George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John David Woelpper, 21 January 1790

From John David Woelpper

Philada January 21, 1790

To his Excellency the President of the United States of America

The Petition of John David Wœlpper of the City of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania Most humbly sheweth.

That Your Petitioner in the late War with Great Britain took an early and Active part on behalf of the United States, and was on the 17th Day of July 1776 honoured with a Captains Commission in the German Battalion (after having served as first Lieutenant for the Space of Six Months and upwards).

That on the Appointment to a Captaincy Your Petitioner was emulous to have his Company raised and compleated, and used his utmost endeavours for that purpose, and expended in the Recruiting service, of his own Money to the amount of 681 Dollars Specie from November 1776 to May 24th 1777 as Will appear by the annexed Account.

That in the Month of June 1778 Matthew Clarkson Esquire, then Auditor of Accounts, examined & passed Your Petitioners Account; in Consequence whereof, Your Petitioner received on the 11th Day of June, from the United States 681 Continental Dollars which (agreeably to the Depreciation Table affixed by Congress) were then worth 246 Dollars 7/90 & ⅝ of a Ninetieth of a Dollar, and passed his receipt for the whole Sum of 681 Dollars: being ignorant of any Depreciation and placing too great a confidence in the Money then Current.

That Your Petitioner hath served to the End of the War, and flatters himself with reputation to himself, and satisfaction to Your Excellency and the United States, but hath never been solicitous or troublesome to his Superiors or the United States for Money, as many others were; his frugality and Œconomy enabled him from Time to Time to subsist on his pay, and at the conclusion of the War received Certificates for the Depreciation of his pay and commutation of his half pay; the Interest whereof hath hitherto been his sole Support! but the payment of Interest for want of Supplies in the Treasury being often delayed, Your Petitioner is thereby often put to the utmost straights for subsistence, as by reason of his Advanced Age having now compleated the 81th Year he is not able to support himself and Family by Labour, which induced him to apply divers Times to the Honble the House of Assembly and the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania for relief; but received for Answer, “That his account for Monies Expended in the recruiting Service, was against the United States, and that he must apply to Congress for relief.” Your Petitioner accordingly prefered a Petition to that Honourable Body but received no answer.

Thus Situated Your Petitioner is reduced to the Utmost Distress, the Interest not being regularly paid, and when paid, paid in depreciated paper Currency, that it was not sufficient for his support, he was consequently reduced to the necessity of contracting Debts, and is now hard pressed for the payment thereof; wherewith, he knows not, and hath now no other refuge left him but to Your Excellency, he Therefore humbly prays! Your Excellency may be pleased to take his distressed Condition into Consideration, and cause such relief to be granted him in the Premises as to Your Excellency in Wisdom shall seem meet.1 And Your Petitioner in Duty bound shall ever pray &c.

John David Woelpper

The United States of America in Acct with John David Wœlpper

1777 Dollr
May 24. To amount of Cash advanc’d in the Recruiting Service from Novr 1776—to this Day—Specie— 681.    
June 11. To Interest from May 24. 1777—to this Day—is 1 Year & 17 Days—   42.51  
Dollars 723.51  
June 11. By Cash recd in Continental Money
Dollr 681.
(from which deduct depreciation, 100 Dollr Contl Money being then worth 36.86.1[)—Depreciation being 434.82.3
246. 7.9
By Balce carried to new Acct  477.43.3
To Balance brought down 477.43.3
Interest on this Sum from June 11. 1778. to Jany 11. 1790—is 11 years & 7 months  332.19.2 1/2
Due J. D. Wœlpper Dollr. 809.62.5 1/2

exclusive of Arrearages of Interest due on his Certificates which amounts to One hundred Pounds & upwards—January 21. 1790.

John David Woelpper

LS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

John David Woelpper (Wilper) was born in Germany in 1709 and had settled in Staunton, Va., by 1751. In recommending him for a captaincy in 1776, GW noted his personal acquaintance with Woelpper, whom he had commanded during the French and Indian War. Woelpper unsuccessfully petitioned the Continental Congress in 1781, 1784, and 1785 for resettlement of his Revolutionary War accounts (GW to John Hancock, 8 July 1776; 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 21:1149, 30:11; Woelpper to Congress, 11 Feb. 1784, DNA:PCC, item 42; Woelpper to Congress, 8 Dec. 1785, DNA:PCC, item 41).

1On 27 Jan. Lear wrote to Knox enclosing Woelpper’s petition dated 21 Jan. and noting that the president “directs me to observe that the Petitioner has been a good soldier and he believes him to be a deserving man—He has therefore ordered the Petition to be laid before you that you may judge if anything can be done for the Petitioner—& what” (DLC:GW).

Knox forwarded Woelpper’s petition to Commissioner of Army Accounts Joseph Howell, Jr., who replied on 29 Jan. that were Woelpper’s “accounts to be revised I am fully of opinion that he would have to refund a part, if not all the monies he has recieved on the settlement made by Mr Clarkson, one of the late Auditors of the Army—for it appears by his own evidence (on file with his accounts) that more monies has been recieved by him for Bounties &c. than has been credited” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

Howell’s accompanying report found it improbable that “the Petitioner could be ignorant of the Currency being depreciated nearly in a four fold sense at the time of his recieving this money—the fact was so notorious particularly with the Officers of the Army who sensibly experienced it, that the Commissioner is of opinion the assertion is intirely groundless. The Commissioner is also of opinion that when the Petitioner recieved this balance that he considered it as final and conclusive, for he could not be ignorant that the Continental Bills of credit was almost the only currency in circulation & that if any demand in specie had been made, it could not have been complied with, neither does it appear that the Petitioner made any demand for depreciation on this money untill the year 1783 or 1784 when he applied to the late Commissioner of A. Accounts who informed him that no relief would be given without the express direction of Congress. . . . Altho his situation may be such as to have a claim upon the humanity of the Public, yet a compliance with his request would create a Law of partial operation or be plead in precedent for so many claims similarly situated as to materially injure the interest of the Union” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

Knox forwarded Howell’s letter and report to Lear who wrote to Woelpper informing him that his letter and petition had been submitted to the commissioner of accounts and enclosing a copy of Howell’s report “for your information” (Knox to Lear, 1 Feb. 1790; Lear to Woelpper, 3 Feb. 1790, both in DLC:GW).

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