George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Blair, 22 September 1790

From John Blair

Philadelphia. Septr 22d 1790.


Capt. Francis Bright,1 being a candidate for the command of one of the cutters which are designed to cruize for prevention of smuggling,2 has asked me to mention to you what I could say in his favour, & also to forward, together with this, the accompanying testimonials3—From them You will perceive the station he has already occupied, & the propriety of his conduct therein. After having given so much satisfaction to those whose duty it was to super-intend him, & to whom he was officially accountable, it would be unnecessary for me to say any thing, especially as it could only amount to this, that I have always understood that Capt. Bright was a very good officer—The letter to Warner Lewis Esqr. & that from Mr Page to Capt. Bright, are only designed to shew how the letter to Mr Jefferson came to be opened.4

We have a report from Baltimore, that your carriage was overset between that place & Spurrear’s, & that you, & only you, suffered much by it—But as the public papers announce your arrival & doing business, at George-town, without taking notice of such an accident, I trust the report is groundless.5 I have the honour to be, with every sentiment of respect, esteem, & gratitude, Worthy Sir, Your affectionate friend and humble servant,6

John Blair


1Francis Bright (c.1746–c.1803) was commissioned a captain in the Virginia navy in April 1776 and commanded the first armed cruiser to patrol the Eastern Shore (D.A.R. Patriot Index, 1:366). On 15 Aug. 1777 Lt. Gov. John Page wrote to GW from Williamsburg: “I have this moment received undoubted Information, by Express from Captain Bright of the Northampton armed Brigg of this State lying off Cape Charles, that, last Night at 9 oClock, he saw from his Masthead at least 100 Sail of Ships standing directly into the Capes” (DLC:GW). Bright later commanded the brig Courtney and served to the war’s close (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 33).

2For the background to the establishment of the Revenue Cutter Service, see Hamilton to GW, 10 Sept. 1790, n.1.

3John Blair enclosed Champion Travis’s 6 Sept. 1790 letter from Williamsburg, Virginia. Travis’s letter to Blair reads: “Capt. Bright being desirous of being appointed to the command of one of the Cruizers that is ordered by congress to be fitted for the protection of the Revenue in this department, has induced me to mention him to you—he commanded an armd brig in Our Navy during my residing at the board: and ever had the character of a brave Vigilent and active officer and was among the first appointments in the state Navy. if you Sir can render him any service by recomending him to the notice of Our president from whome I expect the appointmt will come You will much oblige Sir your Hb. Servt” (DLC:GW).

Also enclosed was a 3–4 Sept. 1790 letter from John Page of Rosewell that reads: “The Bearer Captn Bright commanded one of the armed Vessels of this State in the last War ⟨mutilated⟩ I was a Member of the Executive & I well remember, that he gave the Board Notice of Lord Howe’s Fleet standing into the Bay of Cheesapeak, when it was bound to the Head of the Bay with the british Troops on their Rout to Philada—that the Notice was so early received, & so minutely & truely given, as manifested the Captain’s Vigilance, Coolness & Activity; as well as his Sense of Duty—& as well as I can remember he supported the Character of a good Officer” (DLC:GW).

4The enclosed letter of Warner Lewis to Thomas Jefferson, dated 4 Aug. 1790, recommended Bright, “who commanded an armed vessel, some years ago, in the little navy of this State, and who through the whole course of my acquaintance with him in that capacity, conducted himself in the most proper manner, is anxious to obtain an appointment to one of the Cutters. As, from being a member of the Virginia navy board, I had repeated opportunities of inspecting the conduct of Cap’t. Bright, and as I can affirm that it was in every instance unexceptionable, he thinks that a declaration of this sort made by me to some gentleman at New York, who will take the trouble of mentioning it to the President, may be a means of procuring him the command he solicits. . . . I really think him a man of merit; and I firmly believe he will discharge with fidelity the duties of a marine” (DLC:GW).

Also enclosed was a letter to Lewis that Bright wrote at Rosewell on 4 Sept. 1790: “Being disapointed by the packets not ariving at the time she was expected, I have never yet with convenience been able to get forward to new york—The packet that brought Mr Page is to sail for that place next week in which I shall take a passage, but am in doubt whether or not Mr Jefferson (to whome you have been so very obliging as to give me a letter) will be in New york when I arrive there. ⟨I⟩f therefore you will not consider it as an intrusion on your goodness in making a second application in consequence of your willingness to oblige me in the the first—you will add to the many obligations I am already under to you by giving me an open letter to that gentleman in stead of the one you was Kind enough to inclose me by Mr Wickham which I here with inclose you again, not presuming to carry it forward with an Intention of opening it (so as to make use of it with the Secretary of the Treasury whome I am told is to superintend the appointment which I through your recomendation am about to solicit) should Mr Jefferson not be there—Mr Page expects to see you at court to day & has promised me that he will deliver you this and bring your answer to this place where I am to send my man tomorrow for it” (DLC:GW).

A final enclosure, Page to Bright, dated Rosewell, 5 Sept. 1790, reads: “As I had not the Pleasure of seeing Col. Lewis Yesterday I could not give him your Letter, & as all my Horses were engaged or out when your Boy arrived today & it was late, I took the Liberty of opening Your Letter to that Gentn & took out the one which you had inclosed to him that he might break the Seal—as I considered this unnecessary to be done by him, & what might have been done by you, had your Delicacy not restrained you I broke the Seal & had the Pleasure to find that the Letter was such an one as I could have wished it. I now inclose yours & that Letter which with this you may shew if necessary & I will tell Mr Lewis of your high Sense of Delicacy” (DLC:GW).

5For GW’s mishap on the road from Baltimore and newspaper reports of his arrival at Georgetown, see GW to Tobias Lear, 17 Sept. 1790, and GW to Charles Carter of Ludlow, 14 Sept. 1790, n.2.

6GW acknowledged Blair’s 22 September letter and its enclosures on 3 Oct. 1790, noting: “When the appointment, to which they relate, is made, they will receive that consideration which a comparison of all circumstances shall authorise, in the public behalf” (Df, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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