George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Winthrop Sargent, 1 August 1790

From Winthrop Sargent

Vincennes, County of Knox [Territory N.W. of River Ohio]
August 1st 1790

Sir

By the Conveyance1 for my Official Communications I beg Leave to represent, that the Act of the United States2 which authorizes & directs the Secretary of their Western Territory to discharge (at certain Times) the Duties of the Governour has involved me in additional Expenses, Which they have not as yet been pleased to provide for, And which my private Finances do not capacitate me to defray.

It is to me Sir a most painful Task to make any Representations that may imply a pecuniary Request for myself—but situated as I am it becomes incumbent upon me.

In the Office of the Secretary, Advances of Money have been made by me for Stationary, Printing, Public Seal &ca (and for some of those Articles have again become necessary) whilst all my Applications for a Reimbursement, to the Board of Treasury, have been passed by in Silence—To the Duties of this Office as pointed out & defined by the Ordinance For the Government of the Territory of July 1787—I found myself fully competent, but circumstanced as we now are & divided into many Counties & Districts, all of which are to be furnished with Copies of the Laws, Proclamations & Ordinances of the Governour, the Writings have consequently become so multiplied that no one Person, tho’ devoting his whole Time, can be adequate to performing them—And in Addition to all this Sir, I am informed by Governour St. Clair that it is expected I should consider myself as Secretary to the Indian Commission—a Business which in the Western Territory will probably for a long Time demand much Attention. I will beg Leave Sir to observe upon this matter that when Congress established the Offices of Governour & Secretary, the Superintendency of Indian Affairs was in a third Person—and that at the Time they were pleased to bestow this upon the Governour, they increased his Salary3—May I not therefore Sir reasonably presume that some further Provision should also be made for my Office if, contrary to the original System, it is to comprehend & include the Records of Indian Business for tho’ I would not by any means ask or expect a Sinecure from Government yet I assure myself that I may with Propriety request such a Salary as shall enable me to discharge my Duty with Fidelity, & Reputation to myself.

Upon all those Subjects generally, I believe Sir it is the Intention of Governour St. Clair to express himself at this Time, if the Importance of more Public Concerns shall leave him Opportunity—but the Expenses which I must necessarily incur by his present Absence is a matter that has arisen therefrom And probably may escape his Attention—this Subject therefore as well as the Advances I have been necessitated to make I will beg Leave to lay before Congress by this Opportunity.4

Most respectfully asking that they would be pleased to order for me such Provision as they may deem meet—with every Sentiment of the highest Respect I have the Honour to be Sir your most obedient devoted Servant

Winthrop Sargent

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Territorial Papers, Territory Northwest of the River Ohio.

1Vincennes merchant Francis Vigo, who left the town for the eastern seaboard on 2 Aug. 1790 with Sargent’s official papers, probably arrived in New York in early December, as the documents were in GW’s hands in Philadelphia by 8 Dec. (see Sargent to GW, 31 July 1790, source note).

The above letter, however, was not sent with Vigo as intended, and could have been written four months later and postdated 1 Aug. 1790. Sargent covered it with an explanatory note dated Philadelphia, 13 Dec. 1790: “The enclosed Letter, which I intended woud have accompanied my last Official Communications from the Western Territory, has by some mistake been omitted.

“Permit me now Sir to lay it before you directing only so much Attention to it as your Excellency may deem proper” (DNA: RG 59, Territorial Papers, Territory Northwest of the River Ohio). For a suggestion that Sargent deliberately withheld the letter from his voluminous official papers in order to focus the president’s attention upon it, 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 18:171–72. GW, however, merely passed it on to Lear with instructions that it be presented to the secretary of state, which Lear did on 16 Dec. 1790: “By the President’s Command I have the honor to transmit the enclosed letter from Winthrop Sargent Esqr. Secy of the Western Territory, to the President of the United States: which the President requests may be put with the Communications from the Western Territory” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

Sargent postponed an important trip east until completion of his official duties at Vincennes. Maj. John Francis Hamtramck wrote to Gen. Josiah Harmar from Post Vincennes on 3 Aug. 1790 that “Major Sargent will go in two or three days up the river. I will be obliged to give him an escort to go with him as far as the Rappids of the Ohio. . . . By Major Sargent I shall send the muster and the returns of last inspection.” Sargent reached Fort Steuben at the rapids of the Ohio by 17 Aug., arrived at Fort Washington at the Ohio and Licking rivers at the end of August or beginning of September, and left Harmar’s headquarters there on 2 September. On 17 Sept. 1790 he was at Marietta 240 miles farther up the Ohio where Gov. Arthur St. Clair gave him dispatches to be delivered to the secretary of war (Thornbrough, Outpost on the Wabash, description begins Gayle Thornbrough, ed. Outpost on the Wabash, 1787–1791: Letters of Brigadier General Josiah Harmar and Major John Francis Hamtramck and other letters and documents from the Harmar Papers in the William L. Clements Library. Indianapolis, 1957. In Indiana Historical Society Publications, vol.19. description ends 243–44, 247–48, 254–57; Carter, Territorial Papers, description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends 2:300–302, 306–8).

Although Sargent carried official papers from Vincennes to Philadelphia and points in between, his chief motivations for traveling east in the summer and autumn of 1790 were purely personal. As he later wrote to GW in explanation of his 1793 absence from the Northwest Territory: “In the August of 1790 I had the honour of representing to you that my Expenses as Secretary of said Territory has exceeded the Salary affixed to that Office, and in the December following by permission of Governour St Clair (having made provision for the Discharge of my public Duties) was attendant upon Congress in an Essay, for Compensation: A memorial was presented to the Senate and house of representatives and refered to the Secretary of the Treasury—but before the same could be reported upon (Governour St Clair arriving in this City) your pleasure for my immediate return to his Government was signified to me” (Sargent to GW, 30 Dec. 1793, DNA: RG 59, Territorial Papers, Territory Northwest of the River Ohio; see also n.4 below).

Not only did Sargent hope to pursue in person the matter of congressional adjustment of his salary, but he also planned to attend to his extensive land business. He traveled east primarily to consult with William Duer, Royal Flint, and Andrew Craigie at New York and Boston about their collective land speculations. Sargent, as secretary to the Ohio Company, received pressing messages from company treasurer Richard Platt demanding his presence in New York at a moment of crisis for the speculators (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 18:172–75).

2“An Act to provide for the Government of the Territory Northwest of the river Ohio” of 7 Aug. 1789 stated “That in case of the death, removal, resignation, or necessary absence of the governor of the said territory, the secretary thereof shall be, and he is hereby authorized and required to execute all the powers, and perform all the duties of the governor, during the vacancy” (1 Stat., description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 51–53).

3See the 3 Oct. 1787 resolution of the Confederation Congress in 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 33:601.

4In 1794 Sargent reviewed his earlier actions and the 1790–91 events surrounding his salary claims: “near the close of. . . [1790 he] obtained permission to come on to Philadelphia to urge in person this Suit—which was then no ways advanced—not because ‘the President did not deem the same reasonable’ (as the Secretary of State informed Mr Sargent) ‘but because it was improper that any pecuniary Concerns should originate with him’—and further, ‘that means would have been devised in the Case of his Absence to have brought forward this Business but being here he had better take measures for that purpose himself—which was accordingly done in a memorial presented to the house of representatives in the Decr of 1790—and then referred to the Secretary of the Treasury.

“Upon the 1st of Feby 1791 some of the settlements upon the Ohio having been attacked by the Indians, and the Presidents Pleasure for his Departure signified, he then again repaired to the western Territory as a Substitute for the Governour” (Sargent to Edmund Randolph, May 1794, in Carter, Territorial Papers, description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends 2:480).

On 29 Dec. 1790 “A petition of Winthrop Sargent, Secretary of the Western Territory, was presented to the House and read, stating the insufficiency of the provision made by law for the support of his office; and praying that the same may be made adequate to his services and expenses” (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 3:647). The petition was referred to the secretary of the treasury with instructions to examine and report on it, and Alexander Hamilton corresponded with Sargent (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 15:379–80, 605–7, 680–81) but had still not submitted his report to the House when Sargent wrote to GW on 30 Dec. 1793: “To the present moment the Secretary of the Treasury has been so much and so importantly engaged that no Attention could be bestowed to my memorial, and in far the greatest part of the intervening Time I have been involved in all the Duties and Expenses of both Governour and Secretary of the western Territory rendered, in a pecuniary point of View, in the last year peculiarly distressing from the failure of some private resources—And from which Consideration I was induced to solicit Leave of Absence from Duty for a few months through General Knox, in whose Sense of propriety it being inadmissible the request was never made, and I remained in the Territory to the absolute Sacrifice of more than the amount of my whole pay as Secretary thereof until the Governours return and permission liberated me (after providing for the Secretary’s Duties) in the last Autumn, to urge my petition to the general Government and adjust some private Concerns” (DNA: RG 59, Territorial Papers, Territory Northwest of the River Ohio). The text of Sargent’s memorial appears in Carter, Territorial Papers, description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends 2:318–19.

On 31 Jan. 1794 Hamilton completed his report, in which he stated: “the Salary of 750 Dollars annexed by law to the office he holds must have been under the Circumstances of the Case an inadequate Compensation,” and he submitted it to the House of Representatives on 3 Feb. 1794. The same day the House referred it to a committee, which advised that Sargent should be paid the governor’s salary when he acted in that capacity in the future but should not be compensated retroactively, since disbursements for his past services as acting governor had already been made to St. Clair as his official salary. No further action was taken before the first session of the Third Congress adjourned in June 1794 (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 15:680–81 and note 7; Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 3d Cong., 1st sess., 417–18, 452, 784).

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