Hickling’s Letter to Washington; Jefferson’s Doubts

In 1790, Thomas Hickling sent a letter to George Washington, asking to be considered – at some point in the future – for the job of US Consul to the Azores and Western Islands. Thomas Jefferson, Washington’s Secretary off State, it  seems, had other thoughts….

The text of the letter is available at the National Archives website.


To George Washington from Thomas Hickling, 10 January 1790

From Thomas Hickling

St Michaels Jany 10th 1790.


To His Excellency George Washington Esquire President of the United States of America,

The memorial of Thomas Hickling of the Island of Saint Michaels one of the Azores or Western Islands Merchant, Humbly Sheweth,


That your memorialist is a native of Boston in the Massachusetts Bay, but hath resided for several Years past in the Island of St Michaels aforesaid, That upon the acknowledgement of the Independence of the united States by her Majesty the Queen of Portugal, your memorialist being the only Subject of the said States residing in the said Islands, applied to the Chief Judge of her faithfull Majesty to be appointed Consul for the protection of the American Trade to the western Islands aforesaid who was pleased, by virtue of the powers vested in him by his Court, to nominate your memorialist to act in that Capacity untill the pleasure of the United States could be known.1

When your Excellency takes into consideration the encreasing commerce between the United States & the western Islands, & Your memorialist doubts not your Excellency will judge it for the trading Interest of the States over which you preside to establish a Consul at Saint Michaels. And as your memorialist is a natural born subject of America to whose interest he hath ever been attached, & is well versed in the Portuguese language and in their laws & Customs so far as they respect trade, he humbly takes the liberty of requesting your Excellency to do him the honor to nominate him to the Office of Consul—for the Islands aforesaid.2 And your memorialist will ever pray &ca

Thomas Hickling




1. Enclosed in Thomas Hickling’s letter was an undated petition to Portuguese authorities requesting that he be named United States consul on St. Michael and a commission from John Da Costa, chief judge of the island, making the appointment.

2. Hickling was still a candidate for the post at St. Michael when the administration considered consular appointments in June 1790.

On his list of candidates for various consular posts Thomas Jefferson [Washington’s Secretary of State–LSL]  noted that

“Thomas Hickling of Boston, asks the consulship of the Azores or Western islands. He sets forth that he has resided several years at St. Michael’s, is well versed in the Portuguese language and in their laws and customs respecting trade: that on the acknolegement of our independence, he, being the only American residing in those islands, was appointed by the Chief judge Consul for the protection of our commerce to the Western islands in which he has acted since 1783. Mr. [Robert] Yates of New York sais that Hickling is a respectable man of property, and that he has long corresponded with him.

“Qu. if this appointment might not as well be left in it’s present state till some good native can be found who will settle at Angra which is central to all the islands? It’s connection with Brazil gives it advantage over any other position in these islands”

–(Boyd, Jefferson Papers, 17:251).

In August 1790, John Street was appointed vice-consul for the Azores (DHFC, 2:88).


“To George Washington from Thomas Hickling, 10 January 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified July 12, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-04-02-0366.
[Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 8 September 1789 – 15 January 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993, pp. 556–557.]


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