George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Murray, 3 May 1794

From Alexander Murray

Philaa May 3rd 1794


Among the various Applications for Command in our Infant Navy, I beg leave to trouble you with the Offer of my humble services.

From having been regularly brought up in that Line, & from the close attention that I have ever paid to the Duties of an Officer, I flatter myself I coud render myself worthy of such an appointment.

Without assuming any Merit from having ever done my Duty, it may not be amiss to certify upon what Principle I am justified in making so important a request, which I am confident requires the best Capacity, & experience, but circumstanced as we are at present, it will be no easy task to find out proper Characters to Command our Ships, yet I flatter myself I coud acquit myself as well as most that may apply.

I was only a Leiutenant on the Old Establishment & served on board the Trumbull, & Alliance Frigates, & was in Commission on board the latter when she was sold out of Public service, but in the intervals of my not being imployed in that Line—I commanded well Armed Letters of Marque with general success, & fought in ten different Actions some of which very severe ones, and to shew how constantly I devoted myself to the service of my Country, when in the earlier period of the War, I had no imployment at Sea, I served as a Leiut. in Colo. Smallwoods Regt all that Arduous Campaig<n> of 1776, whose Merits you are well acquainted with, & at the close of which, I was appointed to the Command of a Company in the first Maryland Regt, but the hardships of that service, so debilitated my constitution, that I coud no longer do my Duty in the Army, & resigned for a Commission in the Navy, my favorite Element.1

’Tho foreign from the present subject, I cant help relating to you a hardship I was under, for not having served up to the limited time in the Army to entitle me to the Emoluements thereof granted by Congress at the close of the War & the Navy being excluded from that Grant,2 I never received much for my Services, but had entailed on me the misfortune of having injured my hearing ever since, ’tho not injuriou<s> in any professional imployment of this Nature is notwithstanding very unpleasent in common society.

having been a resident here for some years in the Mercantile line, the success of my efforts hath placed me above any lucrative principles in soliciting your favor, but as I have ever had a fondness for the Navy, I confess I have strong motives to serve my Country once more faithfully in that Line, & not having the Honor of being personally known to you, & confident of the Caution & strict enquiries that will be made as to the Eligibility of Characters to fill such important stations, I can refer to many respectable Gentlemen of this City, as well as to the Delegates in Congress at present here from Maryland, from which State I came, & to whom I am generally known.

I cannot conclude without expressing my fears of having too far intruded on you with my concerns, but whether, or not, it meets your concurrence be assured that I shall ever remain with the most profound respect—your Most Obt hum: Servt

Alex Murray

ALS, DNA: RG 45, 1794-1800: Applications for Appointment to Navy Organizations.

This letter was sent to GW by Maryland congressman William Vans Murray. Murray’s undated cover letter assured GW "that Captn Murray is a man of honour & good character—amiable in his manners & a brave man—His ambition is a command of one of the ships—The case of his circumstances & the respectability of his connections may perhaps give some weight to the principles which actuate him in this solicitation" (ALS, DNA: RG 45, 1794-1800: Applications for Appointment to Navy Organizations).

William Vans Murray also enclosed a letter of 26 April from Charles Carroll (of Carrollton) to GW. Carroll recommended Alexander Murray "as a fit person to command one of the frigates, intended to act against the Algerines. . . . This gentleman, I am informed, served with reputation as lieutenant on board of one of our frigates during the late war. He has been bred to the sea from his youth, and from his general character, his capacity as a seaman, and courage may be relied on" (ALS, DNA: RG 45, 1794-1800: Applications for Appointment to Navy Organizations).

Alexander Murray was also recommended to Secretary of War Henry Knox by Maryland congressman William Hindman, 28 May; Pennsylvania congressman Thomas FitzSimons, 29 May; and William Vans Murray, 27 May and 5 June (all DNA: RG 45, 1794-1800: Applications for Appointment to Navy Organizations).

Alexander Murray (c.1755-1821) served as an officer in the Continental army from early 1776 until he resigned in June 1777. After his resignation he commanded several privateers operating out of Baltimore, and he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Continental navy in 1781 and served until 1785. Despite this prior service and his endorsements, Murray did not receive a naval commission at this time. He was, however, appointed a captain in the navy by John Adams in 1798. Murray remained in the navy until his death, rising to the rank of commodore and serving from 1808 on as the commanding officer of the naval station at Philadelphia.

1Among the recommendations for Murray is one of 27 June addressed to GW by John Hoskins Stone, a major in William Smallwood’s regiment in 1776 and subsequently lieutenant colonel and colonel of the 1st Maryland Regiment. He wrote: "Captn Alexander Murray a native of this State, I understand has applied to you for a command in the navy, and as he Served as a Captn in the 1st Maryland Regiment under my command, I cou’d not withstand the Solicitations of his numerous & most respectable Connexions here to mention to you that whilst he was under my Command he distinguished himself as a brave and active officer of unexceptionable character and deportment. and as a Soldier I shou’d not hesitate to recommend him in the Strongest terms—as to his Nautical talents I am not able to judge of them. he has, however, commanded Several Ships before and in the last war" (ALS, DNA: RG 45, 1794-1800: Applications for Appointment to Navy Organizations).

2By a resolution of 21 Oct. 1780, the Continental Congress promised "half pay during life" to officers who should continue in service to the end of the war, and by a resolution of 22 March 1783, that pension was altered to "five years’ full pay in money, or securities on interest at six per cent. per annum." The navy was not mentioned in either law, and a resolution of 26 Jan. 1784 stated "That half-pay cannot be allowed to any officer, or to any class or denomination of officers, to whom it has not heretofore been expressly promised" (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 18:958-62, 24:207-8, 26:49).

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