George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James McHenry, 4 February 1799

To James McHenry

Mount Vernon Feby 4th 1799

Dear Sir,

Presly Thornton, who is appointed a Captain in one of the Virginia Regiments, and in the list of Officers handed to you, is placed the first Captain in Colo. Bentley’s Regiment, and designated of Northumberland, informs me there has been a mistake in your office with respect to him; as a Relation of his, bearing the same names, & living in Caroline County, is understood by you to be the person intended. At the time of making the selection, and until informed of it by the Captn Thornton intended to be nominated, I did not know there was another of the same name existing. The person in my list is the son of Colo. Presly Thornton late of Northumberland County in Virginia. Since his nomination he has taken up his residence in the City of Washington, and he informs me that he will accept his appointment. The Gentleman whom he says is understood at the War Office to be the person intended, is the son of Colo. Anthony Thornton late of Caroline County. I pray you to have this mistake corrected without delay.1

Mr Greene of Spotsylvania who had John instead of Thomas prefixed to his name, called upon me yesterday on his way to Philad. where he was going to have the error rectified, but as I informed him that I had written to you on the subject, and thus his presence was not necessary to identify the person, he gave up his journey. With due consideration & esteem I am Dear Sr Yr mo. Ob. St

Df, in Tobias Lear’s hand, DLC:GW.

1Presly Thornton (d. 1811), son of Col. Anthony Thornton of Caroline County, and Presly Thornton (d. 1807), son of Col. Presly Thornton (1721–1769) of Northumberland County, were both born in 1760. They married sisters, their cousins who were daughters of Col. Francis Thornton (d. 1784) of King George County. Whereas Presly, son of Anthony, was a captain in the Continental army during the Revolution, the Presly Thornton who was made a captain in the 8th Infantry Regiment at this time and became Charles Cotesworth Pinckney’s aide-de-camp had spent the war years in England where his loyalist mother took him before the outbreak of war in 1775. Captain Presly Thornton wrote Tobias Lear on 31 Jan.: “From a conversation with my friends Mr [Tristram] Dalton & Mr T. Peter I was induced to believe that the very honorable appointment of my name which I perceived in the Public prints as eldest Captain in the Virginia line of the troops to be raised for the service of the United States was intended for me, by the nomination of Genl Washington & in consequence had determined to accept it—but on writing to a friend in Philadelphia to apply to the War Office for Official information, I have just received his Answer that it is there considered to be my relation Presly Thornton of Virginia, Son of Col. Anthony Thornton decd of Caroline County, who served as I have understood part of the last War in Col. [William] Washington’s Corps of Cavalry. I have to in treat the favor of you to present my most grateful Acknowledgements to Genl Washington for the honor confered, if the appointment is intended for me, of which I should be happy to receive the earliest information & to assure him of my entire devotion to the Service of my Country whenever called on” (DLC:GW).

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