George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Churchman, 5 September 1792

From John Churchman

Baltimore September 5th 1792.

Having waited with patience for several Years, in hopes the National Legislature would do something towards fitting out one or two vessels on a Voyage of experiment, yet notwithstanding the report of the Committee of Congress was adopted last Session, & a Bill brought in and read the second time, it did not pass into a Law.1

Now agreeable with the advice of some of my Friends, I have proposed to go to Europe in the Ship Friendship Captain Smith who is to leave this port for London the 10th day of the present month.2 Before my departure I had a desire of coming to Mount Vernon, but was afraid of interfereing with a croud of other Visitors, and it was with difficulty I could prevail upon myself to be the Occasion of so much trouble as the present Farewell Letter, but as I go to prove the principles of the Magnetic Atlas, from the favourable reception this little work has met with, I humbly hope to be pardoned. In order to bring these principles to the test, I have been engaged in making an extensive set of Tables, to reduce them to practice, without the trouble of measuring angles, or making calculations by the marriner. on this account I wish to make a number of observations, on the western coast of Europe, this business I percieve must be very expensive.3

As the different Governments of Europe have thought subjects of this kind worthy of their encouragement, it may be useful for me to keep up a correspondence at some of the Courts abroad, for this reason it might be highly useful for me to get into the good graces of the American Ministers residing at London and Paris. I shall therefore be happy to be the bearer of a line to each or either of them, as by these means my well meant endeavours may be promoted in part without any additional expence to the public. & if any good should arise from the present scheme, with Justice will it be said that it came by & through the President of the United States, but I dare not solicit any letter to the Marquis de la Fayette the Washington of France.4

Should I be favoured with any commands at this time, they will come safe to the care of James Clark Merchant in this Town, in whose Ship I am to sail.

Indeed the Secretary of the Treasury has kindly written to both of the said American Ministers at London & Paris on my behalf. yet if some thing further is now added this kindness will ever be remembered by me with gratitude. Its true I have also many other Letters to & from certain Scientific Characters. among which is one from the good Bishop White to his Friend in London. Judge Johnson has obligingly written to his Brother the Consul General in the same City in my favour. &c.5

I take the Liberty to mention that I have furnished myself with a number of copies of a Map & description of the Federal City of Washington, which was engraved for the Magazine, all of which I hope to put in such hands on the other side of the Ocean, as to place that new City in a favourable light, & as a larger Map of the same is expected soon to be finished & published I expect also to procure some of that impression for the same purpose.6 With the greatest sentiments of respect, I hope to be permitted to make an humble offering of my service & esteem

John Churchman

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; the cover is stamped “BALT SEPT 6.”

1For background on the scientific controversy stirred up by John Churchman, Maryland surveyor and cartographer, see Thomas Ruston to GW, 20 Mar. 1789, note 1, and Rodolph Vall-travers to GW, 20 Mar. 1791, note 1. Although Congress had rejected Churchman’s earlier petitions for financial support, he submitted another petition to Congress in December 1791 asking the federal government to fund a voyage to Baffin Bay “for the purpose of making discoveries to confirm his new theory of the variation of the magnetic needle.” A bill to finance Churchman’s research was read in Congress, but it failed to generate sufficient support for a final vote on the House floor (see Journal of the House description begins The Journal of the House of Representatives: George Washington Administration 1789–1797. Edited by Martin P. Claussen. 9 vols. Wilmington, Del., 1977. description ends , 4:67, 75, 119, 127).

2William B. Smith was the captain of the Friendship (see Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, 4 Sept. 1792). This ship left Baltimore for London on 13 Sept. (see Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser [Philadelphia], 20 Sept. 1792).

3Churchman’s third pamphlet on this subject, The Magnetic Atlas, or Variation Charts of the Whole Terraqueous Globe; Comprising a System of the Variation and Dip of the Needle, by Which the Observations Being Truly Made, the Longitude May Be Ascertained, was published in London in 1794.

4GW replied to Churchman on 10 Sept. from Mount Vernon and enclosed “two short letters of introduction” (ADfS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB DLC:GW). In identical letters dated 10 Sept., which GW labeled “un-Official,” to Gouverneur Morris, minister to France, and Thomas Pinckney, minister to Great Britain, GW explained that Churchman wanted an “opportunity of explaining to you the object of his Voyage” and that he planned to make “a number of observations on the Western coast of Europe” (GW to Morris, ALS, PPL. Pinckney’s receiver’s copy has not been found; the letter-book copy in DLC:GW is addressed to both Morris and Pinckney).

On 15 Oct., in Philadelphia, Tobias Lear sent a brief cover letter to William Barton enclosing the “letters and papers” intended for Churchman that Valltravers had enclosed in his letter to GW of 20 Mar. 1791, “as it appears that in case of Mr Churchman’s absence from home they are to be left” with Barton (DNA: RG 59 Miscellaneous Letters).

5Hamilton’s letters of introduction have not been identified. William White (1748–1836), who helped organize the Protestant Episcopal Church from the Anglican Church of colonial America, was the first Protestant Episcopal bishop of the diocese of Pennsylvania. A 1765 graduate of the College of Philadelphia, White, unlike his brother-in-law Robert Morris, was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War.

Thomas Johnson was the chief justice of the Maryland general court, 1790–91. GW appointed him to the board of commissioners for the federal district in January 1791 (see Commission, 22 Jan. 1791) and to the U.S. Supreme Court on 5 Aug. 1791. Failing health forced him to resign from the Supreme Court in 1793 (see Thomas Johnson to GW, 16 Jan. 1793) and from the commission in 1794. GW asked him to be his secretary of state in 1795, but poor health forced him to decline this offer. Joshua Johnson had been appointed consul to London in 1790 (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 2 Aug. 1790).

6Churchman is referring to the “Description of the city of Washington” and the accompanying map that appeared in the March 1792 issue of the Universal Asylum, and Columbian Magazine (Philadelphia). It apparently was at GW’s direction that his secretary Tobias Lear wrote the magazine’s publisher William Young on 23 Feb. 1792: “As soon as the plan of the federal City is ultimately determined upon and approved of, you will be furnished with a sight of it, in order to have a plate prepared for the Universal Assylum & Columbian Magazine. . . . It will be a desireable thing that a perfect & correct plan of the city should be published in the Columbian Magazine as well as in other useful publications of a similar kind. But should an incorre[c]t one be brought before the public in that way, it would only serve to mislead the public mind with respect to the City, and could reflect no credit on the work in which it may be published. For this reason the friends of the proposed establishment are as desireous as you can be that you should be furnished with a correct plan” (MHi: Photostats). The “larger Map” was produced by Philadelphia engravers James Thackara and John Vallance in the fall of 1792 (see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 5 Oct. 1792, n.2).

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