George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Daniel Gaines, 20 January 1794

From Daniel Gaines

Georgia, Washington, Jany the 20th 1794

Dear Sir,

The office of Marshal for the district of Georgia, being vacant, by the death of Major Forsyth,1 I am a candidate for it—But being wholly unknown to you, I have solicited several of my friends, who are now in Philadelphia, to inform you what is my general character, both as to integrity, and abilities to perform the duties of the office.

I have wrote on that subject to the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and several members of Congress from Georgia, as well as from my native state—Virginia.2

I endeavoured to procure a letter from Governor Matthews, but previous to my hearing the news of Major Forsyth’s death, he had started on a tour thr⟨o⟩ugh the frontiers;3 and the several water courses he had to pass, being uncommonly high, prevented him (I suppose) from punctual attendance on the appointed ⟨mutilated⟩ at the respective posts; so that my messenger could not find him.

I hope Sir you will excuse the freedom of my enclosing a copy of a letter from myself to Colonel Taliaferro (now President of the Senate of Georgia) and his answer thereto. A few words in it have puzzled me. Those are “one excepted, which at our first interview shall be explained.” Colonel Taliaferro and myself have differed in a few political points, the only points in which we ever did differ; so that I am obliged to conclude those are what he alludes to; and if my conjecture is right, I expect it cannot operate against me in my present application; for mere speculative opinions can never bias a man possessed of the sentiments of honor in the execution of any office he undertakes.4 Whether I am possessed of those sentiments, you will judge by the credentials adduced to you, and the information of Gentlemen acquainted with me in Virginia and Georgia.5 I am, with due respect, Sir, Your most obedient, and very hble servant

Dan: Gaines


Virginia native Daniel Gaines moved to Georgia after the Revolutionary War, where the Commissioners of Confiscated Estates granted him 500 acres on the south side of the Broad River at the mouth of Chickasaw Creek in 1783 or early 1784. In 1791, he purchased lot #18 in the town of Washington, in Wilkes County. See Grace Gillam Davidson, Early Records of Georgia: Wilkes County, (1933. Reprint ed., Vidalia, Ga., 1968), 2:118–19, 229.

1On the death of Robert Forsyth, see n.1 of James Hendricks to GW, 15 January.

2For extant letters written by Gaines to various federal officials asking for letters of recommendation, see the notes to Randolph’s letter to GW of 17 February. Georgia congressman Francis Willis, also a native of Virginia and a resident of Wilkes County, described Gaines in a letter to GW of 17 Jan. as a man who “is greatly reduced in fortune but has an independant and intrepid mind and can give (I beleive) both in this State and Virginia sufficient security, Colo. Gaines foreseeing his declining circumstances studied Law and is licenced to plead but the bar is so crouded he can not expect to support a numerous family of children, in addition to his qualifying himself for the practice of the Law he acted as a justice of the peace twenty years in the state of Virginia, which added to a good natural understanding and a general acquisition of knowledge, places him beyond all doubt in a state not to be rejected for want of capability” (DLC:GW).

3Virginia native George Mathews (1739–1812) was an officer in the Continental army during the Revolutionary War, including a year’s service in Gen. Nathanael Greene’s southern army. Shortly after the war’s end, he moved with his family to Georgia, where he settled on lands granted him in Wilkes County by the Georgia legislature. He served as a justice of the peace, 1785–90, and in the state assembly, 1787–89 and 1793. He was elected governor of Georgia for 1787 and later to a term in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1789–91. He then served as a justice of the Inferior Court of Wilkes County, 1792–93, until his election in November 1793 to a second term as governor.

4In his letter to Benjamin Taliaferro of 15 Jan., Gaines asked for a letter of recommendation, “being entirely unacquainted with the President of the United States.” He requested it with “confidence from the long and intimate acquaintance that has been between us” (DLC:GW). Taliaferro (1750–1821), who was the current president of the Georgia state senate, was a Virginia native. He saw active duty in Georgia during his military service in the Continental army during the Revolutionary War and was captured by the British in 1780. In 1785 he settled in Wilkes County, and he represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1799–1802. In the enclosed letter to Gaines of c.16 Jan. 1794, he wrote: “From my acquaintance with you, I cannot doubt, either your abilities, or your determination to acquit yourself with propriety in the Office of Federal Marshal, but satisfied as I am on this head, I cannot flatter myself, or be persuaded into a belief, that the recommendation which you request, will avail you any thing in procuring it; on the contrary, I believe it would have an ill affect; as the President would naturally, and in my oppinion, very properly conclude I had presumed too highly on a very slight acquaintance. He would consider it as an improper attempt in me (unacquainted as I am) to influence his determinations, all which would only tend to lessen me in his estimation, without effecting any thing favourable to your claim. I am persuaded that the best plan you can persue, to ensure success, will be, to obtain recommendatory letters from Gentlemen having influence with our Representatives in Congress, for I doubt not but they will be the first, and perhaps, the only persons applied to by the President: Perhaps a letter from Governor Mathews, as he has had a personal, and recent, acquaintance with him, might have some weight. I sincerely wish it were in my power to serve you in this business, for I repeat that from my knowledge of your Character, I believe you in every way qualified for the Office, one excepted, which at our first interview shall be explained, I hope my reasons will be satisfactory, if they are not, I conclude with one other. I am always afraid to weigh my Consequence in the Political scale, for fear it be found wanting” (DLC:GW).

5GW nominated Josiah Tattnall to be the next federal marshal for Georgia (GW to U.S. Senate, 5 March 1794).

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