted the aid of Richard Henry Lee; since he had been informed “that Mr Maclay is a Gentleman of great Diffidence and Modesty,” he feared he might not push Harris’s application (Chase to Lee, 2 and 16 May 1789, ViU: Lee Papers). Harris did not receive a federal appointment, but by 1793 he was serving as the cashier of the Baltimore branch of the Bank of the United States (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 13:495).

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