George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Steele, 4 June 1790

From John Steele

New York June 4th 1790


A sincere desire that the office of district Judge for No. Carolina, may be bestowed upon a worthy character induces me to offer you my opinion at present. I have been told that Colo. Davie’s name has been mentioned to you already, he is unquestionably better calculated for the office, than any other man in the State; but acquainted as I am, with his practice as an attorney, his plans, and his prospects, I have reason to believe that he would not relinquish such profitable pursuits for so small a salary.1 Samuel Spencer Esqr. has been also mentioned, I presume for the same office; he is a good man, at present one of the judges of that state, not remarkable for his abilities, but nevertheless deserves well of his country.2 Colonel John Stokes, has not been mentioned, but I am authorised to transmit his name to your Excellency as a candidate for the same office.3

This Gentleman is a native of Virginia, descended from a very respectable family, was a captain in the Sixth Regiment of that state in the late War, continued in service untill Colo. Beaufort was defeated in So. Carolina, when unfortunately he lost (among⟨st⟩ other wounds) his right hand. He then setled in No. Carolina, has practiced the law ever since, with reputation, and success, has been frequently a member of the State legislature wherein he supported a very respectable, and honorable rank, both as a man of business, and a man of abilities, was a member of the Convention and very instrumental in bringing about the ratification of the Constitution, is at this time Colo. Commandt of a Regt of militia Cavalry, and additional Judge of the supreme Court of Law and Equity in that State. Notwithstanding the loss of his right hand, few men write better than he does with the other, and is extreemely capable of business.

With respect to the Candidates for any other office within that State, or the ceded territory if my opinion, or any information from me, are necessary they shall be given with candor, and impartiality. I have the Honor, to be Your Excellency’s Most Humble Servant

Jno. Steele


1William Richardson Davie (1756–1820) was born in England and was taken to the Waxhaw settlement in western South Carolina, where he was raised by his uncle. After graduating from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1776, he served with distinction as an officer in the southern campaigns, rising to the rank of colonel. After the war he established himself as one of the leading lawyers in North Carolina and served in the legislature almost continuously from 1786 to 1798. In 1787 he was a delegate to the federal convention and was thereafter a leading advocate of ratification in North Carolina. For other recommendations, see Memorandum of Thomas Jefferson, c.7 June 1790. GW nominated Davie to be district court judge for North Carolina, and the Senate confirmed the appointment on 8 June (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 7 June 1790; DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 2:79). Davie declined the office.

2Samuel Spencer, a North Carolina lawyer and state court judge, was also suggested as a candidate by Timothy Bloodworth (see Bloodworth to GW, 5 June 1790). Spencer received no appointment from GW.

3John Stokes (1756–1790) was born in Virginia and served as an officer of Virginia troops from 1776 to the close of the war, rising to the rank of captain. After the Revolution he settled in North Carolina, where he established himself as a lawyer. He served in the North Carolina house of commons in 1786–87 and again in 1789 and as a Federalist delegate to the second North Carolina convention called to ratify the federal Constitution in 1789. Stokes was elected a judge of the Morgan District Superior Court in 1788 and assistant judge of the same court in 1789. Steele wrote to GW again on 31 July that Stokes had agreed to serve as district court judge if appointed and that “he would perform the duties of this office with dignity and give general satisfaction, I have not a doubt. His adjudications as additional judge of No. Ca. in several very weighty and intricate causes, have been highly approved” (Steele to GW, 31 July 1790, DLC:GW). Stokes was also suggested for the office by John B. Ashe (see Ashe to GW, 5 June 1790). GW nominated Stokes as district court judge for North Carolina after Davie declined, and his appointment was confirmed by the Senate on 3 Aug. 1790 (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 2 Aug. 1790; DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 2:85). Stokes served until his death in October 1790 (Ely and Brown, Legal Papers of Andrew Jackson, description begins James W. Ely, Jr. and Theodore Brown, Jr., eds. Legal Papers of Andrew Jackson. Knoxville, Tenn., 1987. description ends 388; see also Benjamin Hawkins to GW, 4 Nov. 1790).

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