George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Downing, 25 May 1792

From John Downing

St Christophers [Island, West Indies] June the 25th 1792

When I consider for a Moment the Importance of the Personage I am about to address My Pen is arrested As it were by some Invisible Power, and on the other side, I am Urged to this by an Impetuous Youth of 17 who has devoted his Future Life to the Profession of Arms; He encourages Me by Saying: Do not fear That General Washington, the Model Cincinnatus, will Receive Your offer of your Youngest Son with Disdain or contempt; His Excelency knows the Value of an Old officer too Well, So to do; It is Reported from all Quarters that the United States have not Yet been able to Reduce the Savages, you must Remember when I was much Younger, how Eager I was (with their own Weapon the Tamnyhock) to engage with one of 3, who Set upon you when you Refused them Rum; In Vain, I Reply; That the States of America never Can Want Officers or Soldiers to Repress the Insults of those Savages But will Surely conquer them; The Service of America is the next Service to that of My own country, & the one I could Wish My Son, it is a Noble Field for Abilities & Indistry, falling then under the Weight of My Sons Ardor, I offer him to The Service of the States, & I Have no doubt But he will Deserve, As far as an Individual Can do, every Encouragement He may Meet with, I am Convinced he will prove a Brave Soldier, And a Faithful Citizen to that State that Attaches his gratitude; Will your Excelency Excuse My offering at a line more, whereby your time so preciouse must be the longer taken up; The first time I ever Saw America Was at the Expedition of Louisbourgh,1 Since which time I have been over most of it, & often Wished to End My days in it; In 33 Years Service, I have Now a company of Artillery and Am at this time Stationed on the West India Station. I Have the Honor to Be Your Excelency’s most Obedeint and very Respectful Humble Servant

John Downing
Captn British Artillery

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

GW replied to Downing from Philadelphia on 20 Oct. 1792: “The warm & earnest manner in which you have recommended your son, in your letter to me of the 21st of June, for an appointment in the American Army, makes me regret the necessity I am under of informing you, that I see no prospect of the young Gentleman’s wish being gratified in this respect; for so numerous & so respectable are the applications for military appointments from our own citizens that scarcely one in four of these can be gratified, and to grant that to a foreigner which is claimed by so many of our own citizens, unless under some very peculiar circumstances, might be styled not only unjust, but impolitic. I am therefore persuaded, Sir, that you will receive this matter in its true light, and be assured that I have a proper sense of the respectable manner in which you mention this Country, as well as of the polite expressions towards myself which are contained in your letter” (Df, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW).

1Downing apparently is referring to the expedition of Gen. James Wolfe against the fortress of Louisburg on Cape Breton Island in the spring and summer of 1758. It surrendered on 27 July after a siege of nearly two months.

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