George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Oliver Wolcott, Jr., 24 March 1796

From Oliver Wolcott, Jr.

Treasury Department March 24th 1796.

The Secretary of the Treasury respectfully submits to the consideration of The President of the United States a Letter from the Collector of Boston to the Commissioner of the Revenue, with a Letter from the said Commissioner annexed thereto, relative to a quantity of oil necessary for the Lighthouse Establishment.1

From the information contained in those Letters, it appears that the article of oil is very scarce and difficult to be had. It is therefore the opinion of the Secretary, that it will be adviseable to authorise the Collector of Boston to contract with Messrs Jeffry & Russell for the delivery of twenty tons of strained oil at the price of one dollar pr gallon as mentioned in the Collector’s Letter.2 All which is respectfully submitted.

Oliv: Wolcott Jr
Secy of the Treasury


1In his letter to Tench Coxe of 17 March, Benjamin Lincoln reported: “Agreeably to your wishes I have attended to the matter of Oil—finding that it would be impossible for me to procure any considerable Quantity of Winter strain’d Oil in this part of the Union I wrote to the Collector of Newport hoping he would have it in his power to supply the whole Eighteen tons you mentioned—By his Answer I find that little aid can be given in the Bussiness by him.

“I am now to inform you that no winter Strain’d Oil can be procured here—I have no expectations of procuring any Oil but from Mess. Jeffry & Russell, and even from them none at present. They seem to be in possession of all or nearly all the head Matter in this place, and will not attempt to strain it untill the Weather is warmer and more friendly to the operation They will soon be at work, and can from time to time supply with twenty tons, but it cannot be had of them for a less Sum than One dollar Gallon—I shall keep the Controul of this untill I receive your Answer” (MHadP).

Coxe wrote Wolcott on 24 March: “I have this moment received the preceding letter from General Lincoln—other advices give reason to apprehend difficulty upon the subject of oil. The fisheries of Europe are interrupted, and the consumption of oil is encreased on both sides of the atlantic—The quantity now offered is 5040 Gallons, and exceeds but little, a supply for three months. It is possible some parcels may be got on lower terms. They also will be wanted. But as General Lincoln, and William Ellery, Esqr. of Newport, have been authorized to make contracts since the 28th of Jany—and this is the only proposal yet received, the prospect of other, and lower offers, is not great. The Article is of more consequence to Navigation, and consequently to supplies and revenue, than any other of the same value. On the whole, I do not perceive any reason to doubt that the purchase will be favorable to the interests of the United States.” He asked Wolcott for “an early submission of this proposal … to the consideration of the President” (MHadP).

2GW responded on 25 March: “The purchase of Twenty tons of Oil, on the terms mentioned in the aforegoing letters, is approved by Go: Washington” (ADS, MHadP; LB, DNA: RG 26, Lighthouse Deeds and Contracts).

The Boston mercantile firm of Jeffrey & Russell maintained oilworks and stores at the North Battery (The Boston Directory, Containing The Names of the Inhabitants, their Occupations, Places of Business, and Dwelling-Houses. … [Boston, 1796], 63). The partners were Patrick Jeffrey (d. 1812) and Joseph Russell, Jr.

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