George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Winthrop Sargent, 27 November 1789

From Winthrop Sargent

Marietta, Territory of the United States

SirNorth West of the River Ohio Novr 27th 1789

I conceive it incumbent on me to acquaint your Excellency with the Death of Saml H. Parsons Esqr. one of the Judges of this territory.1

He had been to view some Salt Springs on a Branch of the big Beaver & on the Morng of the 17th Inst: Embarked on Board a Canoe, with one Man only, to descend that River—Before noon on the same Day, the Boat, in a very shattered Condition, with sundry Articles of Baggage known to have been the Property of the Judge, were observed floating by a military Post or Station at the Falls of Beaver (four Miles from the Ohio) & the Officer commanding immediately detached a Party in Search of the Bodies—but without Success. Upon the Eveg of the same Day a Soldier, who was with the deceased at the Time of his embarkation, arrived at the Post, being charged with his Horses & a Message to the Officer that he would dine with him at 12 oClock on the same Day—the 17th.

Upon the 18th and 19th the Bodies were sought after, but in vain—and we have no Intelligence since.2

As this melancholy Occasion has given me the Opportunity of introducing myself to your Excellency, devoid of the painful Consciousness of Intrusion I will trespass so far as to express my grateful Satisfaction in the fair Prospects of our Country under the present Constitution & your Excellency’s Administration. with every Sentiment of Respect I have the Honour to be your Excellency’s most obedient & most devoted Servant

Winthrop Sargent

P.S. The Governour is expected every Moment to arrive at this Place on his Way down the River—as the waters, which have been very low, will now permit his Passage.3

This Tour will give me an Opportunity of visiting a Country in which your Excellency, if I am not misinformed, has formerly been conversant4—If there should be at this Time, or hereafter, any Services which I can render you—or if your Excellency should be desirous of any Species of Information within my Ability to acquire, it will be highly gratifying to me to devote my attention thereto—for it will add very much to my Happiness to contribute to your Excellency’s Pleasures.

W. Sargent

ALS, DNA:PCC, item 78.

Winthrop Sargent (1753–1820) of Gloucester, Mass., graduated from Harvard in 1771 and served in the Continental army during the American Revolution. In 1787 he was named secretary of the Ohio Company and in October of the same year was appointed by Congress secretary of the newly created Territory Northwest of the River Ohio. Because Gov. Arthur St. Clair was so often absent from his post in the territory, Sargent frequently acted as governor, although his intellectual interests and strong Federalist politics did not contribute to his local popularity. In 1798 he became governor of the new Mississippi Territory.

1In August 1789 GW reappointed Parsons as one of the Northwest Territory’s three judges, a post he had held under the Confederation government. See GW to Madison, 9 Aug. 1789, n.2.

2In his diary Sargent was less circumspect in his comments on Parsons’s death. “This Day we receive the Intelligence of Judge Parsons’ Death in a Letter from Mr McDowell stationed at the Falls of Beaver. He was drowned in attempting to come down that River (& perhaps near the Falls) in a Canoe with one Man. His Family have suffered a severe Loss, for tho’ in years & thereby impaired in his Capacities, he still retained the Ability to have rendered them important Services; that his Death may be amply compensated to this Territory is fully my Opinion & that we may be made the happier in almost any Successor; for such has been the Conduct of the Judge while in Office here that he must have lost the Confidence of honest discerning Men—but he is no more and therefore I will endeavour to draw a veil over the numerous Mementoes of his bad Habits—Alive, I was the Enemy of his low Cunning, and Practices which I conceived dishonourable” (Sargent’s MS diary, entry for 25 Nov. 1789, MHi: Sargent Papers).

3St. Clair left New York early in November and arrived at Marietta on 12 Dec. (Sargent’s diary, entry for 24 Dec., MHi: Sargent Papers).

4Sargent is referring to GW’s trip down the Ohio in 1770. See Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 2:277–326.

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