George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Brown et al., 2 October 1793

From John Brown et al.

Providence Octr 2. 1793


As the office of attorney for the United States for this district is vacant by the decease of William Channing Esqr. permit us to recommend David Howell Esqr. L.L.D. professor of law in the college here,1 and one of the most approved practitioners at the bar in this State.

This gentlemans literary & professional abilities are generally acknowledged, it also ought to be known that his conduct as Judge of our Superior Court deservedly gaind him great credit and afterwards when attorney general for this State, his decided opinions officially given in spirited addresses to both houses of our Legislature in favor of a convention for adopting the federal constitution occasion’d the loss of the office he then held at the next following election.2

We shall only add that as we doubt not of his discharging the duties of the office we now sollicit for him with fidelity and ability, so we have reason to beleive that his appointment would give general satisfaction to the good citizens of this state and in particular to Sir Your freinds & Very Humle Servts

John Brown

Welcome Arnold

Jos. Nightingale of the h⟨ouse o⟩f Clark & Nightingale,

Mr Clark absen⟨t⟩

Thos lloyd Halsey

Jabez Bowen Commissioner of Loans

President of the Rhode Island College Jonathan Maxcy.

D.D.—Enos Hitchcock

Geo. Benson

Nicholas Brown

Wm Peck—Marshall for this district

John francis

LS, DLC:GW. The cover of this letter, which was stamped “Free,” was dated at Providence “4 Oct.” A note on the cover reads: “The Keeper of the P. Office is desired to forward this to Mount Vernon if there.” The letter was initially addressed to Washington at “Philadelphia,” which was crossed out and replaced with “at Mount Vernon Virginia.” An identical letter of 2 Oct., but with a cover dated at Providence “11 Oct.” and directed to Washington at “Mount Vernon Virginia,” is also in DLC:GW. That letter was signed by ex-governor William Greene, John Innes Clark, state secretary Henry Ward, William Russell, and Stephen Dexter.

Welcome Arnold (1745–1798), a merchant, represented Providence in the state general assembly. Joseph Nightingale (1748–1797) and John Innes Clark (1745–1808) had been associated in the mercantile firm of Clark and Nightingale since 1768. Thomas Lloyd Halsey (1751–1838) was a Providence shipping merchant who had acted as French consular agent in Rhode Island during the Revolutionary War. Jonathan Maxcy (1768–1820) served as president of Rhode Island College (now Brown University) from 1792 until 1802, when he resigned to become president of Union College in New York. In 1804 he became the first president of South Carolina College, where he remained until his death. Enos Hitchcock (1744–1803), a former Continental army chaplain who received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Rhode Island College in 1788, was pastor of the Benevolent Congregational Church at Providence. George Benson (1752–1836), later a president of the New England Anti-Slavery Society and father-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison, was a partner with Nicholas Brown and Thomas Poynton Ives in the mercantile firm of Brown, Benson, and Ives. He was also clerk of the Providence Baptist Society, for which David Howell acted as legal representative, and he and Howell were further associated together in the Providence Society for Abolishing the Slave Trade (1789) and the Providence Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery (1790). Benson’s partner Nicholas Brown (1769–1841) was John Brown’s nephew and a 1786 graduate of Rhode Island College. He later served many terms in the state legislature and became noted for philanthropy, especially to the college whose name change honored his generosity.

Howell’s candidacy had strong support among Rhode Island merchants, but it was opposed by the governor and the collector at Providence. In January 1794 GW nominated Ray Greene to fill the position.

1Most of the signatories were associated with Rhode Island College, where David Howell also acted as interim president in 1791–92. In addition to Maxcy, the president, John Brown was a trustee and the college treasurer; Bowen was a trustee and the chancellor; Arnold, Nicholas Brown, Clark, Francis, and Nightingale were trustees; Hitchcock was a former trustee and a fellow of the college; and Halsey had a son, Thomas Lloyd Halsey, Jr. (1776– 1855), who graduated from the college in 1793.

2This refers to Howell’s defeat in the attorney general election of 1790 (see Howell’s statement “To the Freemen of the State of Rhode-Island” in the Providence Gazette, 17 April 1790). The Rhode Island legislature in January 1790 passed a bill to call a convention to take into consideration the constitution proposed for the United States.

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