George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Pierre Marmie, 7 October 1789

From Pierre Marmie

Philadelphia October 7th 1789


Early in the year 1784, the company I was connected with, and in whose behalf I have now the honor of adressing you, made purchase from Messrs Penn, late proprietaries of Pennsilvania, of that part of their mannor of Pittsburgh, which includes Fort Pitt, and the Whole of its appurtenances. our view was to Erect a distillery, and to make use of Such of the buildings, particularly the brick barracks built by the British, as with Some Small alterations, had been judged convenient for the purpose; In consequence whereof, we had the necessary materials transported from this city, early in the fall of the Same year, to forward our undertaking.

By a law of the Commonwealth of Pennsilvania enacted in february 1780, in consequence of a recommendation of congress, all landed property, which the necessities of the war, had induced the officers of congress, to make use of, was directed to be Surrendered by them, to the owners of Such land, as Soon as peace Should take place; but in defiance of said law, under various pretences and in opposition to our repeated remonstrances on this Subject, the possession of the abovementioned property, is at this late day, witheld from us, though perhaps, it will be found of little or no use to the troops of the united States.1

As a post of defense, your Excellency who knows the ground, can best determine, whether it is any ways tenable against an Ennemy in force: as a place of communication and of deposit for military Stores, it may perhaps be of Some Service; but I beg leave to observe, that we did never refuse to lett the continent, have the use of Such parts of the fort & Buildings, as might be convenient for the public Service, even upon a very triffling consideration: the right of the Soil is what we contend for, and to be masters of the disposal of the ground for Such purposes as may be most conducive to our advantage.

The injury we have Sustained by this detention, is far beyond Description, but I Shall not trouble your Excellency with this consideration, as we Shall fully enter upon this Subject, before the persons, who will have to pronounce on the damages incurred, and the indemnity we deem ourselves entitled to: I Shall only entreat your Excellency to make Some enquiries on the Subject, and to give Such instructions to the Secretary at war, as being conducive to the public Wellfare, may not be injurious to us as individuals.2 I am with respect Your Excellency’s most Obedient and most humble Servant

P. Marmie

ALS, DNA:PCC, item 78.

Pierre Marmie was a Frenchman reported to have come to America with French forces during the American Revolution. After the war he settled in western Pennsylvania and in 1784 helped found the firm of Turnbull, Marmie, & Co., which eventually included William Turnbull, John Holker, Stephen Bayard, and Isaac Craig. In addition to operating a distillery, the firm engaged heavily in the acquisition and sale of Pittsburgh real estate, including among their possessions the site of Fort Pitt. The partnership dissolved in 1788, and much of the firm’s Pittsburgh land was advertised for sale (Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, 5 [1922], 99–107, 7 [1924], 66, 10 [1927], 206, 14 [1931], 209–10, 42 [1959], 226–39). By the time this letter was written, Marmie, Turnbull, and Holker were involved in the establishment of the Alliance Ironworks, opened in 1790 near the mouth of Jacobs Creek in Fayette County. Successful at first—the furnace produced some of the armament supplied to Anthony Wayne’s army in 1794—it later fell on hard times, and according to local legend Marmie, driven insane by his misfortunes, committed suicide by throwing himself into the furnace (Historic Places, description begins Western Pennsylvania Historical Survey. Guidebook to Historic Places in Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh, 1938. description ends 81).

1As early as 1785 Turnbull, Marmie, & Co. petitioned Congress for the return of Fort Pitt to their firm. At that time a committee of Congress recommended that the memorial “cannot be granted, it being necessary under present circumstances that the Post of Fort Pitt should remain in the possession of the troops of the United States” (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 28:197). Soon after, however, the firm received a portion of the fort, but United States troops continued to occupy the remainder of the post (Dahlinger, Fort Pitt, description begins Charles W. Dahlinger. Fort Pitt. Pittsburgh, 1922. description ends 57–65; Pennsylvania Archives, description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends 1st ser., 10:462, 464, 497). By October 1788 a committee appointed to inquire into the proceedings of the War Department reported that Fort Pitt had only “an officer and a few men to receive the supplies and dispatches forwarded to the Troops by the Secretary at War” (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 34:583), and in May 1789 Knox reported that the situation had not altered (Knox to GW, 13 May 1789). The United States government did not evacuate the fort until May 1792 when a new fort farther up the Allegheny River was established.

2On 14 Oct. Tobias Lear replied to Marmie’s letter: “The President of the United States has received your letter of the 7th inst—and I am directed by him to inform you, that he finds your case relative to the land on which Fort Pitt stands, was laid before the late Congress, and by their order, the Secy of War reported thereon—Upon his present view of the matter the President of the United States is not satisfied that there would be a propriety in his taking any step in the business” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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