George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Smith, 21 September 1789

From William Smith

College of Philadelphia, Septr 21st 1789


From an Acquaintance and an occasional Correspondence wch I had the Honor & Happiness to commence with You more than thirty years ago, & from the indulgent Notice which you have been pleased to take of me, both in my public & private Capacity, on various Occasions since that Time,1 I am induced to enclose to you my “Proposals for Printing a Body of Sermons upon the most important Branches of Practical Christianity”—a Subject & a Work, which I well know, stand in No Need of Recommendation to your Protection & Encouragment.2

If you will please to peruse the Preface & Titles to the Sermons, and the public Recommendation annex’d to them, by the late General Convention of our Church at Philadelphia,3 and also of the Clergy of all Denominations in this City, as Subscribers, I trust you will permit me to solicit the Honour of your Name and Mrs Washington’s next after the printed List of Clerical Subscribers, & before any Application to Members of Congress or others at New York, shall be made.

I have enclosed a Copy of the Proposals to the honble Robt Morris Esqr. of the Senate, and have requested Him to solicit your Name & Mrs Washington’s, if you should think proper so far to honor the Work, before he presents it to such Members of the Senate as may be inclined to subscribe—I am, with the most profound Respect & involable Regard, Worthy and illustrious Sir, Your most obedient & much obliged humble Servant

William Smith

ALS, DNA:PCC, item 78.

William Smith (1727–1803) was educated at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and came to America in 1751 as tutor to a New York family. In 1753, largely through the efforts of Benjamin Franklin and Richard Peters, who were impressed by one of Smith’s early pamphlets, he was invited to teach at what was soon to become the College, Academy, and Charitable School of Philadelphia. Before beginning his teaching he returned to England to be ordained in the Episcopal church. By the time the American Revolution broke out, Smith was one of the colony’s most prominent clergymen and educators and was considerably involved in politics. His support of the Patriot cause was considered lukewarm in some quarters, and in 1779 he was removed from his teaching post. He transferred his activities to Chestertown, Md., where he became rector of Chester Parish and established Kent School. The school was chartered in 1782 as Washington College, with Smith serving as president. In March 1789 the college at Philadelphia was reorganized, and Smith resumed his position in July of that year.

1As early as 1757 GW had agreed to Smith’s request to send him information concerning the French and Indian War and was a subscriber to Smith’s American Magazine or Monthly Chronicle for the British Colonies. See Smith to GW, 10 Nov. 1757. In November 1780, in his capacity as secretary of the American Philosophical Society, Smith had sent GW his certificate of membership in the society (Smith to GW, 1 Nov., GW to Smith, 15 Nov. 1780, DLC:GW), and in 1782 the two had exchanged letters concerning Washington College (GW to Smith, 18 Aug., Smith to GW, 23 Dec. 1782, all in DLC:GW).

2A copy of the proposal, advocating publication of Smith’s sermons and listing over a hundred of them by name, is in DNA:PCC, item 78. The proposal was published in Philadelphia in 1789 by Benjamin Franklin Bache.

3Delegates from the clergy and laity of the Protestant Episcopal church in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina met in convention in Philadelphia on 29 July 1789. The convention held sessions through early August.

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