George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Tazewell, 14 August 1799

From William Tazewell

Williamsburg Augt 14 1799

A few days ago in Norfolk, I was informed that it was contemplated by government to establish a marine hospital there. I had received similar information in Europe & mentioned the subject to Colo. Pickering, immediately on my arrival in America, who informed me that Congress had defered taking the business into consideration so late in the last cession, that it was necessarily put off till the next.1 But in Norfolk I was told that an Hospital establishment would in all probability take place immediately, under some old law with which you are better acquainted than myself. If the circumstance of my having attended hospitals in Edinburg, London, & Paris for five years afford me any pretensions & my application is not anticipated by some member of the faculty more worthy such a charge, it would be particularly flattering to me to be intrusted with the medical care of the hospital alluded to—I will only add that however great the afflictions of such of my Countrymen as may suffer from disease or the impending war may be they shall not exceed my zeal & exertions to relieve such as may fall to be treated by me. As the interest you may feel in appointing me to the honorable charge to which I aspire must influence my preparations for settling at the Federal City you will much oblige by letting me hear from you as soon as convenient.2 With unfeigned attachment Your m[o]st respectful & Obt Sert

William Tazewell


After completing his medical training in Edinburgh, Dr. William Tazewell in 1797 went to Paris to become secretary to Elbridge Gerry, one of the three U.S. envoys. He remained behind with Gerry after the other two envoys, John Marshall and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, had left, and then, at Gerry’s behest, he traveled to The Hague and London to report to William Vans Murray and Rufus King on developments in France. Tazewell had only recently returned to the United States, having been taken prisoner by a French privateer on his first attempted voyage home (Legislative Petition, 13 Mar. 1800, in Cullen, Marshall Papers, description begins Herbert A. Johnson et al., eds. The Papers of John Marshall. 12 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1974–2006. description ends 4:112–13, 126–27). On 25 Aug. 1799, the same day that GW replied (see note 2), Tazewell wrote Secretary of State Timothy Pickering asking to be made secretary to one of the three new envoys to France (Pickering to William R. Davie and to Tazewell, both 7 Sept. 1799, MHi: Pickering Papers). Tazewell in 1800 was practicing medicine in Williamsburg and later moved his practice to Richmond.

1On 20 Jan. 1798 the legislature of Virginia authorized the governor to convey to the United States the marine hospital built by the state at Norfolk. The handover was completed on 20 April 1801 (Holcomb, Norfolk Naval Hospital, description begins Richmond C. Holcomb. A Century with Norfolk Naval Hospital, 1830–1930. Portsmouth, Va., 1930. description ends 108–10).

2The draft of GW’s reply of 25 Aug. reads: “Sir, I have duly received your letter of the 14th inst. expressing a wish to be intrusted with the medical care of the Marine Hospital, about to be established in Norfolk.

“Whether it is determined to make such an establishment at present, or not, I am unable to say. But, in any event, if the establishment is in the Marine Department, it is out of the line in which I have engaged to serve the public, if called upon. And as I determined, when I quitted the Chair of Government, not to be the medium of applications for appointments, however deserving I might conceive the applicant to be, it would, therefore, be proper for you to make your wishes known to the President through some other Channel.

“Should the establishment be connected with the Military Department, I would willingly forward your application, and any testimonials you might chuse to produce, to the War Office, as I have been accustomed to do in similar cases, where they would remain to be considered and determined upon according to their merits. With esteem I am Sir, Your most Obedt Servt Go: Washington” (Df, in Tobias Lear’s hand, DLC:GW).

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