From Lieutenant Colonel Richard Varick1
R. House [Highlands, New York] Oct. 24th. 1780.
My Dear Hamilton
I wrote You on the 22nd & 23rd.2 I now set myself down to trouble You once More.
As neither Cols. Meades or Harrison’s Depositions3 may ever reach me & if they do, As they will contain no Information respecting the Papers taken in Andre’s Hand4 I am to beg you, to be so Obliging, as to send me Your Deposition, by the first Conveyance; Of what my Conduct was, or appeared to be to You, from the Morning of the 25th. after You arrived here till that of the 28th Sept when you left us. Whether any Part of my Conduct, or language betrayed any Privity of Arnolds rascally Designs agt. his Country or of his Flight to the Enemy.5 God only knows that my then unsuspicious Mind would not admit the Idea, till Mrs. Arnolds Declarations in her Phrenzy, “That he was gone forever,” Alarmed my fears & that I soon after waited on His Excy., fearful to discover but anxious that he should have my Apprehensions & beg’d him to see Mrs. Arnold at her Request.6 As I was suspected by Hooglandt7 & others who came Expresses on that Business I could draw no Information from them.
I wish you, in your Depn. to declare whether any & which of the Papers found on Andre were in my Hand writing. I am told one of Sheldons Returns is.8 I can very well account for it. I recd. but one from the Lines which I always inclosed (if it came in Season) to Scammell9 & if I had Time, took a Copy of it. As we had at first no D. Adjt. Genl. Let me entreat You to forward this, as much as your hurry in Public Business will admit.
Genl Schuylers Deposition10 or the Papers from him are not yet come to Hand, Nor the Deposn. of Heron who carried Arnolds intercepted Letter in & out again to Parsons—which Genl. Parsons promised to send under Cover11 to Genl. Greene. Those from Genl. Schuyler were requested to be sent to me, under Cover to Genl Greene also who then commanded here.12 Genl. Heath had power to open the Packets & deliver Me my Papers. Should either of the Packets have followed Genl Greene to Head Quarters, will you be so good as to Open them or rather advise them opened & forward my Papers to Me without Delay. Genl Greene obligingly promised to send them, in Case they should follow him. I have written to both Genls Schuyler & Parsons last Eveng. & have requested Colo Hughes13 to send Expresses to both, on my Accot.
I fear Genl Schuylers private Affairs, which, since the Devastation, of Balls Town, West or South West of Saratoga, have prevented his Attention to my little Matters.14 I am convinced of his benevolence & Disposition to Oblige Me. however a few Days will send me what I want.
Matters between Genl. Heath & Myself as a free Citizen are accommodated. I have been in some Measure imposed on by Tripp.15 Heath was very polite in our Interview more so than I should have been after receiving such a ⟨–⟩ & we are friendly again & some what ceremonious. Inclosed is copy of My Letter to him since our Meeting, produced by his appart candour to me. I can’t help faulting his Conversations with a Hospl. Commsy in these matters when I was on the Spot. In giving him a state of Matters with respect to the trifling Stores I had he acquiesced in the propriety of my Conduct. You may perhaps be surprized why I am so very sedulous for a Retrospective Enquiry into my Conduct. I answer, to support the Facts charged in & insure Success to the inclosed Memorial, sent to Congress by Advice of Genl Schuyler & Mr. Duane,16 when on their way from Albany to Camp in August last.17 It was forwarded by the Genl. from Orange Town, or Never sink.
I am anxious how to continue in a more properly ⟨–⟩ service provided I can do it with Honor to Myself. I am therefore solicitous to regain my Rank of Which, I was ungenteely deprived last winter. The Utter ruin of the ⟨–⟩ of our State has destroyed my prest. Prospects in private life. I was heartily weary of the mustering Departmt. where I had the Labor & another the Honor. It often reminded Me of the Inscription mentioned in Virgil’s Preface
Hos ego Versiculos feci tulit alter Honores.18
This was really & truly the Case between Colo Ward19 & Myself.
I wish You to detain the Copy of the Memorial till I see You, or if you should leave Colo Deys20 before I can pay You a Visit, pray leave it with him under Cover to Me.
I have protracted my Scrall so much longer than I tho’t my Quill & Supply of Paper would afford when I sat down, that it now appears more like a Lawyers Draft than a Letter. however this is excusable to a Friend.
With Every Affect. Sentiment I remain Your Friend & Hbl. Servt.
P.S. I fear the papers will have followed Greene Southward. Be so good as to enquire.
ADfS, Harvard College Library.
1. An extract of this letter from a dealer’s catalogue is printed in PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , II, 488–89.
This letter concerns Varick’s attempt to clear himself before a board of inquiry of suspicion of treason or the misuse of government supplies because of his close association with Major General Benedict Arnold, under whom he served as military secretary. For the full record of the proceedings against Varick, see Albert Bushnell Hart, ed., The Varick Court of Inquiry to Investigate the Implication of Colonel Varick (Arnold’s Private Secretary) in the Arnold Treason (Boston, 1907).
On September 25, 1780, the day that Arnold’s treason was discovered, George Washington placed Varick under arrest, but assured him that no one had voiced suspicions of disloyalty concerning him. Varick immediately submitted all his own papers and those of Arnold to Washington, and on September 28 he requested a court of inquiry stating: “I mean to make the most of this favorable opportunity, in showing to the world a true portrait of my conduct from the earliest period of the war, from stage to stage, till the memorable 25th of Sept. last … that I might wipe off from my reputation the odious reproach and suspicions, into which my unhappy connection with the guilty Arnold has traduced it” (Hart, Varick Court, 58). Washington granted Varick’s request and appointed Major General William Heath of Massachusetts to appoint the court of inquiry (Washington to Heath, October 21, 1780 [PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , II, 485]).
At the inquiry, which took place on November 2, 3, 4, and 5, 1780, Varick conducted his own defense and presented depositions on his behalf which he had gathered from his military associates, including Major David S. Franks, former aide-de-camp to Arnold, Colonel John Lamb, Major General Samuel H. Parsons, and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hanson Harrison, secretary to Washington. Varick presented evidence that he was neither implicated in Arnold’s treason nor was he “an agent in, or conniving with Mr. Arnold’s abuse of power in his embezzlement of the public stores and provisions” (Hart, Varick Court, 61; for Arnold’s misuse of government property, see H to Henry Knox, January 30, 1780, note 1 [printed in this volume]). Before the court of inquiry had convened, Heath had ordered Henry Dome Tripp, commissary to the Flying Hospital at Colonel Beverly Robinson’s house who was charged with running supplies up the Hudson River, to investigate the possibility that Varick had been involved with Arnold in the misappropriation of government property. Tripp gave testimony at the court of inquiry which proved Varick’s innocence. See “Deposition of Mr. Henry Dorne Tripp, Commissary to the Flying Hospital,” November 5, 1780 (Hart, Varick Court, 155–56).
On November 5, 1780, the court unanimously acquitted Varick and declared him “entitled (thro’ every part of his conduct) to a degree of merit which does him great honor as an officer, and particularly distinguishes him as a sincere friend to his country” (Hart, Varick Court, 63).
The letter printed above also concerns Varick’s attempt to be reinstated in the Continental Army as of April 10, 1777, the date of his appointment as lieutenant colonel. When the mustering department was abolished on January 12, 1780, Varick lost his commission in the Army. On August 25, 1780, shortly after he became Arnold’s secretary, he sent a memorial to Congress requesting reappointment (ADS, Reel 52, Item 41, X, p. 317, Papers of the Continental Congress, National Archives). The memorial was read before Congress on September 12, but Congress denied Varick’s request (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937; Reprinted, New York, 1968). description ends , XVIII, 824, 871).
On November 12, 1780, after the court adjourned, Varick wrote to Washington stating that he wanted to return to the Army and requesting Washington to present his case to Congress (ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress). Washington did not make such a request to Congress, but in 1781 he appointed Varick as his recording secretary to copy and organize all the papers of the headquarters of the Continental Army.
2. Letters not found.
3. See H to Varick, October 28, 1780 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , II, 494). For the depositions of Harrison and Richard Kidder Meade, one of Washington’s aides-de-camp, see Hart, Varick Court, 113–17.
5. See H’s “Deposition in Favor of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Varick,” October 31, 1780 (PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , II, 495–96).
7. Jeronimus Hoogland, a resident of New York and a captain in the Second Continential Dragoons, was one of three officers who escorted John André to West Point on the night of September 25, 1780 (Winthrop Sargent, The Life and Career of Major John André, Adjutant-General of the British Army in America [New York, 1902; reprinted, New York, 1929], 378).
8. Colonel Elisha Sheldon had been stationed at South Salem, New York. Arnold had attempted to use him (without informing him of the reason) as a middleman for arranging a meeting with André. None of the papers found on André were in Varick’s handwriting. For a return of Sheldon’s forces, see “Estimate of the Forces at Wt. Point and its dependencies,” September 19, 1780 (AD, in Arnold’s handwriting, John André Papers, New York State Library, Albany).
9. Colonel Alexander Scammell of New Hampshire was an adjutant general in the Continental Army on George Washington’s staff.
10. For Philip Schuyler’s deposition, see “Copy of a letter from the late Major-General Schuyler addressed to the President of the Court for inquiring into the conduct of Lieutenant-Colonel Varick,” October 15, 1780 (Hart, Varick Court, 67–69).
11. For William Heron’s deposition and Samuel H. Parsons’s covering letter, see “Certificates of the Honorable Brigadier-General Samuel H. Parsons and of Mr. William Heron,” October 26, 1780 (Hart, Varick Court, 99–102). Parsons became a major general on October 23, 1780.
12. Major General Nathanael Greene had resigned as quartermaster general of the Army on July 26, 1780, after his opponents in Congress had adopted a new plan for the quartermaster’s department on July 15 (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937; Reprinted, New York, 1968). description ends , XVII, 615–35). Congress accepted his resignation on August 3 (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937; Reprinted, New York, 1968). description ends , XVII, 680, 690–91), and Greene returned to Washington’s headquarters on the Hudson River at the beginning of September. When Arnold’s treason was discovered later that month, Washington appointed Greene president of the board of general officers that tried and convicted John André. On October 6, 1780, Washington ordered Greene to assume command at West Point, replacing Arnold (Washington to Greene, two letters of October 6, 1780 [LS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress; LS, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston]). On October 14 Washington chose Greene to succeed Major General Horatio Gates as commander of the Southern Army (LS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress), and Greene left West Point to assume his new duties.
13. Hugh Hughes, a resident of New York, was assistant quartermaster general.
15. See note 1.
Varick thought that Heath was undertaking the investigation with an “air of mean & ungenerous suspicion.” Varick, moreover, was not a soldier of the line and disliked being treated as one while his memorial for reinstatement was still before Congress (Varick’s “Observations on General Heath’s Conduct,” October, 1780 [ADS, New-York Historical Society, New York City]; Varick to Heath, October 23, 1780 [ALS, New-York Historical Society, New York City]).
16. James Duane.
17. See note 1.
18. When Bathyllus claimed credit for a distich praising Caesar that Vergil had written, Vergil wrote beneath the distich a verse beginning “Hos ego versiculos feci tulit alter honores” with several uncompleted lines appended. Bathyllus could not complete the lines, and Vergil did.
19. On April 10, 1777, Congress appointed Joseph Ward commissary general of musters (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937; Reprinted, New York, 1968). description ends , VII, 252).
20. Colonel Theunis Dey of the New Jersey militia lived in Paterson, New Jersey. H had stayed at Dey’s house on at least one previous occasion (H to Elizabeth Schuyler, July 6, 1780 [PAH description begins Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (New York and London, 1961– ). description ends , II, 353–54]).