From Richard Peters
Belmont Augt 2d 1790
Averse as I am from a Desire to trouble you on such Subjects my Anxiety on Account of the Situation in which a worthy character is unfortunately placed has induced me to take the Liberty of mentioning to you the unhappy Predicament in which General Wayne stands—As Matters have turned out he was cursed with a Present from the State of Georgia of a Rice Plantation which they gave him with very laudable Intentions.1 Before he began to improve this Property he was possessed of a handsome Fortune which from a too eager Desire to increase it he has totally destroyed. Yet he has been a most industrious slave to the Persuit & cannot be accused of anything unworthy his Character. He relied upon the Opinions of enthusiastic People in his first undertaking the Business & before he had gained sufficient Experience he was irreparably ruined. I believe however he will have enough to satisfy the Demands against him but I am confident he will have Nothing left either of his patrimonial Estate or the pecuniary Rewards for his military Services. In that he will be in Want.
I have seen a Plan of a federal Land Office.2 The Place of all others I think him most capable of executing is that of Surveyor General. I know he is an excellent Draftsman & has a Genius for this Business in which he has been practically employed. Should you Sir think proper to give him that Appointment I am convinced he will do Justice to your Choice. But if in your better Judgment you have any other in View I shall be happy in the Endeavour to serve a worthy Man whose Situation I most sincerely lament. I have not been solicited by him to give you this Trouble & hope the Goodness of my Intentions will induce you to excuse the Liberty I have taken.3 I have the Honour to be with the most respectful Esteem your most obedt Servt
For Gen. Anthony Wayne’s application for a military appointment under the new government, see Wayne to GW, 1 Feb. 1790.
1. Wayne’s tenure at Richmond, the rice plantation on the Savannah River granted him by the Georgia legislature for his services against Indians and Loyalists during the Revolution, was a financial disaster. He had given up on it by early 1787 and finally signed it over to his creditors in 1791. In February 1790 he admitted to GW, “I must acknowledge that I have been much, very much deceived & disappointed in my views & expectations in this Quarter” (Wayne to GW, 1 Feb. 1790 and note 1).
2. On 20 Jan. 1790 the House of Representatives ordered the secretary of the treasury to report on “a uniform system for the disposition of lands the property of the United States.” Hamilton recommended in his report, delivered to the House on 22 July 1790, that: “There shall be a Surveyor General, who shall have power to appoint a Deputy Surveyor General, in each of the Western Governments, and a competent number of Deputy Surveyors to execute, in person, all Warrants to them directed by the Surveyor General [who] . . . shall also have in charge, all the duties committed to the Geographer General by the several resolutions and ordinances of Congress” (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 3:268, 524, 539, 5:1226, 1235).
3. The federal government did not create the office of surveyor general until it passed “An Act providing for the Sale of the Lands of the United States, in the territory northwest of the river Ohio, and above the mouth of Kentucky river” on 18 May 1796. On 21 Dec. 1796 GW nominated Rufus Putnam for the position after Simeon DeWitt declined it. The president had appointed Wayne earlier, in April 1792, as major general of the forces to be raised for the further protection of the northwest frontier (Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:117, 119, 212, 213, 217, 219; 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 241–43, 464–69).