George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Spotswood, 4 December 1791

From Alexander Spotswood

Nottingham Virginia December 4. 1791

Dear Sir

My Second Son, John Augustine Spotswood, who I declined entering into the French Navy, for good & Substantial reasons given by you, was immediatly entered on board of a large Merchant ship; and next april, Compleets his regular Service, From a Cabbin Boy up to mate, In which Character he is now officiating in.1

I have expended much money on his Nautical Education, and great pains has been Taken, by those gentlemen, both in this Country, and Europe, whom he; by my directions, put himself under, So soon as his ship had dis-charged her Cargo, and it is with pleasure that I assure you, that all the Nautical men who are acquainted with him, assure me he is a Compleets Seaman & Navigator. he is now in London, under that great Teacher of Mathematicks, and Navigation, (Mr John Hambleton Moore)2 On his return which will be in March 1792, he means to push his fortune to the Indies, in Some of the american Indiamen, and to remain in that service until he has an opportunity, of offering his Service to his Country; as a naval officer. he wishes for a chief Mates Birthe, if that Cannot be obtained he must put up with 2d or 3d. I, being a Total Stranger, to the owners, & Captains of ships in this line, I have no resource to fly to, in favr of my son, but yourself, and I will Venture to assure you; that from my knowledge of Jack—and from the amiable Character which he bears, you never will have cause to repent any favours you may please to Confer on him, and he bid me assure you, that he wishes for no post whatever, without he Shall be found to merrit it, after goeing through a rigid Examination, Touching his abilities as a Natucal man.

I do assure you on my honour, that he is not ⟨illegible⟩ brought a gentleman sailor, but has Served regular, gone through great hardships, and has worked as hard as any corn field Negroe. I have heard much in favour of a Capt. Truxton, who is to Sail next year in a new Indiaman called the Deleware, with this gentleman I wish to get him.3

I would not on any other Occasion have presumed, to Take any of yr time, from the waty bussiness which your mind is Burthened withe, but when I considder, it is in the behalf of a young man, who wishes to push himself forward in life, and one who has the honr of being Connected with you, I flatter myself you will not only readily excuse this intrusion, but will do all in yr power to Serve my Son which will add to the many Obligations already Confered on Yr obtt & very Hl. St4

A. Spotswood


1John (Jack) Augustine Spotswood (born c.1771) subsequently became captain of a schooner, probably engaged in the West Indies trade. In October 1798 GW assisted his efforts to obtain a commission in the U.S. Navy but was unable to help the young captain win the hand of Eleanor Parke Custis (see GW to Benjamin Stoddert, 9 Oct., Spotswood to GW, 31 Dec. 1798, n.1; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:318–19). Spotswood was appointed a commander in the U.S. Navy in February 1800 and was discharged in June 1801 (Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:338).

2John Hamilton Moore (d. 1807), who had written several important publications on navigation, was in 1791 “Hydrographer to his Royal Highness the D[uke] of Clarence” (Universal British Directory, description begins The Universal British Directory of Trade, Commerce, and Manufacture, Comprehending Lists of the Inhabitants of London, Westminster, and Borough of Southwark; And of All the Cities, Towns, and Principal Villages, in England and Wales; with the Mails, and other Coaches, Stage-Waggons, Hoys, Packets, and Trading Vessels . . .. London, 1791. description ends 1791, 233). In 1792 he sent to GW two charts of the North American coast that he had dedicated to GW, and the president acknowledged their receipt on 2 Dec. 1792, writing: “It is unnecessary for me to make any comment upon the utility of such works when executed by a person of ability. The discerning part of mankind will always venerate the promoters of science wheresoever they may be found; and in this instance the many who may be benefitted by your useful Charts will not forget to whom they owe that advantage” (Df, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Moore also sent GW a copy of the 1793 London edition of his most prominent work, The New Practical Navigator (London, 1772), which went through numerous editions. GW acknowledged that gift on 28 Jan. 1794 (ADfS, owned by Mr. Augustus R Loring, Boston, Massachusetts). Moore’s works were in the Mount Vernon library at the time of GW’s death (Griffin, Boston Athenæum Washington Collection, description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends 546, 561).

3Thomas Truxtun was engaged at this time as a captain in the lucrative trade with China and the East Indies (see Thomas Jefferson to GW, 1 May 1791, n.1).

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