George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Knox, 9 September 1793

To Henry Knox


Dr Sir,Philadelphia Sepr 9th 1793.

It was the opinion of the Gentlemen at their meeting on Saturday last if I mistake not, that Mr Wolcott should be desired to request Mr Webster to substantiate the language of the Minister of the French Republic as related by him in the enclosed letter.1

Colo. Hamilton’s situation—for which I feel extreme regret—does not permit his having any agency in the matter at present;2 I therefore send the letter which he forwarded to me from Mr Webster to Mr Wolcott to your care, being persuaded that whatever measure shall be deemed right & proper3 will be put in train by you.

I think it would not be prudent either for you or the Clerks in your Office, or the Office itself to be too much exposed to the malignant fever, which by well authenticated report, is spreading through over the City; The means to avoid your own judgment under existing circumstances must dictate.

As the spreading & continuance of the disorder may render it unadvisable for me to return to this City as soon I at first intended, I wd thank you, in case you should remain in the vicinity of it to write me a line by every Monday’s Post informing me concisely of the then state of Matters—with other occurrences which may be essential for me to be made acquainted with.4

And I would thank you also for your advice to Mr Fraunces or Mrs Emmerson (the House keeper) if, by means of the Disorder my Household Affairs in this City should be involved in any delicacy.5

I sincerely wish, & pray, that you & yours, may escape untouched and when we meet again that it may be under circumstances more pleasing than the present—I am always and very sincerely Yr Affecte

Go: Washington


1GW presumably was referring to the cabinet meeting on 7 September. The enclosed letter has not been identified. However, Comptroller of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr., wrote Noah Webster on 19 Sept., “I recd your Letter containing an account of Genets conversation & gave it to one of the heads of departments—it has been considered and the subject is considered as one which will warrant Notice. . . . I wish therefore . . . that you would . . . make out & transmit your affidavit, of the purport of the Conversation alluded to.”

Webster responded with an affidavit, dated 25 Sept. and sworn on 26 Sept., “that on or about the twenty sixth day of August last past, the deponent with Mr Timothy Phelps of New Haven, & a Mr Haxhall of Petersburgh in Virginia, dined in company with Mr Genet, the French Minister, Capt Bompard, & Mr Genet’s Secretaries, at the house of Mr Bradley, in Maiden Lane, New York. After dinner, but before the Gentlemen rose from table, the deponent related the report from Boston, which had that day been circulated ‘that the Governor of Massachusets had taken measures to secure a prize or two which had been sent into that port by a proscribed privateer, (so-called) for the purpose of restoring the said prizes to the owners; that in consequence of this the Commander of the Concord, frigate, had taken the prize or prizes under his protection, & determined to resist by force any attempt to take possession of the said prize or prizes for the benefit of the owners.’ When the deponent had related this story, Mr Pascal, one of Mr Genet’s Secretaries, immediately replied in French ‘Mon. Washington fait la guerre a la nation Francaise,’ or in words to that effect; to which Mr Genet & Capt Bompard both assented by saying Yes. Mr Genet proceeded & said that the Executive of the United States was under the influence of British Gold—the deponent asked him if he meant the President of the United States; he replied No—Mr Genet further said that the officers of our government were in the British interest, or words to that effect. & further that a plan was formed to subject us to Great Britain, & that we should soon be the slaves of that Kingdom. Mr Genet declared he had very good letters which gave him this information. The deponent representing to Mr Genet that it would be impossible to subject the independent freemen of America to British or any other foreign power, & that the Executive officers of our national government knew the people too well to harbor a thought of effecting any such purpose, asked Mr Genet whether he believed our Executive Officers, the President, Mr Jefferson, Mr Hamilton, & Gen. Knox to be fools; to which Mr Genet replied, Mr Jefferson is no fool.

“The Deponent says further that in another conversation, Mr Genet railed agt some of the measures of Congress & particularly agt the funding system, in very severe language” (Ford, Noah Webster description begins Emily Ellsworth Fowler Ford, comp., and Emily Ellsworth Ford Skeel, ed. Notes on the Life of Noah Webster. 2 vols. New York, 1912. description ends , 1:368–71).

2GW was referring to Alexander Hamilton’s illness.

3At this point of the draft, GW wrote and struck out “the latter may be requested to have done.”

4Knox wrote GW twice, on 15 and 18 Sept., before leaving Philadelphia for Boston on 19 September.

5Samuel Fraunces (c.1722–1795), former proprietor of Fraunces’ Tavern in New York City, was GW’s steward. He left GW’s household in June 1794, and in July of that year he opened “an Ordinary at his house in Second Street, next door to the British Ministers No. 166” (entries of 9 June 1794, Household Accounts description begins Presidential Household Accounts, 1793–97. Manuscript, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. description ends ; Dunlap and Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser [Philadelphia], 19 July 1794). In 1795 Fraunces moved the tavern to South Water Street, but he died in October (Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser [Philadelphia], 17 June 1795; Gazette United States [Philadelphia], 13 and 29 Oct. 1795).

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