George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 5 October 1790

From Alexander Hamilton

Treasury Department [New York] Octor 5th 1790.


I had the honor of receiving your letter of the 27th ulto, by the mail on the 2d inst: and have in the interval made some enquiries relative to a successor to the late Collector of George town in south Carolina.1 I am apprehensive from the result, that the necessary information cannot be obtained but from the place, to which end the necessary steps will be taken. I shall also make the requisite inquiries concerning the other person whose testimonials you were pleased to inclose.2

The Light house of Newport in Rhode Island, since the adoption of the Constitution by that State, is placed in the care of the Executive of the United States. It will promote an œconomical and advantageous management of that establishment, if it shall be committed to the general superintendance of the Collector of the Customs, as in Massachusetts. Mr Ellery, finding the State had discontinued the care of it, has employed William Martin the late keeper, from an opinion of his fidelity and experience, at one hundred and forty Dollars per annum, subject to your approbation.3 This is the compensation formerly allowed by the State, and, compared with other establishments, does not appear unreasonable.

Having received applications from the Collectors of Boston & Portland, relative to the completion of the Light house at the latter place,4 and there being an anxiety in the Members of the Legislature from Massachusetts, that it should, if possible, be completed this fall; I have written to the Collector of Boston to take the necessary measures on the subject, and inclose a copy of my letter to him relative to it.5 The season of the year might render it impracticable to finish the work this autumn, if the commencement of it were longer postponed, which, considering the condition and nature of the establishment, and the probability of an increase of expence from the injury which delay might occasion to it, will, I trust, cause the step I have taken, without your particular previous direction, to be not displeasing to you.6 I have the honor to be with the highest respect, Sir, Your mot Obedient & mo: hble Servant

Alexander Hamilton


1For the resignation of John Cogdell, see GW to Hamilton, 27 Sept. 1790 and note 1.

2The enclosures in GW’s 27 Sept. 1790 letter to Hamilton recommended Zachariah Rowland, John Hague, John Maltbie, and James Montgomery.

3In mid-December 1790 GW approved Newport collector William Ellery’s provisional contract with William Martin as keeper of the lighthouse established before 1750 at Jamestown on the southern tip of Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay. The Rhode Island legislature did not officially cede the property to the federal government until May 1793 (see Hamilton to GW, 7 Dec. 1790, and Tobias Lear to Hamilton, 14 Dec. 1790, both in DLC:GW; see also DNA: RG 26, Records of the United States Coast Guard: “Lighthouse Deeds and Contracts,” vol. A, 200; Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 7:202, 342).

4These papers have not been identified. A month and a half later Boston collector Benjamin Lincoln sent Hamilton further letters concerning the Portland lighthouse, including one from Portland collector Nathaniel Fosdick recommending Capt. Joseph Greenleaf as its keeper (see Lincoln to Hamilton, 17 Nov. 1790, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 7:156).

5The letter-book copy of Hamilton’s enclosure reads: “It being necessary that I should proceed according to the directions of the Legislature to complete the Light house at Portland in the province of Maine, I find the remote situation of the place will render your assistance requisite on the occasion. Enclosed you will find the Act of Congress, which must limit your disbursments. I wish this business to be well executed, in a way corresponding with the begining, and that no time may be lost. If it is possible to complete the work this season, it is very desireable that it be done; if not, I hope it may be so far advanced, that the building can be covered and protected from injury by the weather. On receipt of this, be pleased to employ, without any avoidable delay, the suitable persons either on the spot or elsewhere in the state of Massachusetts, to complete this Light house, either by Contract or other wise, preferring the former as the mode designated in other instances by the Legislature, and taking care that your disbursements do not exceed the sum granted by Law” (Hamilton to Lincoln, 4 Oct. 1790, DLC:GW).

6GW’s 12 Oct. 1790 reply to Hamilton’s 5 Oct. 1790 letter reads: “The public service requiring the arrangements, which you have made, relative to the Light Houses of Newport and Portland, they are perfectly agreeable to me, and receive my approbation” (LS, DNA: RG 26, Coast Guard Historical Documents, 1790-1983).

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