George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 9 February 1776

To John Hancock

Cambridge 9th February 1776


In Compliance with the resolves of Congress, I have applied to General Howe for the exchange of Mr Lovell, a Copy of my Letter & his answer thereto you have inclosed.1

Captain Watters & Captain Tucker, who Command two of the Armed Schooners, have taken & Sent into Gloster, a Large Brigantine Laden with wood,2 150 Butts for water, & 40 Suits of Bedding, bound from La Have in Nova Scotia for Boston—She is one of the transports in the Ministerial Service, the Captain Says that he was at Halifax the 17th January, & that General Massey was arrived there with two Regiments from Irland.3

the different prizes were all Libelld immediatly on receipt of the Resolves of Congress pointing out the Mode, but none of them yet brought to trial, owing to a difference between the Law past in this Province, and the Resolutions of Congress, the General Court are Makeing an ammendment to their Law by which the difficultys that now occur will be removed, as I understand it is to be made Conformable to your resolves4—the unavoidable delay attending the bringing the Captures to trial is grievously Complain’d of, by the Masters of these vessels, as well as the Captors—many of the former, have aplied for Liberty to go away without waiting the decision, which I have granted them.5

I beg Leave to recall the attention of Congress to their appointing a Commissary in these parts, to attend the providing of necessarys for the prisoners, who are dispersed in these Provinces—Complaints are made by Some of them, that they are in want of bedding & many other things; as I understand that Mr Franks has undertaken that business, I wish he was orderd to send a deputy immediatly, to See that the prisoners get what is allowed them by Congress, allso to Supply the Officers with money as they may have occasion, it will Save me much time & much trouble.6

there are yet but few Companys of the Militia come in, this delay will, I am much affraid, frustrate the intention of their being Called upon—as the Season is slipping fast away when they may be of Service.

the demands of the Army were So very pressing before your Last remittence Came to hand, that I was under the necessity of borrowing £25,000 Lawful money from this province, they very chearfully Lent it, & pass’d a vote for as much more, if required, I have not repaid the Sum borrowed, as I may Stand in need of it, before the arrival of another Supply, which the demands of the Commissary General, Quartermaster General, & paying off the arrearages, will very Soon require.7

Your esteemd favour of the 29th Ultimo is just Come to hand, it makes me very happy to find my Conduct, hath met the approbation of Congress—I am entirely of your opinion, that Should an accommodation take place, the terms will be Severe or favorable, in proportion to our ability to resist, and that we ought to be on a respectable footing to receive their Armaments in the Spring—but how far we shall be provided with the Means, is a Matter I profess not to Know, under my present unhappy want of, Arms, Ammunition, and I may add men, as our Regiments are very incomplete, the recruiting goes on very Slow, and will, I apprehend be more So, if for other Service the men receive a bounty, & none is given here.

I have tried every Method I Coud think of to procure Arms for our men, they realy are not to be had in these Governments belonging to the Pub⟨lic⟩8 and if Some method is not fallen upon, in the Southern Governments to Supply us, We shall be in a distressd Situation for want of them, there are near 2000 men now in Camp, without firelocks, I have wrote to the Committee of Newyork this day, requesting them to send me those Arms, which were taken from the disaffected in that Government,9 the Congress interesting themselves in this request, will doubtless have a good effect—I have Sent Officers into the Country with money to purchass Arms in the different towns, Some have returnd, & brought in a few, many are Still out, what their Success will be, I cannot determine.

I was in great hopes, that the expresses Resolved to be establisd between this place & Philadelphia woud ’ere now have been fixt—it woud, in my opinion, rather Save, than increase the expence, as many horses are destroyed by one man Comeing the whole way, it will certainly be more expeditious, & Safer than writeing by the post, or private hands, which I am often under the necessity of doing.10 I am with great respect Sir Your most Ob. H. Sert

Go: Washington

LS, in Stephen Moylan’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 22 Feb. (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 , 4:166).

2The letter-book copy reads “fire wood.” There were sixty-two cords of wood aboard the vessel.

3Capt. Daniel Waters in the Lee and Capt. Samuel Tucker in the Franklin captured the brig Henry and Esther, Captain Nellis, master, on 29 Jan. and brought her into Squam on the Cape Ann peninsula the following day. Winthrop Sargent’s letter to GW of 2 Feb. 1776 informing him of this capture has not been found. Two days later Moylan replied to Sargent instructing him to give the officers and crewmen their private property after Captain Nellis proved it on oath and to libel the vessel immediately. “If the Harbour is unsafe,” Moylan further directed, “. . . remove her to a place more secure. If the Sailors will engage on Board any of our armed vessels for 12 months, they will be entitled to one months pay advance, but they must be dispersed so that many of them may not be on b[o]ard any one vessel” (DLC:GW). Daniel Waters (1731–1816) of Malden, Mass., and Samuel Tucker (1747–1833) of Marblehead, Mass., became captains of armed vessels on 20 Jan. 1776 and served as such until the following January. Tucker moved from the Franklin to the Hancock in the spring of 1776, while Waters remained with the Lee throughout the year. On 15 Mar. 1777 Congress appointed both Waters and Tucker captains in the Continental navy. Tucker commanded the frigate Boston until she was captured at Charleston in May 1780, and in January 1781 he became captain of a Massachusetts privateer which was captured at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River later that year. Waters was unable to obtain an immediate command in the Continental navy and served for a time during 1777 as a lieutenant under Capt. John Manley. In the summer of 1779 Waters participated in the ill-fated Penobscot expedition as captain of the ship General Putnam, which he was obliged to destroy to prevent its capture, and in 1781 he commanded a Massachusetts privateer. Eyre Massey (1719–1804), colonel of the 27th (or Inniskilling) Regiment, arrived at Halifax with his regiment by 5 Dec. 1775. Given the rank of major general in America, Massey commanded the British forces in Nova Scotia for the next four years.

4For a discussion of the establishment of admiralty courts, see Circular to Jonathan Glover, William Bartlett, and William Watson, 3 Jan. 1776, n.1. On 31 Jan. 1776 Stephen Moylan wrote to James Warren, speaker of the Massachusetts house of representatives: “Mr [Jonathan] Glover called upon the General this day, informing him that the Legislative power of this Province, were about makeing Some alterations or amendment in the Act, relative to Captures made by armed vessels, fitted out of this Colony So as to make that act Conformable to the Resolutions of Congress, he allso mentioned that Some difficulties may arrise, after Condemnation respecting the sale of prizes made by the Continental vessels as it Seems the deputy Sheriff is ordered to take charge of, & sell the prizes made by vessels fitted out by indeviduals, or otherwise, that will Certainly militate with the agreement entered into by his Excellency with the Agents appointed by him, who are to have a Certain Commission & no more, for transacting that business[.] now Sir I am ordered by the General to Lay this matter before you, requesting that no future impediments may arise, after Condemnation of these vessels, to interrupt the sale of them & Cargoes[.] a Clause in this particular, enacting that all vessels taken by the Cruizers fitted out at the Continental expence shall be given up to the Agents appointed for negotiating that business, imediately after Condemnation—will answer every purpose of this application to you” (DLC:GW). The Massachusetts General Court passed its revised legislation on 20 February.

5On 26 Jan. 1776 Stephen Moylan signed an order on behalf of GW directing William Bartlett, the agent at Beverly, to “permit William Foster, James Lowrie, Robert Hunter, to proceed to Great Brittain in the best manner they Can, provided they do not go by way of Boston, they have given their paroles, not to act inimical to the United Colonies.” At the end of the order Moylan added: “Sir his Excellency permits any of the Crews belonging to Captains, Foster, Lowrie & Hunter to proceed with them” (Clark, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 3:991). Foster, Lowrie, and Hunter were captains respectively of the captured vessels Jenny, Concord, and Nancy.

6GW requested the appointment of a commissary of prisoners in his letter to Hancock of 8 Nov. 1775. On 1 Dec. 1775 Congress resolved that David Franks (1729–1794) of Philadelphia be permitted to supply provisions and other necessities to the British prisoners in Pennsylvania at the expense of the crown. Franks was also asked to undertake the same task for the prisoners of war held in the other colonies, but there is no evidence that he agreed to do so. On 16 May 1776 a committee recommended to Congress that a commissary of prisoners be appointed for each of the three military departments. That suggestion was recommitted to the committee, and not until 7 Oct. 1776 did Congress resolve that each state should appoint a commissary of prisoners (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 , 4:361, 5:850). Franks acted as a commissary of British prisoners until the fall of 1778 when he was relieved of his duties and arrested for conducting a treasonous correspondence (ibid., 12:1032). Franks was banished to New York in November 1780, and he subsequently went to England where he lived the rest of his life.

7For the loan from Massachusetts, see GW to the Massachusetts General Court, 17 Jan. 1776, n.4.

8GW inserted the words “belonging to the Pub⟨lic⟩” above the line in his own writing; in the letter-book copy GW added “of the Public.”

10On 1 Feb. 1776 Congress discussed a report on the establishment of expresses between Philadelphia and Cambridge, but the delegates postponed action and instructed Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin to consult his deputies about the terms on which expresses could be obtained. The matter was not taken up again until June, and in July Congress ordered the postmaster general to establish expresses between Philadelphia and GW’s New York headquarters (Richard Smith’s Diary, 1 Feb. 1776, in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 3:185–86; 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 , 4:107, 5:418–19, 522).

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