George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Otis, Sr., 7 August 1775

To James Otis, Sr.

Head Quarters at Cambridge, Augt 7th 1775


By the General Return made me for last Week, I find there are great Number of Soldiers and non-commissd Officers, who absent themselves from Duty,1 the greatest Part of which I have Reason to believe, are at their respective Homes, in different Parts of the Country; some employ’d by their Officers on their Farms, & others drawing Pay from the Publick, while they are working on their own Plantations, or for Hire. My utmost Exertions have not been able to prevent this base and pernicious Conduct; I must therefore beg the Assistance of the General Court, to cooperate with me, in such Measures, as may remedy this Mischief. I am of Opinion, it might be done, either wholly, or in Part, by the Committees in the Several Towns making Strict & impartial Inquiry of Such as are found Absent from the Army; upon what account they have left it, by whose Leave, & for what Time, to require such as have no Impediment of Sickness, or other good Reason, to return to their Duty immediately or in Case of Failure to Send an Accot of their Names, the Company, and Regiment to which they belong to me as soon as possible; that I may be able to make Examples of Such Delinquents.

I need not enlarge upon the ruinous Consequences of suffering such infamous Deserters and Defrauders of the Publick to go unnoticed, or unpunish’d, nor use any Arguments to induce the general Court to give it immediate Attention—The Necessity of the Case does not permit me to doubt the Continued Exertions of that Zeal which has distinguished the General Court upon less important Occasions.2 I have the Honour to be Sir with much Respect and Regard Your Most Obedt hum. Servt

Go: Washington

The Inclosed respects a Prisoner Sent up from Prospect Hill, who is sent herewith under Gaurd for Examination of the Committee appointed for that Purpose.3

G. W——n

LS, in Thomas Mifflin’s writing, M-Ar: Revolution Letters; LB, DLC:GW; copy, “Mass. Council Journal,” July 1775–Feb. 1776 sess. description begins In Journals, Minutes, and Proceedings, State of Massachusetts Bay, 1775–1780. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records.) description ends , 72; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The LS includes, below the postscript on the second page of the manuscript, a copy in Perez Morton’s writing of the minutes from the journals of the council and house of representatives respecting the appointment on 7 and 8 Aug. of a committee to consider GW’s letter. See note 2.

1The general return of 5 Aug. reports 750 men as sick and absent, 255 on furlough, and 1,011 on command (DNA: RG 93, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775–83).

2The council read GW’s letter later this day and sent it down to the house of representatives, which appointed Dr. Benjamin Church, Col. Nathaniel Freeman, and Richard Devens to consider it. On 8 Aug. the council added Walter Spooner and John Winthrop to that committee. The committee’s report closely followed GW’s suggestions. On 13 Aug. both houses resolved that the committees of correspondence or selectmen in the towns “make careful and diligent enquiry from time to time, whether there be any non-commissioned Officers or Soldiers within their respective towns, belonging to the said army, and if any such shall be found that they bring them to a Strict and impartial examination upon what account they left the army, by whose leave, and for what time; and to require all such as have no furlough, or whose furloughs are out, and have no real impediment of sickness to return to their duty immediately; and in case they neglect it, that such Committees or Selectmen do without fail send an account of their names the Company & Regiment to which they belong, and the places where they are lurking, to his Excellency General Washington that so such infamous deserters, & defrauders of the Public may not go unpunished.” The General Court also “strongly recommended to all the inhabitants . . . to be aiding & assisting to their said Committees and Selectmen in the execution of this Resolve, and they by no means countenance, harbour or conceal; but on the other hand give information of all such Delinquents to the said Committees or Selectmen” (“Mass. Council Journal,” July 1775–Feb. 1776 sess. description begins In Journals, Minutes, and Proceedings, State of Massachusetts Bay, 1775–1780. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records.) description ends , 72–73; also in Mass. House of Rep. Journals, July–Nov. 1775 sess description begins A Journal of the Honorable House of Representatives of the Colony of the Massachusetts-Bay in New-England. Watertown, Mass., 1775. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends ., 51, 70. The General Court had the resolution printed in handbills for distribution in both the army and the towns (Massachusetts General Court to GW, 13 Aug. 1775). For GW’s orders on this matter, see General Orders, 8 Aug. 1775.

3The committee was probably the one that the General Court appointed on this date to examine people coming out of Boston. See GW to James Otis, Sr., 5 Aug. 1775, n.2.

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