George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Tatham, 14 April 1791

To William Tatham

Richmond [Va.], April 14th 1791.


I have received your letters numbered 1,2,3, and 4. thanking you for your attention in presenting to me a copy of your map, and wishing you the best success in completing that in which you are now engaged, I return the subscription papers, with my name affixed for a copy of each map, on which, the money to be advanced, will now be paid—and I have to observe that there appears to me greater propriety in your pursuing the plan, on which it was originally undertaken, than in adopting any other.1

My tour through the southern States, being in the nature of a short visit, will not require the assistance, which you are so obliging as to offer—my public situation forbids any interference in questions of individual claims otherwise than as they may come before me officially in the form of an act of Congress—This will be satisfactory to you for my declining to direct any investigation of the vouchers which you mention. I am Sir, Your most obedient Servant

G. Washington.


William Tatham (1752–1819) immigrated to Virginia from England in 1769 and moved in 1775 to what became east Tennessee, where he served as a militia adjutant in campaigns against the Creeks and Cherokees. Returning to Virginia in 1778, he served as a volunteer under Gen. Charles Scott. After the Revolutionary War he was clerk to the Virginia council of state and studied law, being admitted to the bar in 1784. Two years later Tatham moved to North Carolina and later served in the state legislature before returning to Virginia to organize its geographical department. In September 1790 Tatham proposed publishing a comprehensive map of the southern United States and solicited aid from the house of delegates two months later. He published A Topographical Analysis of the Commonwealth of Virginia: Compiled for the Years 1790–1 (Richmond, 1791), but he never completed his map of the South, even though in 1791 the Virginia general assembly authorized a lottery to support his work. GW dispatched him to Spain in 1795 to settle a boundary dispute with Florida, after which Tatham became superintendent of the London Docks at Wapping from 1801 until his return to Virginia in 1805, when he became employed as military storekeeper at the Richmond arsenal. He apparently committed suicide when he walked in front of a cannon fired in celebration of GW’s birthday. See Map Subscription, 29 Sept. 1790, n.1, Marshall Papers, description begins Herbert A. Johnson et al., eds. The Papers of John Marshall. 12 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1974–2006. description ends 2:62.

1Tatham wrote four letters to GW on 24 Mar. 1791. The first, seeking his aid in recovering losses incurred during the Revolution, described Tatham’s service as a volunteer and referred to testimonials in his possession written by Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Randolph, Peter Muhlenberg, James Monroe, Benjamin Hawkins, Baron von Steuben, and a Major Walker, among others. He also mentioned that Continental army veterans Solomon Bush and Richard Clairborne could testify to his sacrifices (DLC:GW). Tatham’s second letter of 24 Mar. sought GW’s patronage for his map of the southern states, presented his reasons for undertaking it, and suggested a plan to further its publication, by having state legislatures authorize a subscription for a copy for each county and governmental department (DLC:GW). Tatham’s third letter covered a copy of his Topographical Analysis of the Commonwealth of Virginia and noted: “His Excellency Governor Randolph was requested last year to furnish the Secretary at War with a delineation of the western Counties of this State, on some of the former Maps. I was applied to in the execution of this business: but found it impracticable on any I could procure. I have since collected information which flatters me with a prospect of greater accuracy, than I expected to have met with; and I hope the large Map I am now engagd on, will contain every thing wanted for public or private use. I have in the interim endeavour’d to annalize the state of this Commonwealth, in such a manner as may offer the best substitute for this defect: adding such military, and political matter, as I thought the plan capable of containing. I beg leave to present You herewith a copy for your own use; and will chearfull furnish any others you may direct, for the public Offices” (DLC:GW). In his fourth letter of 24 Mar., Tatham applied for public office, stressing his willingness to accept any appointment for which he might be thought qualified (DLC:GW).

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