Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Muter, enclosing an Exchange of Letters with John Walker, 12 March 1781

From George Muter, enclosing an Exchange of Letters with John Walker

War Office, March 12, 1781.


I have the honour of inclosing to your Excellency the Copy of a letter I wrote to Mr. Walker, together with his answer to me, on the subject of Baron Steuben’s accusing me of neglect in my duty. Permit me to express my wish to your Excellency, that this matter may be fully and speedily inquired into; and to observe, that a long attendance on the Baron’s leisure, will certainly be exceedingly disagreeable, and may be very injurious to me. In full confidence that your Excellency will do whatever is proper on this occasion, I beg leave to add, that I have the honour to be, Yr. Excellency’s most obedient hble servant,

Geo: Muter. Cr.


1. George Muter to John Walker

War Office (Richmd) March 3, 1781


Baron de Steuben yesterday, at his lodging, publickly accused me of having materially injured the United States by neglect in my duty as Commissioner of the War Office for this State, and declared that he had the proofs thereof in his possession. In consequence of which, I first personally, and afterwards in writing, applied to his Excellency the Governour to order an enquiry into my Conduct, as Commissioner of the War Office, and to call for the proofs the Baron declared were in his possession. To which his Excellency returned the following answer. [TJ’s letter to Muter of 2 Mch. 1781 is here quoted in full by Muter.]

Thus, Sir, the matter at present stands. No accusation has been yet (that I know of) given in to the Council, and I must still suffer the uneasiness arising from a severe accusation being thrown out against me, in harsh terms, without an opportunity of Vindicating myself, unless the Baron mentions the Circumstances on which he founds his accusation, to the Supreme Executive.

My request to you is, that you will be so obliging as to apply to the Baron, to transmit to the Supreme Executive as quickly as possible, the particulars of neglect of Duty which he has to lay to my charge. This I have a right to expect he will most certainly do. Justice to the public, as well as to me, absolutely requires it. I must beg to hear from you as soon as possible, and am, with the highest respect, Sir, yr. most humble servant,

George Muter, Comr.

2. John Walker to George Muter

Wmsburg. 8th March, 1781.


I communicated your letter to the Baron; he says that as soon as he has leisure he intends to exhibit his charges against you, before the Supreme Executive of the State. I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

Jn. Walker

FC (Vi). Enclosures: (1) FC (Vi). (2) Tr in War Office Letter Book (Vi).

There is no record in the Council Journal that any action was taken on this letter. On the same day (12 Mch.) the House of Delegates agreed to the following resolution: “From the representation of Major General Baron Steuben that only four thousand stands of small arms, belonging to this State, are fit for service, and from the disorderly situation in which the Ordinance, Ammunition, Bombs, Shells, and Cannon Balls appear to be, it is necessary and expedient to enquire into the causes of such shameful neglect. Resolved that a Committee be appointed to confer with the Commissioner of the War Office, upon the causes of the aforementioned abuses; and also to examine into the State of all Military Stores within this Commonwealth and that they make a special report of their proceedings with their opinion thereupon to the present Assembly.” In accordance with the resolution a committee was appointed, headed by Mann Page (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Mch. 1781, Va. State Libr., Bull., 1928, p. 22). Mann Page wrote to George Muter (RC, Vi), “March 12th. 1781 12 o’Clock,” that the committee would meet with him “at five o’Clock this Evening.” The committee did not report to the House until 20 Mch. On that day the report was read, amended, and agreed to, stating in part: “In short the whole Business of the War Office appears to be entirely deranged arising from the following causes, the loss of the Papers belonging to the Office, the want of a sufficient number of Assistants and the irregular manner in which the Business seems heretofore to have been conducted. Resolved that George Muter Esqr. the present Commissioner of the War Office is not qualified to fill that important Office and ought to be discharged therefrom” (MS, Vi; JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Mch. 1781, p. 41, where the report is printed in full). It appears, therefore, from the extant records, that TJ and the Council took no part in the proceedings against Muter and that Steuben presented his case against Muter directly to the legislature. In consequence of the action by the House, Muter resigned as commissioner on 22 Mch. (see his letter to TJ of that date). See also Muter to TJ, 6 Mch. 1781, and note there; and Davies to Steuben, 20 Mch. Walker arrived in Richmond on 11 Mch. to make representations to the General Assembly in Steuben’s behalf; he reported on 12 Mch. that he had already talked with some members about his mission, that they had taken the militia law under consideration, and that they would with all possible expedition do everything that could be desired to give vigor to the military operations. Walker could give no assurances when the business would be finished, but added: “I hope our affairs shortly will be so arranged as to give you less trouble and better prospects of success” (Walker to Steuben, 12 Mch. 1781, NHi). While this letter seemed to indicate that Walker’s mission involved a revision of the militia laws, his presence in Richmond on the day that the House appointed a committee to investigate Muter may suggest that Steuben’s hostility to the commissioner of the war office was a principal part of his business.

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