George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Caleb Brewster, 15 March 1792

From Caleb Brewster

Fairfield in Connecticut March 15. 1792

Sir

I have presumed upon your Excellency’s known love of Justice, and upon the generous interest you take in the misfortunes of your old faithful military servants, to address to your Excellency the following representation; and I hope that the peculiar circumstances of my case & the unusual Sufferings that have attended my situation will be received as an apology for thus soliciting your Excellency’s aid & support—I will, with your leave, submit to your Excellency a simple and short detail of the facts on which I ground this application.

In the year 1777 I was honored with a commission of Captain in the line of the State of New York and was placed on a detached service, commanding an armed boat for the purpose of cruizing in the Long Island Sound, and for the more important service of obtaining & conveying intelligence from the Enemy. Under this commission I acted till the close of the late war—Of the services I rendered in this capacity your Excellency who was acquainted with the details of these secret operations at that period, is a competent Judge1—Early in the war, on the shore of Long Island from an exertion of bodily labor in carrying the boat I commanded into a place of safety & concealment, I recieved a dangerous & incurable rupture which has ever since been subject to the painful & inconvenient application of those modes of local support which are common in such cases—On the 7th of December 1782 while in the aforesaid service in a bloody engagement with two armed boats of the Enemy I received a wound by a ball thro. my breast2—With this wound I languished & was confined two years & a half under distressing chisurgical operations & a most forlorn hope of cure. The nature of these wounds together with the impairing of my constitution by the long continuance of my confinement have rendered me incapable of any labour that requires a considerable exertion & have reduced me to the melancholy condition of an invalid for life. These are the facts on which I claimed a place on the invalid list of the United States. Of the truth of them there is ample & abundant evidence in detail from the Vouchers now in the possession of the Hon. Aaron Burr of the Senate of the United States. Having thus stated to your Excellency the merits of my situation as they existed before any application was made for public relief, I intreat your Excellency’s attention to a short account of the means I have used to obtain it. At an early day I applied to Col. Richard Platt & Col. Richard Varrick authorised by the State of New York to hear & examine the claims of invalids of the New York line of the late army and produced to them my evidence & vouchers, but they refused to recommend and report me as a proper object of relief solely on the ground of A law of their state enacting that none should be placed upon the Pension list of New York, who were residents within any other State and as I was then an inhabitant of the State of Connecticut I came within the operation of this clause of exclusion. I next sollicited relief from the State of Connecticut and met here with the same ill success on the ground of my being an Officer of the line of the State of New York and not entitled to compensation according to the laws of Connecticut. In this distressing dilemma I laboured for several years under the embarrassments resulting from my personal Disability, and the enormous expences I had incurred in my long & dangerous indisposition. Early after the assembling of the Congress of the United States under the new constitution I presented a petition to Congress praying relief as an invalid of the United States and at their last session in the City of New York I obtained a resolve in my favour providing for the reimbursements of the expences I had incurred on account of my wounds; and also an allowance of half pay for life, under the express condition of my returning & giving up to the United States the commutation notes I recd in common with all the officers who had served on the continental establishment.3 These had long since been expended at the depriciated rate of three shillings in the pound to support the expences I mentioned above & to support myself & Family. On the Credit however of this resolve & of an eventual settlement at the treasury, I procured Final settlement securities at the enhanced price of thirteen shillings & six pence in the pound and applied at the office of the Auditor of the Treasury for an adjustment in Execution of the above resolve but the Auditor refused such an adjustment unless I should deliver the identical certificates which has been issued to me in my own name. This was utterly impracticable. Despairing of relief I replaced the securities I had procured of my Friends & came home—In the course of the last winter I made another application at the Treasury and met with the same success as before—But was then informed that a bill was depending before Congress which was probably calculated to remove the embarrassment & restraint under which the treasury had acted in doing me justice.4 As this bill is designed to embrace my subject if not to provide for me expressly & as it is to pass the examination & decision of the President in its passage to a law, I humbly intreat your Excellency to take my distressed case into his benevolent consideration and lend such a favorable notice to my unfortunate situation as will ensure me that Justice which I have long sought & hitherto sought in vain. I am with profound respect Your Excellency’s most obedt & Most humble Servant

Caleb Brewster

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

A descendant of Mayflower passenger William Brewster, Caleb Brewster (1747–1827) was born at Setauket, N.Y., and had sailed on a whaler to Greenland and on a merchant ship to London before the Revolutionary War. Upon his return to America in 1776, he accepted a commission as an ensign in the 4th New York Regiment. Appointed a first lieutenant in the 2d Continental Artillery in January 1777, Brewster was promoted to captain lieutenant in June 1780, and he served until June 1783. Brewster became first mate of the federal revenue cutter for New York in 1796, and he acted as its commander after the death of Capt. Patrick Dennis early in 1798. Brewster resigned that August when he was denied promotion on account of his political views. He later reentered the cutter service, became a commander, and served until his retirement in 1816 (see Brewster to Henry Dearborn, 27 April 1801, DNA: RG 59, Applications and Recommendations for Public Office; DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 7:400; Pennypacker, General Washington’s Spies, description begins Morton Pennypacker. General Washington’s Spies On Long Island and In New York. Brooklyn, 1939. description ends 285, 287).

1Brewster’s invaluable contributions to the Continental war effort while serving under Benjamin Tallmadge (1754–1835), chief of GW’s intelligence service during the Revolutionary War, consisted of delivering secret dispatches from GW’s spies in New York City; providing intelligence on the strength, movements, and positions of the British army; destroying their stores; harassing and capturing enemy boats in Long Island Sound; and discomforting Loyalists in Connecticut and on Long Island (see GW to Brewster, 8 Aug. [ADfS, DLC:GW], 11 Aug. 1778 [copy, DLC:GW], 23 Feb. 1781 [LS, in private hands], 7 May 1782 [copy, DLC:GW], 10 June 1784 [LB, DLC:GW], and Brewster to GW, 27 Aug., 15 Sept. 1778, 14 Feb., 30 July 1781, all in DLC:GW; Pennypacker, General Washington’s Spies, description begins Morton Pennypacker. General Washington’s Spies On Long Island and In New York. Brooklyn, 1939. description ends 37–38, 91–94, 116, 191). For GW’s certificate of 10 June 1784 attesting to Brewster’s “fidelity, judgment & bravery” in those operations, see GW to Brewster, 10 June 1784, note 2.

2On 7 Dec. 1782 three armed whaleboats under Brewster’s command engaged a similar number of enemy boats in Long Island Sound off Fairfield, Connecticut. William Wheeler wrote in his journal that Brewster held his fire until his boat was within 150 feet of the lead British boat, when he “poured in a broadside & then another, & boarded” (quoted in Schenck, History of Fairfield, description begins Elizabeth Hubbell Schenck. The History of Fairfield, Fairfield County, Connecticut: From 1700 to 1800. New York, 1905. description ends 2:398). Brewster was wounded by a rifle ball through his shoulder, and in the hand-to-hand fighting that followed he sustained back injuries from a steel gun rammer wielded by the captain of the British vessel. Four other members of his crew were wounded, one mortally. Brewster’s second boat, armed with a swivel gun, captured another enemy boat, but the third British vessel escaped (Tallmadge to GW, 8 Dec. 1782, DLC:GW; see also GW to Tallmadge, 10, 26 Dec. 1782, both Df, in DLC:GW). Three months later Brewster’s exertions as commander of a sloop out of Fairfield that engaged and captured another British armed vessel exacerbated his wounds and incapacitated him from further military service (Pennypacker, General Washington’s Spies, description begins Morton Pennypacker. General Washington’s Spies On Long Island and In New York. Brooklyn, 1939. description ends 286–87; see also Report of the Secretary of War on the Petition of Caleb Brewster, 21 June 1790, delivered to Congress on 23 June, DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 7:416–17).

3When Brewster’s petition was presented to the U.S. House of Representatives on 13 April 1790, it was referred to the secretary of war, “with instruction to examine the same.” Henry Knox’s favorable report of 21 June was presented to Congress on 23 June, when it was ordered to lie on the table. The House resolved on 28 June to place Brewster on the pension list, and his case was referred to the committee preparing the disabled soldiers and seamen bill, which reported on 16 July. The House read, debated, and amended the bill on 17 and 19 July and agreed to it on 28 July, when it was sent to the Senate, which read it on 29 July and amended it on 6 Aug. before returning it to the House (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 3:365, 474 n.102, 479, 7:405–6, 416–17, 420, 422). GW signed “An Act for the relief of disabled soldiers and seamen lately in the service of the United States, and of certain other persons” on 11 Aug. 1790. Section 2 reads: “And be it further enacted, That Caleb Brewster . . . be allowed three hundred forty-eight dollars and fifty-seven cents, the amount of his necessary expenses for sustenance and medical assistance, while dangerously ill of his wounds, including the interest to the first of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety. And that the said Brewster be allowed a pension equal to his half pay as lieutenant, from the third of November, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three, he first having returned his commutation of half pay” (6 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 4). A payment to Brewster of $348.57 was authorized on 21 Dec. 1790 (see Alexander Hamilton’s Report on the Receipts and Expenditures of Public Monies to the End of the Year 1791, 10 Nov. 1792, 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 13:105).

4The House passed an engrossed bill to ascertain and regulate the claims to half-pay and invalid pensions on 26 Jan. 1792, when it was sent to the Senate. The Senate read it for the first time the same day and amended the bill upon its third reading on 29 February. The House received the amended bill on 2 Mar. but did not consider it until the next day. On 3 Mar. the House notified the Senate of its rejection of the amendments, and a joint committee was appointed two days later. On 14 Mar. the Senate informed the House that it insisted on its amendments and also proposed a new one. Two days later the House agreed to all the Senate amendments (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 2d Cong., 1st sess., 77–78, 96–97, 337, 433–35, 470, 472). On 23 Mar. 1792 GW signed “An Act to provide for the settlement of the Claims of Widows and Orphans barred by the limitations heretofore established, and to regulate the Claims to Invalid Pensions,” which, among other things, enacted “That any commissioned officer, not having received the commutation of half pay, . . . shall be entitled to be placed on the pension list of the United States, during life” (1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 243–45).

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