Fort Whetstone point Decemb. 14th 1796.
Forgive me Sir, if I venture to address the following to You; it is a step indeed, appearing rather presuming & extravagant; yet I am prompted to it, both by necessity & the confidence I am justly inspired with in Your kindness & generosity; This very kindness & generosity I hope might excuse me. Not to suspend Your expectation to the conclusion of my letter, & tire You with useless preliminaries, I think it the most proper to acquaint You in the very beginning with my being in the most pressing want of the assistance of a liberal & generous mind to save me from instant ruin & destruction. Be pleased Sir, to consider my Situation, which I am about to give You a true statement of, & then I leave it to Your own feelings to decide, whether I am quite unworthy of some assistance. from these Your feelings I derive the greatest part of my hopes. You will remember me perhaps Sir, if I tell You, that I had the honor to be presented to You, two Years ago, by the Secretary of War, as a late Officer in the french Army, captivated by the Spanish the time Fort Dauphin was taken, & as having embarked for this continent, after having been released out of captivity. on my arrival in this country I had but a trifling cash, to live upon, not even sufficient to procure the most indispensable necessaries of life, but expected to get from the french ambassador my Salary due me nearly for three Years. this however, not withstanding my frequent applications was differed from day to day, till at last, forced by the most pressing want, without any body to take my refuge to, I was put to contract debts, upon the most extravagant terms, which however I thought I could at last pay with the above Salary, still imagining to be sure of getting it some day or other. As for my relations in Europe, there was then not the least probability of being suplied by them, as since the time I was informed of my father’s death soon after which I left France with the french Army for the Westindias, I never could get any news from home, although I send several letters. (some weeks ago however I met accidentaly with an acquaintance of mine, who lately arrived from Europe, informing me that my relations had long ago given up all hopes of seeing me again, as they never could get any news from me. probably their letters, & mine got lost. But a few days ago, I wrote again & my friend charged himself with the letter; so if they get it, I am in great hopes of being supplied by them against next summer. This however would be to great a delay a few weeks deciding my fate).
My father, a prussian, having been an Officer himself in the Service of the late King of Prussia commanding a regiment in the late War with Austria, I was bred up from my infancy to the military line, & having acquired some little knowledge of this art, by War & practice in France as well as in the Westindias, I thought it the best to go on in this way. as for reentering into the french Service, I could not do it, because at that time France was already in war with prussia, when probably I would have been ordered to march against my own country; as for returning to Prussia I had no means to execute it, & therefore resolved to try getting into the Service of the united States.
But now my creditors began to urge me, & ask their payment, & I could not prolonge it, unless by rendering those disadvantageous terms still more so, which at last I was obliged to do. Having however got acquainted in some respectable houses both in Philadelphia & Lancaster, I was at last as happy to have been presented to the Secretary of War, & by this means to get the comission as Lieutenant in the Service of the united States, which I was honored with by You Sir, in the Year 1795. but as I subsisted before this hapened for a considerable time upon borrowed money, which already ammounted to a large sum, I once more made an application to the french ambassador for my salary. This Gentleman, informed of my having accepted of a comission in the Service of the united States, signified to me, that he would not pay it, & so discharged me, leaving me in this critical situation without the least cash, either to procure the necessary equippement as Lieut. or to pay at least part of my debts. Instead therefore of diminishing the last, I was obliged to augment them, by contracting others to the above purpose, in hopes of being enabled after some time, by a careful menagement of my income, to discharge them one after the other. at last I was ordered to West point, where after some time I lost every thing belonging to me in the fire, which then happened to break out in the Officers quarters. this circumstance might be objected to, by ennumerating all those, who suffered by this accident in the same manner; but if it be considered, that most of those Gentlemen, had either a fortune of their own to depend upon, or no former debts, to add to their misfortune, my case must undoubtedly appear the worst.
Reduced then to the last extremity, without any thing that is most indispensable, which at the same time I was obliged to provide for, my debts still increased, & ammount to this very day to Two hundred & Eighty pounds. a large sum, for one who is at a loss how or when to pay it, who has at present not the least resources to satisfy his pressing creditors, not the least probability to extricate himself out of this sad situation. My creditors are daily intruding upon, distressing me with the most peremtory demands, & threatening with what I cannot even bear the Idea of. My superiors, as well as brother officers, begin to be informed of my being so much in debts, which must give them but an indifferent opinion of my character, they being not so intimately acquainted with my circumstances, & I am like to be humiliated before them & the world, the very Idea of which inspires me with feelings never to be expressed. If I consider Sir, what all this is to end in, how long this horrid Situation of mine is to continue, or rather how soon it must inevitably change for a still worse one, & that disgrace & destruction are approaching with hasty paces Then Sir—I am unhappy; If farther I consider, that this kind of military line I am in, & which I have the most liking to, requires an unremitting application & study, with an easy mind, & that it is an easy mind, I am most in want of to that purpose, If at last I consider that I have no acquaintance, no relation, no friend to call at present for help to, then Sir, then I am quite unhappy. Dreading to be exposed, or rather to confess my situation to any body else, for fear of meeting with an ungenerous mind, who instead of assisting, would misrepresent me, & impute what is done to my own carelessness, or with one that would not even do as much as give me an answer, so situated, I had but one choice, either not to confess it at all or to confess it to You Sir, and even this I differred doing as long as possible, till at last having no other resources, the time pressing upon me, my apprehensions of being thought too presuming by You Sir, were counterballanced by my situation, & I persuaded myself, although with incredible difficulty, to request You to advance me above mentioned Sum, confessing to You every circumstance regarding me, with as much freedom & candor, as the just opinion I have of Your kindness encouraged me to. Forgive me Sir If I have gone too far, or if I presume too much by hoping relief from You, which with the most fervent gratitude & thankfulness shall always be acknowledged by him who has the honor to be Sir your most obedient most humble Servant
Lieut: Corps of Artl[y] & Engs.
DLC: Papers of George Washington.