George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Karl August Freiherr von Wangenheim, 10 February 1794

From Karl August Freiherr von Wangenheim

Erlang[en, Germany] 10th February 1794.


To receive a letter from the other part of the world, and written by a youth, who has nothing yet done in the world to be known by, You, Sir! You will perhaps be very wonderd at. But I believe it is enough to be excused to send You a letter, being a man like You form’d by the same Creator and having the design to be usefull to You, Sir, and Your Country, and if it was possible to all mankind. Without preface, excepted this, that all, what I’ll make, is founded in the convictiveness, You are a great and very honourable man, I shall tell You, Sir! what is the design of this letter. Since some years it is a speculation of many betrayers, to give out themselves as Emissarys, sent by the united States of North-Amerika. They persuaded many peopel by very splendid conditions, to go with their littel fortune to Amerika. Commonly they bring them till Tuchland, and after this, it is known, that the pretended emissarys, partly rob’d them of the last reste of a very littel fortune, who did believe to be very near Amerika, and the end of their misfortunes, partly not content to have stolen, this poor men, did bring them yet in the hands of So⟨u⟩l-Sellers at Tuchland. You will know Yourself, Sir! how prejudicial such tricks can become for the good name of the united States and their politicks. It is very naturally, that by such trifly cases, likewise the true and usefull proposals, concerning good conditions for such persons, being willg, to till some yet uncultivated places of the united States, shall not be accepted, because every body fears to be betray’d. From this motive, I believe it will not be disagreeable to You, Sir! that I tell You with all particulars the history of such a trick in the paper adjoyned, if this matter, to discover the tricks of such raskels and to give to Your Emissarys or avertissements, more infallibel signs, which could not be obnoxious to errour, seems You worthy to take care of it.1

This, Sir! is the first and most uninterrested motive of this letter, but I have yet an other, what is not so without all interest for my own person.

You will read in the description of the trick of the pretended Colonel Pearce, that I myself would go in the service of the united States of North-Amerika. Now this Colonel is escaped, but my wishes to set out from Europe and to live in a free Country, has settled itself in my mind. If You, believe, Sir! that a good natured Youth, who has some parts and the best will to become usefull to the Republick, can receive the permission to go in the service of the united States, I offer You myself to such a one. I am not an adventurer, who is in need to leave his fathers Country; I am not without fortune, and without all views to become forward at Europe, no, Sir! I have many favourabel views for it; I have a father, who is in the service of a good prince; I am a noble-man (Gentilhomme. You do perhaps not know in Your happy country, this word) and this is at Germany a prerogative which procures many advantages, but all this my circumstances to my fortune at Europe, I despise. I can not be happy, if I do not become, what perhaps I would become once, by myself and my own few merits. Concerning my principles of Moral I can not sell my parts and my life to a prince, because I should do after this, not what I shall do by the laws of my reason, but what my prince did command me for. I know very well that no body should speak too much from himself, but now I am indeed in the case, to begin with speaking of myself because necessary I must be known by You, Sir! I am the eldest Son of Charles Wangenheim, who is Major in the service of the Duke of Saxe-Gotha. Three of my brothers are in the service of the King of Borussia.2 I could likewise have a military place in the same service, but I did not like to fight against the French people, from whom I believe they are in the right. I prefer also the proposal of my father, to become a Lawyer. But, dearest Sir! the justice is blind at Europe, and I like very much to see with open eyes. Since half a Year, therefore I did more cultivate, the english and french languages, Mathematics and Philosophy, than the old Roman laws, which however I did not neglect. That are allready my bussiness at the University at Erlang near Nurnberg in Franconie, and I will yet stay a year longer. I can not pretend, that You, Sir! shall believe me upon my word, but certainly You do know some person at Germany, from whom You are persuaded, that he is a honourable man. Let me be put on the proof Sir! by such a one, and if he finds, that I could be usefull to You and the Republick, give me a place, and with it the happyness to live in a free State, and to have nothing other heads, than virtue and my duty. Procure me, Sir! the place of a Lieutnant, that I have some fixt views, tell me, what I should learn the first, and if You believe that it should be better, I remain yet, upon my own expences, a year at Europe, for learning all, what You believe usefull and necessary. Should You find after this, that I could be more usefull to the Republick in a other place than a military function, I shall surely all do, what You proved that it is the best.

If You can not procure me a settlement in the free State, at least be so kind to give me in a few words an answer, that You will not be offended by my good will.3 With the esteem, I have every time for a virtuous man, I shall remain for ever Sir! Your’s

Charles Wangenheim

L, DLC:GW; L, DLC:GW. John Jay enclosed these documents in his letter to GW of 11 Aug. 1794.

Politician and philosopher Karl August Freiherr von Wangenheim (1773–1850) studied law in Jena and Erlangen. He had a successful political career under King Friedrich I of Württemberg (1754–1816). He published several books on political subjects, including Die Idee der Staataverfassung in ihrer Anwendun auf Wirtembergs alte Landesverfassung und den Entwurf zu deren Erneuerung (Frankfurt am Main, 1815), which dealt with the idea of constitutional reform in Württemberg.

1The enclosed account reads: “John Williams, a pretended englishman, arrived with his wife and sister in law, from Wurtzburg, where he was since half a year, at Nurnberg in Franconie, Octob: the 14th 1793. At first he did give out himself for a man of letters, and in the following time he wished to give lessions in the english language. At least in the month of Decem: he told, that he was the best friend of John Williams Pearce, Colonel in the united States of North-Amerika. This Colonel, told he, was sent, by the united States, to Germany and Sueden for procuring Officers, 4 Captans, 8 Lieutnants, a Coppyman and a Physicien for a new Regiment at Philadelphia. Now as he, Mr Williams, to his own pretension, was very good known by Colonel Pearce, in the Amerikan war, this Colonel did beg him to procure himself some good natured gentlemen, because he did longer stay at Europe, than the Colonel himself. The constitution of Amerika is very well known and very much beloved at Germany, and therefore it is very easy, that Mr Williams, who pretended likewise, to have been General in the Amerikan war and after this an Embassedour, at Sueden and Danemark, could persuade some gentlemen to go in the service of the united States, chiefly he did makeselves them very splendid conditions, concerning the Salary, and the finest views to forward themselves in the following time. The first, who would make the journey to North-Amerika, was Mr [Johann Benjamin] Ehrhardt, a good Physicien and a yet better philosopher, who did like very much, to stay in a Country, where freedom and egality consist with reason. He was married with the daughter of a rich marchand, and Mr Williams was lodging in the house of this marchand. Before this old father in law of the young physicien would consent in the departure of his daughter, he did be naturally curious to see the Credidios of the Colonel. Now Mr Williams told him, that he was himself the Colonel Pearce, but having his reasons for it to be not known by this character at Nurnberg, he did beg him to say nothing to some body, concerning this discovery. After this he did shew him a Credidio, very fine written in english language, upon it setted the Seal of the united States of North-Amerika and signed by the President Washington and the Secretary of State. With this attestat the old marchand was content, and consented to the journey of his daughter[.] Being all ready, Colonel Pearce or Mr Williams presented to the Physicien a printed brevet, where nothing than the name of the Physicien was written by hand, and this brevet was likewise underwritten by President Washington and the States-Secretary. This brevet assured to Mr Ehrhardt the place of Physicien of the new Regiment Pensylvania, with 400£ Salary. From this time the physicien received his salary and 200£ were promised him for the journey and his regimentals. This Somme should be him retracted in 6 years by and by. As this affair was settled, the physicien and Mr Williams did persuade Mr [Johann Georg Christian] Fick, Collaborator at the University Erlang near Nurnberg to accept the place of a Coppyman or Auditor, likewise with 400£ salary and the same conditions. He accepted this place with the greatest pleasure, because he has nearly to live and must entertain a wife and five childern. He did not receive the brevet in the same time, because he should not know, that Mr Williams and Mr Pearce, who was (as it was fancyd) at Munichen in Bavarie, did be only one person, and by this reason he should write a letter to him to Munichen. In the beginning of January 1794 Mr Williams set out with his new physicien to go likewise to the Colonel (they did fancy at least this reason) but before their departure, Mr Williams did give, to his housekeeper, the father in law of physicien, bills for 600£ addressed to Herries and Comp: at London. Concerning th⟨e⟩se bills, the old marchand, who is call’d [Johann Paul] Golling did lend to Mr Williams circa 200£ and let set out him to Munichen, because his son in law was likewise going with him. Before to set out, they promised yet to the Collaborator Fick the place of an Auditor, and charged him with procuring to them some gentlemen for Lieutnants. One of them was I myself, who accepted this occasion to see the world and to make so many experiences in it as possibel. In this moment Mr Fick was writing belonging myself and my resolution to take Services of the united states. After a few days, he received an answer favorable by Mr Ehrhardt, the physicien, that he should receive indeed the place of an Auditor, and myself the place of a Lieutnant, that they would return very soon to Nurnberg and bring with themselves our brevet. Now we did believe that all was in the right, and we were beginning to settle our family affairs, and to arrange all for so long a journey. A few weaks after we were extremely troubled in our happy dreams. A letter my Mr Williams written and signd with his own Seal, return’d from Vienna, because no body could find its man to whom the letter was written. The letter (no: 1.) came in the hands of Mrss Ehrhardt, and she was too much woman and also curious enough to read this letter, already open. By this letter it was known, Mr Williams or the pretended Colonel Pearce, was call’d Anton Simon, who told in this letter to his brother many things, concerning his life, having been Captain in french service the time of Amerikan war, and passed half a year having become General and having married a french Countesse (who shall have been indeed a publick whoor at Paris) he did not set out from Tuckland to Nurnberg, where he would stay and live quietly &c. &c. &c. This all can be seen in a coppy of this letter, which is written in very bad German language[.] A few days after having received this letter, another did arrive from London, which is written by the Banquier Herries that no money was lodged in his hand by some Mr Williams Pearce, and that very soon the bills should be return’d with Protest (No. 2). Now we did see very well, that all was a trick and old marchand set out in this moment to Munchen for catching this betrayer. But at his arrival at Munchen, he heard that his own Son in law did escape with Mr. Anton Simon and his family. He has presented himself likewise there as Colonel Pearce in the service of the united states of North-Amerika, and has had in this character two Soldiers for Ordonances from the prince of this country.

“Till this moment nobody does know where they are, however all will be done for catching them. It seems very likely that Dr Ehrhardt has been betrayed by a Soul-Seller.” Copies of the “letter written by the pretended Colonel Pearce” of 11 Nov. 1793 and the undated letter from the London bankinghouse of Sir Robert Herries and Co., which is in French, appear at the bottom of this account (DLC:GW). A later version of this account contains a postscript that reads: “After the newest accounts Mr Ehrhardt returned from the prosecution of this Anton Simon, who escaped him by a trick and is very set out for Constantinopel. But before he betrayed Mr Ehrhardt, who lives now at Nuremberg with 6000 florins and a new carriage” (DLC:GW). For other letters about this scam, see Erhard to GW, 27 Jan.; Fick to GW, 27 Jan.; and Golling to GW, 4 February.

2Ernest II (Ernst; 1745–1804) was the present ruler of the German principality of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. Borassia is another name for Prussia, which was currently ruled by Frederick William II.

3In a letter to Jay of 1–4 Nov. 1794, GW wrote: “I write nothing in answer to the letter of Mr Wangenheim (enclosed by you to me)—Were I to enter into corrispondencies of that sort (admitting their was no impropriety in the measure) I should be unable to attend to my ordinary duties. I have established it as a maxim, neither to envite, nor to discourage emigrants. My opinion is, that they will come hither as fast as the true interest & policy of the United States will be benefited by foreign population. I believe many of these, as Mr Wangenheim relates, have been, and I fear will continue to be, imposed upon by Speculators in land, and other things. But I know of no prevention but caution—nor any remedy except the laws” (ALS, NNC: Jay Papers).

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