George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 5 October 1775

To John Hancock

Camp at Cambridge October 5. 1775


I was honoured with your Favour of the 26th ult: late the Night before last, and a Meeting of the General Officers having been called upon a Business which will make a considerable Part of this Letter, I took the Oppy of laying before them those Parts of yours which respect the Continuance, & new modelling the Army—the Fuel, Cloathing & other Preparations for the ensuing Winter. They have taken two or three Days to consider, & as soon as I am possessed of their Opinions, I shall lose no Time in transmitting the Result, not only on the above Subjects, but the Number of Troops necessary to be kept up.1 I have also directed the Commissy Genl, & the Quarter Master Genl, to prepare Estimates of the Expence of their Departments, for a certain given Number of Men, from which a Judgment may be made, when the Number of Men to be kept in Pay is determined. All which, I shall do myself the Honour to lay before the Congress, as soon as they are ready.2

I have now a painful tho a necessary Duty to perform respecting Doctor Church Director General of the Hospital. About a Week ago, Mr Secrety Ward of Providence, sent up to me one Wainwood an Inhabitant of Newport, with a Letter directed to Major Cane in Boston, in Characters which he said had been left with Wainwood some Time ago, by a Woman who was kept by Dr Church. She had before press’d Wainwood, to take her to Capt. Wallace, Mr Dudley the Collector, or George Rome, which he declined. She then gave him the Letter, with a strict Charge to deliver it to either of those Gentlemen. He suspecting some improper Correspondence, kept the Letter & after some Time opened it; but not being able to read it, laid it up, where it remained untill he received an obscure Letter from the Woman, expressing an Anxiety after the original Letter. He then communicated the whole Matter to Mr Ward, who sent him up with the Papers to me. I immediately secured the Woman, but for a long Time, she was Proof against every Threat & Perswasion, to discover the Author. However at Length she was brought to a Confession & named Dr Church. I then immediately secured him, & all his Papers.3 Upon his first Examination he readily acknowledged the Letter, said it was designed for his Brother Fleming, & when decyphered would be found to contain nothing criminal. He acknowledged his never having communicated the Correspondence to any Person here, but the Girl; & made many Protestations of the Purity of his Intentions.4 Having found a Person capable of decyphering the Letter I in the mean Time had all his Papers searched but found nothing criminal among them—but it appeared on Inquiry that a Confidant had been among the Papers before my Messenger arrived. I then called the General Officers together for their Advice, the Result of which you will find in the Inclosure No. 1. The decyphered Letter is the Inclosure No. 2.5 The Army & Country are exceedingly irritated & upon a free Discussion of the Nature, Circumstances & Consequence of this Matter it has been unanimously agreed to lay it before the Honbl. Congress for their special Advice, & Direction. At the same Time suggesting to their Consideration, whether an Alteration of the 28th Article of War may not be necessary.6 As I shall reserve all farther Remarks upon the State of the Army till my next,7 I shall now beg Leave to request the Determination of Congress as to the Property & Disposal of such Vessels & Cargoes as are designed for the Supply of the Enemy & may fall into our Hands. There has been an Event of this Kind at Portsmouth as by the Inclosure No. 3. in which I have directed the Cargo to be brought hither for the Use of the Army, reserving the Settlement of any Claims of Capture to the Decision of Congress.8 As there are many unfortunate Individuals whose Property has been confiscated by the Enemy, I would humbly suggest to the Consideration of Congress the Humanity of applying in part, or in the whole such Captures to the Relief of those Sufferers after compensating any Expence of the Captors & for their Activity & Spirit. I am the more induced to request this Determination may be speedy, as I have directed 3 Vessels to be equipped in order to cut off the Supplies, & from the Number of Vessels hourly arriving it may become an Object of some Importance. In the Disposal of these Captures; for the Encouragement of the Officers & Men, I have allowed them one third of the Cargoes except military Stores, which with the Vessels are to be reserved for the publick Use. I hope my Plan as well as the Execution will be favoured with the Approbation of Congress.9

One Mr Fisk, an intelligent Person, came out of Boston on the 3d Instt & gives us the following Advices. That a Fleet consisting of a 64—& 20 Gun Ship, 2 Sloops of 18 Guns, 2 Transports with 600 Men were to sail from Boston as yesterday. That they took on Board two Mortars, four Howitzers, & other Artillery calculated for the Bombardment of a Town—their Destination was kept a profound Secret.10

That an Express Sloop of War which left England the 8th August arrived 4 Days ago. That General Gage is recalled, & last Sunday resigned his Command to General Howe. That Ld Percy, Col. Smith, & other Officers who were at Lexington, are ordered Home with Gage11—That 6 Ships of the Line, & 2 Cutters were coming out under Sir Peter Dennis. That 5 Regiments & 1000 Marines, are ordered out, & may be expected in 3 or 4 Weeks. No Prospect of Accomodation, but the Ministry determined to push the War to the utmost.

I have an Express from Col. Arnold, & h[e]rewith send a Copy of his Letter & an Inclosure No. 4. & 5. I am happy in finding he meets with no Discouragement. The Claim of the Riffle Officers to be independant of all the superiour Officers, except Col. Arnold is without any Countenance, or Authority from me, as I have signified in my last Dispatch both to Col. Arnold & Capt. Morgan.12 The Captain of the Brig from Quebec for Boston,13 informs me that there is no Suspicion of any such Expedition, & that if Carlton is not drove from St Johns, so as to be obliged to throw himself into Quebec, it must fall into our Hands; as it is left without a Regular Soldier, & many of the Inhabitants most favourably disposed to the American Cause. That there is the largest Stock of Ammunition ever collected in America.

In the above Vessel some Letters were also found from an Officer at Quebec to General Gage & Major Sheriff at Boston containing such an Account of the Temper of the Canadians as cannot but afford the highest Satisfaction. I have though⟨t⟩ it best to forward them. They are the Inclosures No. 6 & 7.14 I am with the greatest Respect & Regard, Sir, Your most Obed. & very Hbble Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Joseph Reed’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, NHi: Joseph Reed Papers; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC item 169; copy, NjMoHP; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read the letter on 13 Oct. (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 3:293).

It was apparently to hasten the arrival of this letter and its enclosures in Philadelphia that GW directed Joseph Reed to write this day to William Ellery, postmaster at Hartford: “There are Letters of great Consequence in the Mail which require Expedition: We understand a Day or two is lost in the usual Course. His Excelly therefore requests you will send forward this Mail as soon as it arrives so that it may reach Philad. as soon as possible—& at the same Time forward this Letter or a Copy to the Postmaster [at] New York—If any Difficulty arises on this Subject pray apply to the Committee to send an Express with it—but we think you may without Improprity do what is first requested.” Reed adds in a postscript: “The Letters above referr’d to are of great Importance let there be special Care in crossing the North River” (CtSoP: on deposit at Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, Yale University).

2See Joseph Reed to Joseph Trumbull, this date, quoted in GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., this date, n.3, and GW to Hancock, 12 Oct. 1775.

3Benjamin Church’s mistress, whose name is unknown, was said by Ezra Stiles to be “a Girl of Pleasure” and a former lover of Godfrey Wainwood (Wenwood; d. 1816), a baker in Newport. She carried Church’s encoded letter to Newport “in her stocking on her Leg” sometime in late July, and at Wainwood’s house she addressed the cover “To Major Cane in Boston” according to instructions from the actual intended recipient, John Fleming (Dexter, Diary of Ezra Stiles description begins Franklin Bowditch Dexter, ed. The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, D.D., LL.D., President of Yale College. 3 vols. New York, 1901. description ends , 1:618–19, 628; Church to Fleming, 23 July 1775, printed as an enclosure to this letter; and Fleming to Church, no date, in Mass. Hist. Soc., Collections, 1st ser., 1 (1792), 88–89; see also Council of War, 3–4 Oct. 1775, n.1). Major Cane may be Edward Cane, the senior captain in the 43d Regiment stationed in Boston, or Maurice Cane, lieutenant colonel of the 6th Regiment stationed in the West Indies. James Wallace (1731–1803) of the Royal Navy commanded the warship Rose in Rhode Island waters. Charles Dudley (1737–1790), collector of customs at Newport, and George Rome, one of the town’s leading merchants, were staunch Loyalists who went to England later in the war.

The undated, unsigned letter of inquiry that Church’s mistress sent to Wainwood is in DLC:GW: “i now Sett Down to right a fue Lines hoping thay will find [you] in good helth as thay Leave me i expe[c]ted you would have arote to me be for this But now i expe[c]t to Sea you hear every Day i much wonder you never Sent wot you promest to send if you Did i never reseve it so pray Lett me know By the furst orpurtnuty wen you expe[c]t to be hear & at the Same time whether you ever Sent me that & wether you ever got a answer from my sister i am a litle unesey that you never rote thar is a serten person hear wants to Sea you verey much So pray com as Swon as posebell if you righ[t] Direct your Lettr to mr Ewerd Harton Living on Mr tapthorps farm in Little Cambrig.”

The woman’s letter aroused the suspicions of Wainwood and Adam Maxwell, a schoolteacher in whom Wainwood confided, and prompted them to tell Henry Ward, secretary of Rhode Island, about the encoded letter, which they had opened but could not decipher. Ward related their story to Nathanael Greene in a letter of 26 Sept., and Greene promptly informed GW about the matter. GW interrogated the woman on 28 September. She confessed the next day, when GW, with the advice of James Warren and Joseph Hawley, had Church arrested. Ward’s letter to Greene, the original of which is in DLC:GW, is printed in Showman, Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 1:125–26. For accounts of Wainwood’s actions and the interrogation of the woman, see Dexter, Diary of Ezra Stiles description begins Franklin Bowditch Dexter, ed. The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, D.D., LL.D., President of Yale College. 3 vols. New York, 1901. description ends , 1:619, and James Warren to John Adams, 1 Oct. 1775, in Taylor, Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977—. description ends , 3:177–80.

4For Church’s subsequent explanations, see Council of War, 3–4 Oct., and Church to GW, c.3 Oct. 1775.

5GW enclosed the minutes of the Council of War, 3–4 Oct., and Elisha Porter’s decoded version of Church’s letter to John Fleming, 23 July 1775. The latter document is an enclosure to this letter. For the deciphering of Church’s letter, see Council of War, 3–4 Oct., n. 1.

6The committee of conference discussed Church’s punishment on 22 October. See Proceedings of the Committee of Conference, 18–24 Oct. 1775, Document II, Minutes of the Conference.

8The enclosure is the Portsmouth committee of safety’s letter to GW of 2 October. For GW’s orders regarding the cargo of the Prince George, see GW to the Portsmouth Committee of Safety, this date. For congress’s resolutions on the disposal of captured vessels and their cargoes, see Hancock to GW, 2 Dec., n.5, and 22 Dec. 1775, n.4.

9The committee of conference discussed these matters on 23 October. See the Proceedings of the Committee of Conference, 18–24 Oct. 1775, Document II, Minutes of the Conference.

10This squadron attacked Falmouth in the District of Maine on 18 October. See GW to Hancock, 24 Oct. 1775.

11The previous Sunday was 1 October. Francis Smith (1723–1791), who commanded the British expedition to Lexington and Concord in April 1775, and Lord Hugh Percy (1742–1817), who led the relief column that covered Smith’s march back to Boston, both remained in America sometime longer. Smith was promoted to colonel on 8 Sept. 1775 and saw action at Long Island and Newport with the 10th Regiment before returning to England at the end of 1778. Percy, a major general in the army, commanded a division in the New York campaign of 1776 and went home in June 1777.

12The enclosures are Arnold to GW, 25–27 Sept., and Dennis Getchell and Samuel Berry to Reuben Colburn, 13 Sept. 1775. For GW’s views on the claim of the rifle officers, see GW to Daniel Morgan, 4 Oct., and Joseph Reed to Arnold, 4 Oct., quoted in Arnold to GW, 25–27 Sept., n.7.

13William Wallace of the brigantine Dolphin.

14GW enclosed Thomas Gamble’s letters to Gen. Thomas Gage and Maj. William Shirreff dated 6 September. See GW to Schuyler, 4 Oct. 1775, n.3.

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