George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Elihu Palmer, 27 April 1792

From Elihu Palmer

Philadelphia April 27th 1792. Cherry Alley No. 13


A person unknown to you respectfully presumes to ask your attention to what follows: In addressing a character of such known & distinguished merit, I feel a diffidence suited to my humble situation; but still I hope you will condescend to hear my prayer. Possibly you may have heard of me thro’ the channel of those religious prejudices, which a disclosure of opinions has excited in this city. Be this as it may, I beg leave to observe, that by a variety of circumstances, I am now in a state of poverty & distress; and this, not by any fault of mine; but the effect of unavoidable events. I have a wife & one child to take care of. My object is to go into the practice of the Law in this state; but I must perish with want, if cannot obtain pecuniary assistance to support me for three or four months till I can obtain business. It is therefore with the utmost respect, that I presume upon your goodness to lay me under obligations of this kind. I do not suppose, that the extension of your beneficence to a private individual can add to the greatness of your character already established in the minds of a free & enlightened people; but the gratitude of my heart, the only compensation which I could give, would perpetuate the charitable deed. As you, Sir, are unacquainted with me, I send you enclosed my admission at the bar in Georgia, together with Judge Walton’s recommendation.1 I am, Sir, with the greatest esteem your very humble Servt

Elihu Palmer

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Elihu Palmer (1764–1806), a native of Canterbury, Conn., who graduated from Dartmouth College in 1787, served as minister of the Presbyterian Church at Newtown, Long Island, in 1788 and 1789, when he moved to Philadelphia and joined the Universalists. Palmer’s liberal deism was too much even for them, and he outraged the community by proposing to preach against the divinity of Jesus Christ. After briefly studying law in western Pennsylvania, Palmer returned to Philadelphia in 1793. His wife died during the yellow fever epidemic of that year, and he himself lost his eyesight, after which he moved to Georgia and then New York, where he founded a deistical society.

1The enclosed credentials of admission to the Georgia bar and the recommendation from George Walton have not been identified. On 9 May, Palmer wrote GW, requesting the return of the credentials and recommendation, “as I expect in a few days to make application for admission here; and as those papers will be very serviceable to me” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Palmer was admitted to the Philadelphia bar in June 1793.

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