In 1769, John Fitzgerald emigrated from Ireland and later ran a mercantile business in Alexandria. He was a major in the 3rd Virginia Regiment in 1776, and he joined Washington’s staff as an aide-de-camp in November of that year. Fitzgerald was on the battlefield at Princeton, and he is probably the source of the often-told story when covered his eyes as the British fire a volley at Washington, after which the commander-in-chief remains unscathed.
During the Valley Forge encampment, Fitzgerald was sent to Virginia with a packet of letters, and he does not return until May. He was therefore absent from the army and headquarters for several months. Fitzgerald was wounded at the battle of Monmouth, and he resigned from the army shortly thereafter.
He returned to his business in Alexandria, and at one point he helped supply American prisoners-of-war. Elected mayor of Alexandria in 1783, Fitzgerald’s friendship with Washington continued after the war, when he was a guest at Mount Vernon. During Washington’s presidency, he was appointed a local collector of customs. Fitzgerald declared bankruptcy in 1799 and died shortly thereafter.
Washington wrote of Fitzgerald:
“I shall now proceed to mention a person in whose skill and integrity … I have the fullest confidence; a Gentleman who is a native of Ireland – Colo. John Fitzgerald. The active Services of this Gentleman during the War, his long residence in the Country and intermarriage in it (with one of the most respectable families, Digges of Maryland) all entitle him to be considered as an American. The laws of this Country know no difference between him and a native of America.”