Roger Alden to Charles Thomson
Newyork Novr 30. 1789
I have been induced by desire of Mr Fisher to suspend writing to you until this time respecting some transactions in which he is materially concerned. It is a duty which I owe to you to declare the truth. As I never could practise duplicity to serve myself I never will be guilty of it to oblige another.
On the first of this month he asked my permission to be absent 8 or ten days to collect some money due to him at Claverack [N.Y.]. I readily granted his request. A few days after he left town I was informed that he was very much involved and the report was that he had absconded to avoid the payment of his debts. The day that he had promised to return, his wife informed me of his distress & added that he had heard of the reports. She requested me to advise him what was best to be done. I pitied him and wishing to relieve him wrote the letter N1 addressed as I thought to an honest, tho’ unfortunate man, and directed her to ascertain the amount of his debts that his friends might be the better able to advise & assist him.1 Three days after this she told me it was impossible to ascertain the sum—that the manner of incurring his debts doubly encreased her own distress—that he had contracted an unjustifiable acquaintance with a family in town whose interest and happiness he had preferred to his own—that he had retained money which he had received from the public & had expended it for their support. This alarmed me. The same day I examined the files in the Register’s office where I had directed the accounts & receipts to be preserved together. But many were missing. I called upon some of the gentlemen whose names she had mentioned, from their information and his papers I found there remained due to
|Doctor Provost||£ 50. 0.0|
|Berry & Rogers||27.19.6|
|Mr McLean||17. 1.6|
|Mr Morton||12. 0.0|
He had told these gentlemen that the money was not received, but the accounts would be paid when the new treasury department was compleated. This prevented farther enquiries, and having told me that the receipts were lodged with the accounts I never suspected his honesty or veracity.
Having ascertained these facts I was preparing to communicate them to you when I received his letter N2.2 Agreeably to his request I went to see him at a room his wife had taken in Broadstreet in his absence, being obliged to leave the house in which they had lived. It was such a scene of poverty and distress that I found no object for my resentment. I did not even enquire the causes of his conduct. On examining the paper, he mentioned I found they contained his accounts against the family which he had supported and a list of his debts amounting to £130 exclusive of the above sum. He proposed to surrender all he possessed which is a mere trifle, and was desirous of being continued in the office. To the latter I could not assent. I told him he must make no calculation upon that, and it was unnecessary for me to say more, his own mind could best suggest the reasons which determined me. I was not disposed to encrease the distress of a man whose misery seemed compleat. I rather wished to lessen it and encouraged his wife to summon her resolution by hoping that her husband would become a more industrious man & a better christian after his trials.
I called the next day with Dr Tillary one of his creditors. He advised him to write to his creditors & recommended the taking a lodging house and to begin the world anew. This has been done. Some seem disposed to treat him with lenity and to grant him his liberty for two years. To what they will eventually agree is uncertain.
It is about a year since he has used his discretion in paying the money entrusted to him and such has been his management that his conduct has been unsuspected by me. In Septr last he informed me that a man to whom he was endebted for rent hearing that he was to go with the southern commissioners as he had applied for a place had sued him, and asked me if I would not accept an order for the wages due to him. I replied that I could not—that I would not make myself responsible to any man for the payment of money which it was uncertain I should receive. After painting his troubles and the damage it would be to his reputation he obtained my consent to retain it to my hands and to pay it in the manner expressed in my letter N5.3 The lawyer gave up his note & took me for security & now demands payment.
His wages from Oct. 1 to the middle of Novr & the debts due from the family he has supported amounting to above £100 are all the funds he can calculate upon. He is now confined in his house and lies at the mercy of those whose confidence he has betrayed & whose property he has abused. His letters shew the present state of his mind and his countenance discovers all the marks of corroding remorse and aggravated guilt.4 Had he been imprudent only, a sense of my own faults and failings would dictate some plea for the exercise of charity, but knowing the facts I cannot offer a single word to extenuate his crimes or to avert his punishment. If justice could be satisfied with sufferings the poor fellow has in some degree cancelled his debts.
In this situation what is to be done & how am I to proceed? To whom must the public creditors apply for justice? Here my trouble commences. Some of the accounts are presented for payment. I want your advice & can take no measures until I am honored with your instructions.
Doct. Rogers desired me to enclose the letter he recd.5 He can say nothing for him, but with me supposes that from a state of facts you will be best able to judge of the man and of his conduct. I don’t know what view the unhappy man had in applying to him unless he considered it as a favorable opportunity to shew his contrition and repentence.
Please to make my respects to Mrs Thomson & be assured that to promote your happiness will always give the greatest pleasure to your sincere friend & humble Servt
Copy, DNA:PCC, item 49.
1. Alden’s letter to Fisher, 8 Nov. 1789, stated that while Fisher was absent from his post “several gentlemen have called upon me to know when you are to return & to justify their enquiries they have mentioned the cause of them. I have answered them that you left town with my knowledge and that I expected you in the course of 10 days. The general report is that you have absconded to avoid the payment of your debts. Your future conduct will determine whether this is founded in fact. Mrs Fisher with all the affection of a tender wife informed me this morning of your unhappiness and the share which she felt of it convinced me that she merits your love and affection. She desired me to advise you how to proceed. Not knowing the amount of your debts or the causes which have produced your present embarassment I am unable to determine what is best. It appears to me to be the best policy to come immediately to town & by your presence contradict the report not by endeavouring to prove yourself innocent but to convince the world that you are not guilty. With honesty and frankness tell your creditors your situation. The worst that can be done is to deprive yourself of your liberty for a while. They will be more disposed to treat you with lenity if you offer yourself voluntarily than if you should be arrested after appearing to avoid or defraud them. If you remain out of town you will be constantly encreasing your debts. You must determine to meet your fate & summon all your fortitude to bear it. Time, patience, self denial good management & perseverance will overcome every difficulty that can befal an honest man. I shall be always ready to advise you” (DNA:PCC, item 49).
2. Fisher’s letter, 15 Nov., informed Alden that Fisher “arrived in the city last evening, should have been here aggreeable to promise, but being apprized of a rumour that I had absconded, which circumstances seem to warrant, I continued in the country, wrote to town by a friend but recd no answer. I was perplexed and knew not what to do, and being confined to my bed four or five days prevented my setting out until yesterday morning. On my arrival at Elizabeth town the tavern keeper handed me your letter of the 8th inst. enclosing one from Doctr [James] Tillary. Had I been so fortunate as to have recd them sooner, nothing would have prevented my return. For I can most assuredly say I never had an idea of going away. You are now acquainted with what I have long and ardently wished, but never had the resolution to communicate—Would to heaven I had & in time craved mercy. But I fear my sin is too great for forgiveness; but as long as there is life there is hope, and with advice and assistance I think I shall be able to pay all the public money I have so unworthily expended & hope to beg day & grace of my creditors and by those virtues you recommend pay every shilling & convince the world that however villainously I have acted, by my future conduct and deportment, that I have seen my error & sincerely repented of it. I have not words to express my feelings—suffice it to say that I abhor myself in dust and ashes. I wish to see you, but no felon ever dreaded the sight of the executioner at his appointed hour more than I do you whom I could once behold with pleasure and confidence. The fault is mine. I am guilty. I am the villain. I cannot ask you to receive me in your office with propriety—but if you could after ⟨securing⟩ you I should by that means ⟨impliedly⟩ retain your confidence & be able to face my creditors with a better grace—but I am resolved to meet my fate whatever it may be. If convenient I should wish to see you to day” (DNA:PCC, item 49).
3. Alden enclosed an unaddressed statement, dated 2 Sept., stating: “There will be due in October next to Mr John Fisher for services in the office of the late secy of Congress £45 which money will pass through my hands, and if it will be the means of preventing him trouble and a sufficient inducement to you to delay urging your demands upon him at present I will retain £22.10 in my hands when recd & it shall only be paid to his order in your favour” (DNA:PCC, item 49).
4. Alden enclosed several additional letters he had received from Fisher concerning his situation. On 22 Nov. Fisher wrote: “To reflect and consider what I once was and now am in your estimation and likewise in the estimation of that good man Mr Thomson, I am driven to distraction and I sincerely and truly abhor myself. I cannot nor do I pretend to offer any excuse for my wretched conduct—I have done it and what can I say? Nothing but that I am guilty, guilty, before God and Man. I have no desire nor indeed could I continue in the land of the living if it was not, by a future conduct of good behaviour to endeavour to retrieve in some measure if possible that good name I have forfeited & likewise by tenderness & affection convince the best of women that she has not altogether misplaced her affections. Perhaps flattery that bane to mankind and a too easy disposition may have tended to my destruction. I am confident I do not possess a vicious heart. I have often shuddered at the bare thought of my conduct, after I had committed the crime—to relieve others in distress is a christian virtue, but then to do this at the expence of reputation & with the property of another or others is highly & truly reprehensible. I confess I have a feeling heart for anothers distress and perhaps too easy taken in by the artful and designing especially the female part of the creation—not, I can with solemnity declare with the least view or intention of any criminal correspondence—this is a truth, however I may not be believed. . . . I can only say that I have seen and sorely feel the effects of a guilty conscience and let the consequence be what it may, I am determined to live & act as becomes an honest & upright man” (DNA:PCC, item 49). Another letter of 25 Nov. asked Alden to “be so kind as to suspend writing to Mr Thomson till Wednesday’s post. A friend of mine thinks it best to endeavour to get doctor Rogers to write also to accompany your letter and will undertake to speak to the doctor on the subject—but as it is Saturday, somewhat out of season to trouble him on such business, he wishes to defer it till monday. He thinks that the doctrs letter in conjunction with yours may have a good effect with Mr Thomson” (DNA:PCC, item 49).
5. Fisher’s abject letter of 30 Nov. to Dr. John Rodgers, pastor of the Presbyterian church in New York, reads: “Probably if you knew from whom this letter came before you opened it, it would not be read—Such has been my conduct for some time past by shamefully abusing the confidence reposed in me, that you Sir as my friend protector and patron must feel indignation rise in your breast whenever you hear my name whispered. I mean not to offer, were it possible, the shadow of an excuse for my behaviour—Had I the abilities of the ablest writers, both ancient & modern, I should fall far short—No, Sir, I address you as a wretched being who is truly sensible of his unhappy situation & abhors himself and repents in dust and ashes—mercy is one of the great attributes of the Divine Being and we are told he delighteth to forgive when implored in a proper temper and manner, but I dare not presume, a wretched being as I am, to call on his Holy name—May I implore your mercy as one of his Ambassadors as well as one who I have grossly offended. I should have no wish to be continued in existence if it were not to convince, if possible, by a well regulated conduct, that I am not that wretch in grain that my behaviour would justify my friends in supposing me. What I could at present say would have no weight—Actions speak louder than the best chosen words—Were I to be called in the most solemn manner to give an account of my behaviour for eighteen months past, I could not, nor even the principle that led me to it. . . . I am well aware of your feelings on this occasion & dare not look you in the face much less ask a favour; but as I am not capable of writing that venerable and good man Mr Thomson, will you condescend so far as to write to him and let your letter accompany Major Alden’s which will go by Wednesday’s mail—I do not expect you to say any thing in my favour but wish you to give your own opinion—this much I can with solemnity assert that I acted not from any vicious principle—perhaps the guilt is the same—But bad as I am I must continue in the land of the living until called by that glorious & just being whom I have from my beginning offended, and in his awful presence give an account of my transactions in life—Might I have one chance more to endeavour to retrieve in some measure what I have lost.
“Believe me Sir I never had an idea that the stings of a guilty conscience was so poignant—My distress in Mind is more than I can bear, but I am convinced not half so severe as I deserve—Unhappily I am not the only person distressed by my conduct—a loving, tender and virtuous wife shares and that severely in my distresses—this to a person who thinks as I now do is enough to drive him to distraction—My heart is full & ready to burst with grief” (DNA:PCC, item 49).