Education

Letter from Jacob Henry Wendell about Henry Wendell, Former Sheriff, March 5, 1789


Historical Context
In the years following the war the country tried to unify itself socially and politically. The huge debts from the war created problems for individual states and for the country. In an effort to raise money to pay off war debts, state treasurers tried to collect taxes and fines from the various cities, towns, and counties. This process was difficult because the newly formed state and local governments were disorganized. The case of Henry Wendell shows some of the difficulties in organizing and enforcing state government functions. Wendell was the sheriff of the county of Albany from 1777 to 1782. In this position, he collected fines from criminals. He was expected to send the money to the state. The state treasurer, Gerardus Bancker, accused Wendell of keeping the money for himself. Bancker sued Wendell for the fines plus 500 pounds for not submitting a list of the fines he had collected by the date named in a 1784 law. Wendell’s son wrote a letter to Bancker explaining his father’s side of the story. Wendell paid the amount of the fines he collected and the lawsuit was discontinued in 1789.

 
Essential Question
How did the aftermath of the Revolutionary War affect ordinary people’s lives?

 
Check for Understanding
Using the document and historical background construct a letter written by Wendell’s son to discontinue the lawsuit against him (Wendell) in 1789.
[click to enlarge]
Letter from Jacob Henry Wendell, 1789, New York State Archives, NYSA_A0847-77_B1_F2_22
Document Description
Letter from Jacob Henry Wendell about his late father Henry Wendell, former Sheriff, March 5, 1789.
Questions
  1. Why did Jacob Wendell take the time to clear his late father Henry’s debt and name?
  2. Does the document infer that the fine against Wendell made him sick?  Please explain
  3. What does Jacob Wendell mean when he states: “ Found to my great mortification that your whole time was fully engross’d in attending the separate houses of the Legislature and experience’d worse sensations in consequence of your departure”…
  4. Does he present a good argument when he states: “sufficient reason can be adduced that would expose him to the difficult compromise of incurring the penalty of £500”… Explain why Henry Wendell should be cleared of the charges and fines.
Transcription
Henry Wendell late Sheriff

Sworn 24 July 1788 before me

John M. Beeckman

Albany 5 March 1789

Sir,

Having promiscuously in the street intimated to you the disagreeable situation of my father, he being subject to pay the penalty prosecuted for in favor of the State

            I earnestly wish’d for an opportunity to give you every information respecting the business as it stood prior to your departure and would have gladly attended you but found to my great mortification that your whole time was fully engross’d in attending the separate houses of the Legislature and experience’d worse sensations in consequence of your departure[.] I am partly consol’d when I reflect that you must necessarily know the particular circumstance of my brother’s waiting on the Auditor to whom he was purposely sent with the list of fines and Amerci[amen]ts to solicit their being audited who replied that the time was elaps’d by law whereup[on] he waited upon you and you directed him back to the Auditor with the list[. O]ne principal reason that unfortunately occasion’d delay in the affair was my father’s indisposition which confined him to his bed and room for the full space of three months in which interim he never receiv’d any proper intimations respecting the result of his petition and the only indefinite hint that ever was communicated to him was by the hon[orable] judge Yates Esq. on his return from the Legislature and whose recollection had not serv’d so as to retain the purport of the case provided but gave him to understand that what had been execu[ted] by the Legislature was somewhat favorable and as the laws would soon be publish’d he might particularly learn what the Legislature had directed in consequence of the Sheriff’s petition[. T]he laws coming so late is a circumstance so palpable that every person in this quarter can testify that they were either very tediously carried thro[ugh] the press or delay’d for some other reasons from the public view[. N]o sufficient reason can be adduced that would expose him to the difficult compromise of incurring the penalty of £500 in non complying with the directions of a law that designated only the necessity of paying the audited am[oun]t of the acc[oun]t or list of fines and Amer[ciamen]ts as deposited in the hands of the Auditor the amount whereof is trifling indeed when put in competition with the penalty of the law.

With Sentim[en]ts of respects

I subscribe myself

Sir Yours

Jacob Henry Wendell

Gerardus Bancker Esq.