George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joseph Ravara, 10 May 1793

From Joseph Ravara

10. May. filada 1793.


I AM THE MOST UNFORTUNATE of MAN. I AM in MISERY, Distress, & DISPAIR. I CAN not live this Place, without Pay some thing, or Comit Some Crime.

If your Goodness, your GENEROSITY, your Charity, would assist me, it would be the best of Actions, & in 3. months, by wich time I SHAll be bak, I will, upon my honour, return the money, in the same way I now beg it.

I AM oblige to altered my hand writing, but you are a great Man, and will excuse my necessity.

THIS Action must break my heart, but I must go to join my desolate family.

Your Eccllency will not loose any-thing, and will in this Occasion asist the most unfortunate, but an honest man.

I AM in great want, but 200. Dollars will asist me: If your Eccllenci will DO this SECret Charity, PlEase to send them in a letter to the post Office in BANK notes with this letter bak, the whole direct to Mr MIRANDA. Phila. On Saturday at 3. o clok some body will call for the letter to the Post-office, but the person will not Know me. 200 Dollars are not of great Consequence to you, but will bring to life your Ecclency humble distressed Servant and Admirer.1

You would be touched if I could let you know my name—my misfortune &c., but all will be know one day. the ANSWER is humbly RequESTED, & Providence bless you.2

AL, PWacD.

1Ravara became Genoese consul to the United States in 1791. In May 1793 “several incendiary letters” using a variety of names (Miranda, Fagot, and Mordvinot) and written in a script similar to this letter were sent to George Hammond, the British minister to the United States, and to Benjamin Holland, a Philadelphia merchant (Gazette of the United States [Philadelphia], 18 May 1793). Ravara’s hairdresser, Jean-Baptiste Gillioux, was arrested when he went to the post office on Monday, 13 May, to retrieve responses to these letters. Gillioux implicated Ravara, who was arrested on 15 May and indicted by a grand jury in July (ibid. and Pennsylvania Gazette [Philadelphia], 31 July). Ravara admitted that he had sent Gillioux to the post office, but he denied writing the letters. In November 1793 Ravara published A Statement of Facts, concerning Joseph Ravara, Written by Himself a copy of which was in GW’s library at the time of his 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 173). In his pamphlet Ravara described “a stranger of a genteel appearance” from Parma named Vidal who had asked him, as the only Italian consul in the United States, to retrieve and hold some letters for him (ibid., 9). Vidal, according to Ravara, had promised to return for his mail on 15 May (ibid.). The letters to Hammond and Holland quickly became public knowledge in May 1793, but not the two written to GW (for the second letter, see note 2). Nevertheless, Ravara claimed that he had trouble making bail because of widespread knowledge of the threat made to GW: “In this situation, I took the resolution to write myself to Mr Lear, Secretary to his Excellency, requesting some explanation. He answered immediately with the greatest politeness, in the name of the President, that ‘he had not received any threatening letter.’ Such an answer is now in the hands of Mr [William] Lewis, one of my lawyers” (ibid., 15; see also Ravara to Thomas Jefferson, 23 May, Jefferson to Ravara, 25 May, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 26:102–5, 118). Ravara’s communication with Lear has not been identified. Because the only prosecution witness with evidence relating to Hammond’s letter died of yellow fever before the trial, which was held in April 1794 in the U.S. circuit court at Philadelphia, Ravara was convicted only of writing the letter to Holland. No mention was made at trial of letters written to GW. A few days after the trial ended, GW pardoned Ravara (John D. Gordan III, “United States v. Joseph Ravara: ‘Presumptuous Evidence,’ ‘Too Many Lawyers,’ and a Federal Common Law Crime,” in Maeva Marcus, ed., Origins of the Federal Judiciary: Essays on the Judiciary Act of 1789 [New York, 1992], 106–72).

2On Sunday, 12 May, having received no response from GW the day before, Ravara sent another letter: “I HAVE BEEN VERY MUCH DESAPOINTED, AS I HAVE NOT FAUND your ECCELLENCI ANSWER with The 200. Dollars I had beg you, in A LETTER LEFT AT the POST Office. This will be left AT your HOUSE, and I BEg You to send the first one, this one, and 200 Dollars in Bank note to the Post Office direct to Mr MIRANDA PHIlADa—or At le[a]st any Some you will. I Am in great distress: I most go way, and I can not do it without Some money. DO, plEASE, THIS CHarIty, I AM IN WANT, and IN a few months I Shall be Able to rETUrn the Money.

“ThE P.R.O. who I shall Send to the post office on tuesday the 14. she not k[n]ow me, And I beg of Your Eccelency to make no inquire to discover me.

“I AM SORRY for the neccessity under wihch I AM of Adressing your Eccellency, But I can not help it: my Situation is too dreadfull, and I Am sorry enough in dooing such thing, AN in Altering my writing.

“I AM with RESPET AN unfortutate but an honest Stranger Honoured me with SOME Answer in the day of Tuesday, do not keep me in despair” (AL, owned [1988] by Mr. John D. Gordan III of New York, N.Y.). While Ravara was in jail, GW received another letter, this time in French, which requested money for a “Mr Mira” (Anonymous to GW, 20 May).

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