George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, 20 September 1790

To Alexander Hamilton

Mount Vernon Septemr 20th 1790.


In answer to your letter of the 10th instt relative to the establishment of the boats or Cutters for the protection of the revenue, I have to observe, That, if there appears to exist a necessity for equipping the whole number therein mentioned, the arrangement for building and stationing them, seems judicious, and is to me perfectly satisfactory.

It is my wish that your Enquiries, respecting proper characters to command these Vessels, may be extended to the States south of Virginia—Mr Lear can furnish you with the List of Applications already made. Two persons, with nearly equal recommendations, have offered themselves from Philadelphia—Captains Montgomery1 & Roach.2 There are several respectable names subscribed in favor of each of these persons; some of them, I believe, in favor of both: such is the facility, with which, on certain occasions, recommendations are granted—It would seem, however, that they are both qualified; but, in favor of the former, it is stated that he now fills a subordinate station in the revenue, which he accepted with a view of being brought into notice when such an appointment, as that which he now solicits, should be made.

Captain Barney was not at Baltimore whem I passed through, nor cou’d I learn with certainty whether he wished to receive the appointment or not.3 But I was informed that he had written in answer to an intimation made to him, by you or one of his friends, on the subject, whence I suppose his wish may be collected.

There is a Mr Richard Taylor of this State, an applicant for one of the appointments, who from my knowledge of him, appears to be a proper person both as to character, and experience in the profession.4

Remarking to you that the advantage, which might accrue from their superintendance, seems to suggest the propriety of nominating the Commanders before the Vessels are put on the stocks—you have my permission to carry the arrangement for building the Boats or Cutters, stated in your letter into immediate effect, in such extent as to your judgment shall seem necessary for the public service.5 I am, sir, Your most Obedient servant

Go: Washington


For the creation of the Revenue Cutter Service, see Hamilton to GW, 10 Sept. 1790, n.1.

1When GW was in Philadelphia on his way home he was given a recommendation of Capt. James Montgomery as “fully qualified to command” a revenue cutter by Miller & Murray, Benjamin W. Morris, Samuel Morris, Stuart & Barr, J. Rosser, Miers Fisher, Archibald McCall, Charles Wharton, John and Thomas Barclay, Robert Stevenson, William Shippen, Sr., Mordecai Lewis, and Thomas Smith (Samuel Morris et al. to GW, 3 Sept. 1790, DLC:GW).

Irish native James Montgomery (c.1747–1810) was appointed to command the Pennsylvania naval galley Ranger in August 1775 and the galley Chatham in May 1776 but resigned his captain’s commission three months later to enter the Continental Navy. In 1779 he accepted command of the Pennsylvania state privateer General Greene, and he later commanded the brigs George and General Galvez (Claghorn, Naval Officers of the American Revolution, description begins Charles E. Claghorn. Naval Officers of the American Revolution: A Concise Biographical Dictionary. Metuchen, N.J., 1988. description ends 210–11; Jackson, Pennsylvania Navy, description begins John W. Jackson. The Pennsylvania Navy, 1775–1781: The Defense of the Delaware. New Brunswick, N.J., 1974. description ends 63, 336, 337; D.A.R. Patriot Index, description begins D.A.R. Patriot Index. Centennial Edition. 3 vols. Washington, D.C., 1990. description ends 2:2056). Hamilton later wrote GW that Montgomery not only had greater pretensions to respectability than Roach but also had a claim to preference because of his situation. Hamilton notified Montgomery of the president’s 6 Oct. 1790 approval of his appointment sometime before 28 Oct. and sent his commission as captain of the Pennsylvania revenue cutter before 6 Dec. 1790 (see Hamilton to GW, 29 Sept. 1790 and note 3, GW to Hamilton, 6 Oct. 1790, and Tench Coxe to Tobias Lear, 6 Dec. 1790, DLC:GW).

2The day before the president arrived in Philadelphia on 2 Sept. 1790, Delaware River pilot Isaac Roach (Rotch; 1748–1817) wrote to him from that city, soliciting “an Appointment to the Command of one of the Cutters to be employed in the Revenue Service of the united States, for the bay of Delaware And adjacent Coasts.” He noted that “The navigation of the Delaware bay is very Intricate, and Difficult; and my knowledge of it, as a pilot and Officer During the late Revolution, is one of The Reasons, that Some very Respectable Characters, in this City, have Solicited me to apply To your Excellency; and Encouraged me to Hope for the Appointment” (DLC:GW). The recommendation that Roach enclosed has not been found. During the Revolution he had served as a lieutenant on the Pennsylvania naval galleys Hancock and Franklin and was commissioned captain of the galley Congress in September 1776 and of the galley Chatham in May 1778 before his discharge in 1781 (Jackson, Pennsylvania Navy, description begins John W. Jackson. The Pennsylvania Navy, 1775–1781: The Defense of the Delaware. New Brunswick, N.J., 1974. description ends 337).

3For Capt. Joshua Barney’s declination of a cutter command, see Barney to GW, 15 Sept. 1790.

4Capt. Richard Taylor (1749–1825), son of Col. George Taylor and Rachel Gibson Taylor of Orange County, Va., was disabled by grapeshot in November 1781 and retired from the Virginia navy. He was appointed chief naval officer of the state in 1787, and his friends later unsuccessfully solicited for him a federal revenue post from GW. In 1794 he removed to land in Jefferson County, Ky., granted for his Revolutionary War service (see Thomas Newton, Jr., to GW, 17 July 1789, n.1, and Miles King to GW, 19 July 1789).

GW informed Hamilton on 6 Oct. 1790 that he approved of Taylor’s appointment as commander of the southern Chesapeake revenue cutter, and on 8 Oct. 1790 William Jackson at Mount Vernon notified Commodore Taylor of the president’s intention. After informing him of the salary, Jackson noted, “As there are many applications, you will be pleased to signify whether it meets your acceptance—and instructions will be transmitted to you by the Secretary of the Treasury for your superintending the building and equipment of the vessel” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Taylor, however, replied to GW from Caroline County, Va., on 25 Oct. 1790 that he would be unable to support his large family at the small monthly salary of $30 and reluctantly declined the appointment (DNA: RG 76, Spain, Convention of 17 Feb. 1834). Taylor apparently shortly changed his mind, as the president wrote to Hamilton on 8 Nov. 1790 that “I informed you that Capt. Taylor has declined his appointment—he has since in consequence of your letter to him, waited upon me & agreed to accept,” and assisted in the design and construction of his boat and the appointment of his officers (see GW to Hamilton, 4 and 11 Nov. 1790; Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 7:449–50).

5For Hamilton’s correspondence concerning the construction of the revenue cutters, see Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 7:57–58, 87–88, 98, 104, 116, 130, 162, 193, 342, 343, 345, 346, 446, 447–50). For his acknowledgment of GW’s 20 Sept. 1790 letter, see Hamilton to GW, 29 Sept. 1790.

Index Entries