George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William White, 1 January 1794

From William White

Jany 1. 1794.

Honoured & dear Sir,

It appears to me, that the Way in which your benevolent Purpose expressed in your Note of Yesterday, may best be answered, is, by lodging the intended Donation in the Hands of the Treasurer of the Overseers of the poor—Mr Wm Millar in Front Street;1 with an Intimation, that it is expected, the Money will be distributed, according to the private Discretion of the Gentlemen, to the more deserving poor; & in Addition to the stated Allowance. My Reason for recommending this Provision, is, that the Overseers have occasionally under their Notice Families, for whom their Feelings must incline them to do more, than the legal Execution of their Trust would warrant.2

I would cheerfully, Sir, offer my personal Attention, to the Distribution of what you intend to bestow: But being by an annual Duty, engaged at the present Season, in Connection with our Church-Warden, in the distributing of sundry Charities among the poor Members of our Church, my Knowlege of the poor is proportionably greatest in that particular Line; which would occasion a partial Division, of what I presume to be intended in Favor of the poor of the City, generally. I can think of no Plan that promises so much Impartiality, as that which I have taken the Liberty to recommend.3

In writing to Mr Ogden, Sir, I shall pay Attention to what you desire me to express to him. That Gentleman has frequently endeavoured to interest me in Matters, in which I could not interfere with Decency, or to any useful Purpose: But I little expected, that he would have brought them before the President of the United States.4

Wishing you, Sir, an happy New Year; & many, very many Returns of this annual Day, I have the Honour to subscribe myself, Your most respectful & affectionate humble Servant

Wm: White


1For the possibility of a previous gift from GW to the “Guardians of the Poor in the City of Philadelphia,” as the overseers were formally titled, see White to Tobias Lear, 3 Jan. 1793.

William Miller probably is the merchant listed at 104 South Front Street in the 1793 Philadelphia directory. White wrote GW later this day to inform him that “William Sansom, in Second Street, near and below Arch Street,” was the correct name of the treasurer and that if “the Plan which has been suggested should meet the Presidents Approbation, Dr White, if wished to do so by the President, would undertake to communicate the Charge to Mr Sansom, with whatever Intimations may be thought proper, in regard to Secresy or to any other Effect” (DLC:GW). William Sansom (1763–1840), a Quaker merchant and real estate developer, was located at 67 North Second Street, but at some point later in 1794 he moved his place of business to 43 North Front Street (Philadelphia Directory 1793 description begins James Hardie. The Philadelphia Directory and Register . . .. Philadelphia, 1793. description ends , 125; Philadelphia Directory 1794 description begins James Hardie. The Philadelphia Directory and Register . . .. Philadelphia, 1794. description ends , 134).

2On the incorporation of the overseers on 27 March 1789, see William Clinton Heffner, History of Poor Relief Legislation in Pennyslvania, 1682–1913 [Cleona, Pa., c.1913], 95–118.

3Despite White’s suggestion, GW enclosed his donation in his letter to White of this same date. In addition to being a bishop of the Episcopal Church, William White currently served as rector of the united parishes of Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia. Merchant John Wilcocks and shopkeeper Thomas Cumpston were the church wardens, 1793–94 (Dorr, Historical Account of Christ Church, Philadelphia description begins Benjamin Dorr. A Historical Account of Christ Church, Philadelphia, from its Foundation, A.D. 1695, to A.D. 1841; and of St. Peter’s and St. James’s, until the Separation of the Churches. New York, 1841. description ends , 299; Philadelphia Directory 1793 description begins James Hardie. The Philadelphia Directory and Register . . .. Philadelphia, 1793. description ends ).

4On the Rev. John Cosens Ogden’s complaints about the treatment of the Episcopal Church by local and state governments in New England, see his letters to GW of 9 Jan. 1791 and 24 Nov. 1792. GW’s request of White regarding a letter to Ogden may have been given during a personal conversation. Whatever White wrote, it did not stop Ogden from airing his grievances to GW (see Ogden to GW, 7 Feb., 16 March 1794).

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