George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Coles, 27 October 1789

From John Coles

Charlestown [Mass.] 27th Octr 1789

Be Pleased Great Father of thy people, to pardon the Presumtion of this Address, and behold thy Ser[v]ant, at this time, Surrounded with, (not uncommon to him) but Heart Breaking Cares, for the fate of things, has Ordered them to Continnue, for Seven Years, and Seven, and almost Seven again, Whereby thy Servants Patience, and fortitude, has Came to a Stand, and he is Ready to fall, beneath the Burthen, of Sum of the Laws of his Country. thy Servant, was Born at Boston, and Brought up, to the Courts and Heraldry Painting, Married a faithfull Partner, at 19 years of Age, & Lost father, and mother, before he was twenty two, was an only Child, and Left to the wide world, with out friends or money. his family Increaseing, he Applyed him Self, to the Strickest Rules, of Industry, & Oconamy, and had not Sickness ben hard a pon him he might Prehaps, have ben Better of, However, haveing an Enterprizeing mind, he has by the Blessing, of Divine Providence, Notwithstanding all human things, Seemed to be against him, Suported his family, in the following Charrecters. Viz. a tradesman, a Labourer, a Soldier,1 a Seaman, and a Merchant, and is now Surrounded by, (whome Next to his Country he wishes to Live for) 9 Children, from 3 years old upwards, all he Ever had, 3 Boys, and 6 Girls, who together with there Parents Are now, Rejoicing on the arival of the Man, to whom only, they Can, unfold there Sorrows. Now if it may Plese thy Great Mind, to Consider, that thy Servant has by Great pains, and Labour, Paid up fifteene hundred Silver dollars, on Acount of his Losses at Sea, over and above the Loss of all the Vessels he was Conscerned in, and Still thare Remains a Ballance to his Credettors of 500 Dollars. this no Dowt thy Servant Could Pay, in two or three years Time, by Observeing the Same Rules, he has Done in all His former Payments, Viz. Receveing, nor Paying, no Visits. Subsisting on the meanest food, and dressing in the Meanest garb, also Divideing his time in Masonic Order. thus thy Servant has Proceeded, Amidst Discouregments, almost Insurmountable, haveing nearly all his Credettors Pushing at One and the Same time, Serveing Writs, with thair Great Expences, on thy willing, but Unable Servant. and the Payment of One Dett was only Reason for Saying, and why did you not Pay me, by another, and often has thy Servant, ben as it ware Obliged, to hurt his feelings by promasing, on a Poor foundation, to keep him Self from being imprisoned, and Rendered Unable, to Any way Provid for his young, and Helpless family. thus your Servant is the worst of Slaves, in a Country of Freemen, and the Lives & Morals, of thy young Servants, his Children, Exposed by Poverty, Notwithstanding thy Servant has ben invinceable with Respect, to the Common Learning of his Children, which a few Lines, inclosed from his Oldest Son, may Evidence,2 thy Servant Prays, nither for Power, Riches, nor Honour, but only, if it may Plese, the President, of these United States, in Due time, to Remember the Poor mans Prayer and to use, his influence, with the Congress, when the Bankrupt Act, may Come forth, as that it may be Calculated to Defend, the Helpless, honest, and industrous Man and to Grant him Time, to Labour, for the Payment of his Just Detts, and Seport of his Family. Which if thy Servant Mistakes not, no Laws, with in these States, Defend him in at Present and thy Servant as in Duty bound, Shall Ever Pray.

John Coles

ALS, DLC:GW. This letter is headed “The Poor Man’s Prayer.”

John Coles (1750–1809) is listed (as John Cole) in the Charlestown entry of the federal census for 1790 as heading a household of five white males and seven white females (Heads of Families description begins Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790: Massachusetts. 1908. Reprint. Baltimore, 1964. description ends [Massachusetts], 137). See also death listing in the Columbian Centinel (Boston), 20 Sept. 1809.

1At this point Coles inserted an asterisk for a note that appears at the end of the document: “when a Soldier thy Servant had the Honour to Command the guard who Delivered general Washington at Cambridge, Perhaps the first Prisoners by Sea Viz. Capt. Hunter &c. of the Ordanance Brigd & with 2000 Stand of Arms &c. &c. &c.”

2Enclosed in Coles’s letter is a note from Charles Lee Coles “Aged 12 years,” also dated 27 Oct. and directed to the president of the United States: “How Oft, Great Sir, has thy Sacred, Name been Sounded in Our Infant Ear, By Our honrd Father, and How Oft, has our Tender Mother taught us, to Love, Honour, and Obey the Name of Washington, and, How Great should be Our gratitude, to the Supreem Ruler of the Universe, For preserveing us through our helpless Years, in war, to behold thy face in peace, and to Lisp forth, the Immortal praise, Of the savour of his Country” (DLC:GW).

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