George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas McKean, 12 July 1790

From Thomas McKean

Philadelphia. July 12th 1790.

Sir,

On my return from the Western Circuit, I found the packet, herewith sent to Your Excellency. The reason of Mr Wilson’s1 application to me, respecting an affair I never before heard of, I cannot tell, unless he believes, that from a little knowledge I had of his seeming, if not real attachment to the American Revolution, I would interest myself in his behalf, or that humanity would urge me to it. He had two brothers, officers in the British Army in America during the war, and yet appeared to be anxious for our success, and I believe was active2, tho’ particulars have escaped my recollection. He has no other claim upon me.

Permit me to request, you will take the trouble of perusing his petition; the rest must be submitted to your wisdom.

I beg leave to offer my congratulations on the restoration of Your health3 and to subscribe myself, what with great truth & sincerity I am, Sir, Your Excellency’s, most obedient & devoted humble servant4

Philip W. ⟨lre⟩ dated No. 57 Marsham street

Westminster, 11th March 1790.

ADf, PHi: McKean Papers.

1Philip Wilson’s 11 Mar. 1790 letter from Westminster with its enclosures has not been found, but his own transcripts of them are in DNA: RG 76, British Spoliations. They deal with his compensation claims for the destruction of his merchant ship, Mentor, and the plundering of its cargo by the British on 1–2 April 1783 after the cessation of hostilities (Wilson and John Pringle to Robert R. Livingston, 15 April 1783, DNA:PCC, item 78; Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 18:347–48, 20:637–39). Philadelphia merchant Philip Wilson (died c.1811) owned an American privateer during the Revolution. He moved to Britain after the war, but retained his American citizenship, and resided in London in 1790 at 57 Marsham Street in Westminster. Not having received satisfaction for the destruction of Mentor from the British government and courts, he returned to the United States in 1801 to begin an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to receive federal compensation for the 1778 seizure of his property by the American army (bond for letter of marque for the brigantine Hibernia, 5 May 1781, in DNA:PCC, item 196; Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 18:347–48n.).

2McKean here deleted “in their Militia, as well as otherwise.”

3For GW’s near-fatal illness of May 1790 and his recovery, see William Jackson to Clement Biddle, 12 May 1790, editorial note, and Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:76–77.

4After receiving Wilson’s 11 Mar. 1790 packet from McKean, and two further petitions of Wilson’s dated 4 and 31 July 1790, neither of which has been found, GW requested U.S. attorney general Edmund Randolph to prepare a report, which also has not been found, on Wilson’s case. Randolph completed and presented his report to the president before 21 Dec. 1790. On that day Tobias Lear requested Randolph to deliver Wilson’s papers retained by the attorney general. Lear also sent Randolph’s report to Jefferson according to GW’s command. On 23 Dec. 1790 Jefferson wrote to McKean: “As you have been so friendly as to transmit to the President of the U.S. the papers of Philip Wilson, I take the liberty of availing myself of the same channel to convey to him the opinion of the Attorney general in answer to his application” (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 18:347–48 and notes; Lear to Jefferson, 21 Dec. 1790, DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers; Lear to Randolph, 21 Dec. 1790, DLC:GW).

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