George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Barton, 29 July 1790

From William Barton

Queen Street, No. 15 [New York]
Thursday July 29 17901

Mr Wm Barton presents his most dutiful and respectful Compliments to the President of the United States, with the inclosed Letter2 from Professor Barton.3 Mr W.B. will do himself the Honor of waiting on the President, To-morrow at 10 o’clock to receive his Commands, which Mr B. will be proud to convey to his Brother.

AL, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

William Barton (1754–1817), eldest son of Thomas Barton of Lancaster, Pa., was admitted at the Lancaster bar in 1775. His father, an Anglican minister and chaplain, became acquainted with GW during the French and Indian War, and Barton himself was introduced to GW during the Revolutionary War at winter quarters in 1779. He later corresponded with GW about heraldry and Barton’s contribution to the great seal of the United States. Barton also sent the president copies of papers he presented to the American Philosophical Society, to which he had been elected a member in 1787. In August 1790 Barton unsuccessfully solicited from Thomas Jefferson the chief clerkship of the State Department made vacant by Roger Alden’s 25 July 1790 resignation, noting “Were it proper, I might refer to the President, to whom I have been amply recommended.” Barton was made the principal clerk for Commissioner of the Revenue Tench Coxe in the summer of 1792. Before GW’s retirement and final removal from Philadelphia in 1797, Barton requested the return of “sundry testimonials” he had left in the president’s hands at the commencement of his administration, and GW’s secretary Bartholomew Dandridge obliged him the next day (see Barton to GW, 28 Aug. and 18 Sept. 1788, 10 Aug. 1792, and 28 Feb. 1797, and Barton to Jefferson, 7 Aug. 1790, all in DLC:GW; GW to Barton, 7 Sept. 1788, DLC: Toner Transcripts; and Dandridge to Barton, 1 Mar. 1797, ViMtvL).

1The year appears to have been inserted later by a different hand.

2Benjamin Smith Barton’s letter of 26 July from Philadelphia covered “proposals for printing a Flora of America,” according to Tobias Lear’s endorsement, and requested GW to subscribe to the work (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Barton wrote a similar letter to Jefferson the same day (see 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 17:276).

3Benjamin Smith Barton (1766–1815) was born in Lancaster, Pa., and went to live with his brother William in Philadelphia after their parents died in 1781. After studying at the College of Philadelphia and assisting a western Pennsylvania surveying party under his uncle, the noted mathematician and astronomer David Rittenhouse, Barton left for Britain to study medicine in 1786. In London he came under the influence of Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society of Science, before leaving for Göttingen, where he received the M.D. degree in 1789. Upon his return to Philadelphia, Barton was appointed professor of natural history at the College of Philadelphia in 1790. The following year he served under Jefferson on the American Philosophical Society’s committee on the Hessian fly (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 20:244–45, 395, 446–47, 451, 474, 613).

The proposal Barton sent in his 26 July 1790 letter to GW has not been identified. The only work of Barton’s found in the Mount Vernon library at GW’s death was a copy of his New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America (2d rev. ed.; Philadelphia, 1798), which the author inscribed, “For General Washington, with the most respectful compliments of his very obedient and very humble Servant &c.” (Griffin, Boston Athenæum Collection, description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends 17; 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 , 20:451, n.64). Fourteen years later Barton published the first (and only) part of his enlarged edition of John Clayton and L. T. Gronovius’s Flora Virginica: sive Plantarum . . . (Philadelphia, 1812).

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