George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Robert Lewis, 10 January 1791

From Robert Lewis

Philadelphia 10th January 1791

Honored Uncle

In requesting your attention to a subject of the greatest importance to Myself, and in begging your permission to communicate it with freedom and confidence, I trust I shall not trespass on the respect which your goodness toward me has deeply impressed on My Mind.

My opinions of happiness, and the inclinations of My heart have determined Me to change my situation in life—with a view to this great object I declared my regards, when last in Virginia, to a young lady whose beauty & Merit had engaged my affections and esteem, and whose worth will I fondly hope entitle her to your approbation, which will Ensure to me every happiness I desire. It was impossible for Me to take this determination without thinking of the consequence which might attend My connexion with you, Sir—under that idea I beg leave to assure you, that it is My first wish to remain with you, to profit from a situation so Eligible as the patronage of an Uncle whom I love with the purest affection—and if the change which I mention, may be reconciled to that wish, I shall be perfectly happy—but if that is impossible, I shall hope to carry me into the retirement of a Country life, the continuance of your regards, which I value far above all price.1

To avoid the Embarassment which I apprehended to myself from personal communications of this matter in the first instance, I have used the liberty of addressing you by letter—Should you desire to learn any particulars, I shall be happy to Explain them in a conversation. I intreat you to believe that I shall ever remain your dutiful Nephew, and Obliged Humble Servant

Robt Lewis

ALS, ViHi.

1Lewis was engaged to Judith Carter Browne (1773–1830), the daughter of William Burnet Browne of Elsing Green, King William County, Virginia. No reply from GW regarding Lewis’s intention to leave the president’s official family or his intention to marry has been found, but GW apparently gave his approval to the plan. Lewis wrote a second letter to GW regarding his departure. Although undated, it was clearly written while Congress was still in session, and probably before the end of January. The letter reads: “The pleasure which I experience in being one of your family need no stronger argument to impress its truth than the advantages which I derive from your example and advice—this pleasure too, can only be enhanced by a persuasion, that, my past conduct has been satisfactory, together with your approbation still to be continued in the family and in the exercise of the business allotted me, with that which has been left unfinished by Mr Nelson; (I mean communications with the War Department) as they can each of them, be kept up by one hand—The reason of my being thus explicit proceeds from an apprehension that a matrimonial connection which I am about to embark in when Congress shall next adjourn will (with your consent) deprive me of all those benefits which I now enjoy, by adding greater inconveniencies to those which may be felt at present, (Owing to your goodness in taking me into the family) by occupying a room which could be filled by another more capable of doing such business as might be required by you, Sir, and which my capacity is not commensurate to. I shall say nothing with regard to the emolument farther than to thank you for what I have been allowed hitherto, which is I assure you, fully equal with frugality to all my necessities, and considerably more than I had any reason to expect for my poor services” (Robert Lewis to GW, c. January 1791, ViMtvL).

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