From Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Reed
Philad: March 15. 1776
My dear General
This Morning your Express arrived with an Account of the interesting Events which have taken Place since this Month began. I beg leave to congratulate you on Appearances so favourable to the Interests of our Country & your own Character. Not that in my Opinion it was the least clouded by your Inactivity as the Causes were well known, but it is certain that Enterprize & Success give a Brilliance & Lustre which cannot be unacceptable to a good Mind. We shall be very anxious for farther Accounts as these have left you at a critical Period of Suspence when we are led to expect some very important Change may soon happen.1
I shall be careful of your confidential Account of your Council of War—I wish the Event may prove me mistaken but I am strongly possessed with an Idea that some Members of your Council never will concur in any Measure which leads to Danger, & I think you will make less & less Use of them in that Way every Day you are with them. Thomas I presume you know is made a Major Genl & ordered to Canada where old Wooster was throwing every Thing into Confusion & a superior Officer was necessary to keep the Peace. I don’t much like their thus taking away the Men in whom you may most trust but your Camp is considered as a School, & I fear the Service will require all their separated Attention & Ability. I wrote you before that Genl Lee was ordered to Virginia, Armstrong to South Carolina Thompson to New York.2 We have every Thing to fear from the Southward a cursed Spirit of Disaffection has appeared in the back Parts of North & South Carolina which if not subdued before the Forces arrive from England will prove a most formidabl<e> piece of Business especially when connected with the Hosts of Negroes in the lower Part of the Country—Instead of painting their Strength & Power of Resistance in ostentatious Terms as is the Fashion of some Folks, the Gentlemen of that Country acknowledge their Weak<ness> & dread the Consequences. I am really concerned for old Armstrong I think the Climate will destroy him.
You have had much Reason to think the Congress neg<lec>t your Camp in the Article of Ammunition, but I hope by the Time this reaches you—Ten Tons of our last Importation will be in your Camp—the Vessel brought but 300 Stand of Arms, but they are the best yet imported.3
If Howe should leave Boston we expect he will make for New York, & at all Events we look upon that as one of the Scenes of the Summer Business: in the former Case I find it supposed you will move Southward—By General Lee’s Account no Dependence is to be put on their Professions & the late Delegation from Congress came back with a very slender opinion of their Conduct which is timid and trimming to the greatest Degree.4 I am glad you have informed me how the Matter stood with the Connecticut Men;5 I had no Doubt but the step you took was founded upon Necessity which would justify the directing Troops to be r<a>isd, but I found it gave an Alarm to some Folks, & I believe I hinted it in a former Letter but your State must & I doubt not has given perfect Satisfaction. I have thought it a Duty I owe you to mention any Thing of this kind occurring as your Distance might otherwise prevent a suitable Explanation.
Most of your Camp Equipage will be completed this Week or the Beginning of next—I shall obey your Commands with Respect to the Waggon & Horses—there will be no Difficulty about the Money should the Treasurer here have any Scruples—as I shall advance it & we can settle that when we meet. I had ordered the Tables & several other Things which appeared to me be necessary tho not in your Order—I hope when you see them they will prove agreeable I have consulted Oeconomy as much as I thought consistent with your Rank & Station. Most of our Workmen are such Strangers to these Things that they are very slow & tedious two of the Tents are finished & the other just completed. I am never happier than when I am on your Business so that you may depend upon it that I shall spare no Pains to have them done in the best Manner, & forwarded with the greatest Expedition.6 The Destruction of the Mortars is very extraordinary, there certainly must be some Want of Skill in the Management of them.
I suppose old Putt was to command the Detachment intended for Boston on the 5th Inst.—as I do not know any Officer but himself who could have been depended on for so hazardous a Service7—Should Howe decamp, I cannot say I should much regret that Day’s passing over so quietly, as if the Troops had behaved well there would have been a great Loss & if ill it would have ruined your whole Plan.
We have some Accounts from Virginia that Col. Henry has resigned in Disgust at not being made a General Officer—but it rather <gives> Satisfaction than otherwise as his Abilities seem bett<er> calculated for the Senate than the Field.8 We have no very late Accts from thence. A Man of War & some Tenders lately were up to Baltimore & gave them an Alarm which drove all their Women Children & valuable Effects out of Town but we have heard nothing since9—Poor Fry—Heaven & Earth was moved to get him in—he was every Thing that was great & wonderful, now I suppose we shall hear no more of him.10
Not a Syllable yet from our Fleet it is 4 Weeks tomorrow since they left our Capes—Should they fall in with the 12 Men of War conveying the Transports to Virginia it is all over with them—& we think there is very great Danger of it. My next must certainly give some Intelligence.11
Now for our own News. The Packet arrived last Week at New York & in her came Passenger Mr Robert Temple (Owner of the late beautiful Farm) below our Lines he came to Town last Night; the Report is that in Papers under his Buttons he has brought a Letter from Arthur Lee advising that the Commissioners were coming out instructed to settle the Dispute to get from us as much as they can, but if Peace cannot be had on their Terms to make it on ours. I mention it to you as a Report for to me it seems so inconsistent with all that we have seen & heard that I do not believe a Word of it. I shall get more certain Intelligence soon of his Business & it shall make a Part of my next Letter.12 We every Moment expect to hear of these Gentrys Arrival—they are if possible to treat with the Assemblies but if that cannot be obtained then with Congress. A little Time will shew what we are to expect from this new Project. For my Part I can see nothing to be hoped from it but it <has> laid <fast> hold of som<e here> & made its Impress<ion> on the Congr<ess.> It is said the Virginians are so alarmed with the Idea of Independence that they have sent Mr Braxton on Purpose to turn the Vote of that Colony, if any Question on that Subject should come before Congress. To tell you the Truth my dear Sir, I am infinitely more afraid of these Commissioners than their Generals & Armies—If their Propositions are plausible & Behaviour artful I am apprehensive they will divide us—there is so much Suspicion in Congress & so much Party on this Subject, that very little more Fuel is required to kindle the Flame. It is high Time for the Colonies to begin a gradual Change of Delegates —private Pique Prejudice & Suspicion will make its Way into the Breasts of even good Men sitting long in such a Council as ours, & whenever that is the Case their Deliberations will be disturbed & the publick Interest of course suffer.
We have made a very great Change in the Councils of this Province & I hope a favourable one for the Common Cause having introduced 17 new Members at once into the House of Assembly, the Increase of Representation is in those Parts of the Province where the Spirit of Liberty most prevails & of Consequence our Measures will partake of it.13
We have had a Vessel Load of Linnens on Acct of Congress arrived within these few Days past but I do not hear a Word of Tents—what our Army is expected to do without them I cannot conceive.
Ld Stirling has stopp’d some of our Troops bound to Canada as it is not possible to keep the Connecticut People beyond their own Time—Genl Lee with great difficulty induced some of them to prolong their Stay 2 Weeks which I believe was more than could be done with you.14
Mr Deane of Connecticut is gone to Europe his Errand may be guessed tho little is said about it.15 The french Vessels begin to find their Way to our Ports two or three having come in this Spring, but their Cargoes are chiefly West India Goods—a litt<le> very little Powder merely as a Cover.
Since writing the above I have conversed with some Gentlemen who have seen Mr Temple—I find he only bring two Letters wrote by Dr Lee to himself & that his Information of the Powers of the Commissioners is not built on any certain Authority but rather his own Conjectures. He says the Ministry are resolved on Peace if to be had—they are willing to treat with Congress but the King would not hear of it. The Difficulty of recruiting is very great in England Scotland & Ireland—scarce a Man more to be had on any Terms.16 I send you a Morning Paper containing the current News. My respectful Complimts with Mrs R<eed’s> to Mrs Washington—& am Dr Sir Most sin[c]erely & Affect. Yours
AL, DLC:GW. Mutilated words are supplied within angle brackets from the printed version of this letter in Reed, Joseph Reed description begins William B. Reed. Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, Military Secretary of Washington, at Cambridge; Adjutant-General of the Continental Army; Member of the Congress of the United States; and President of the Executive Council of the State of Pennsylvania. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1847. description ends , 1:171–74.
2. This letter has not been found.
4. Reed apparently is referring to the committee that Congress sent to New York in late January. See Hancock to GW, 29 Jan. 1776, and note 3. For Charles Lee’s lack of faith in the efforts of the New York provincial congress and the colony’s inhabitants, see his letter to GW of 29 Feb. 1776.
6. On 4 May 1776 Plunket Fleeson of Philadelphia presented Reed with a bill for £64.2.6 Pennsylvania currency which included £4 for “making a large Dining Marque with Double Front,” £5.10.5 for “making an other large Marque with a Chain-Tent of ticken, Arch’d,” £1.10 for “making a large Baggage Tent,” £13.10 for “18 wallnut camp Stools,” £3 for “3 wallnut Camptables,” and various sums for accessories such as £6 for “3 Sett tent poles jointed & painted,” £2.10 for “25 lb. best hard Cord,” 18s. for “12 doz: tent pins,” 12s. for “200 buttons, 4 Malletts,” and £1.10 for “3 packing Cases Iron clampd” (DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 24). The Washington Papers at the Library of Congress contain three other bills from Philadelphia merchants to Reed for GW’s camp equipage. On 25 Mar. 1776 William Hollinshead submitted an account totaling £37.1.5 for “2 Cases Knives & forks 1 Doz. Camp cups ½ Doz. Coffee cups,” and “2 half pint camp cups.” Benjamin Harbeson’s account indicates that on 18 April 1776 he furnished GW with “1 Nest of Camp Kettles 3 large Tin Cannesters 1 doz. Oval tin Dishes,” and “2 doz. & 9 Tin plates,” and on 3 May he provided another dozen tin plates and “7 Tin Cannesters,” at a total cost of £13.11.6. Robert Porter billed Reed £7.5 on 3 May 1776 for “a pare of Large Canteens Covered with leather, Lined, and Six half Gallon Bottles,” and “a Large Kitchen and Six half Gallon Bottles.” All four of these accounts were paid by Andrew Hodge, Jr., on 11 May 1776.
7. Reed is referring to Gen. Israel Putnam who had overall command of the forces that were to attack Boston by boat from Cambridge if the British assaulted Dorchester Heights on 5 March. See Plan for Attacking Boston, 18–25 Feb. 1776.
9. The British sloop of war Otter and two tenders sailed up the Chesapeake Bay during this month and anchored for a time near Baltimore before returning to Hampton Roads.
11. The Continental naval fleet under Commodore Esek Hopkins raided Nassau in the Bahamas on 3–4 Mar. and then headed to Rhode Island. The British convoy was apparently the one bringing troops from Ireland to Cape Fear, N.C., for Gen. Henry Clinton’s southern expedition.
12. It was William Temple (1735–1786) of New Hampshire, not Robert Temple (d. 1784) of Charlestown, Mass., who arrived at New York on 10 Mar. 1776 in a packet from England. See Lord Stirling to GW, 11 Mar. 1776, and note 2. A brother of John Temple (1731–1798), who had been surveyor general of customs for the northern colonies and lieutenant governor of New Hampshire, William Temple was rather ambiguous in his politics. “Mr. T[emple],” one member of Congress wrote, “is or seems to be a high whig; he Damns King, Lords, & Commons, without reserve and at the same time talks much of his acquaintence with the Great” (William Whipple to Joshua Brackett, 17 Mar. 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 , 3:395–96). Arthur Lee (1740–1792), a younger brother of Richard Henry Lee, had lived in London since 1768 and was now acting as an agent for the Continental Congress (see the Committee of Secret Correspondence to Arthur Lee, 12 Dec. 1775, ibid., 2:475–76). For a report on the intelligence brought by Temple, see note 16. For a discussion of the peace commissioners, see GW to Reed, 26 Feb.—9 Mar. 1776, n.19.
13. On 8 Mar. the Pennsylvania general assembly authorized four additional representatives for the city of Philadelphia and thirteen more representatives for the western counties (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 8th ser., 8:7436).
14. Reed is referring to GW’s efforts the previous December to retain the Connecticut troops in the Continental army.
15. For Silas Deane’s mission, see Reed to GW, 3 Mar. 1776, n.8. Silas Deane (1737–1789), who served as one of Connecticut’s delegates to Congress until January 1776, sailed to Europe in April 1776 and acted as an American representative in Paris until the French alliance was ratified in 1778.
16. “We make no doubt,” the Maryland delegates wrote to the Maryland council of safety on 19 Mar. 1776, “you have heard various Reports relative to a Mr. Temple, who came passenger in the Packet & is now in this City. Before his Arrival here it was asserted, that he was charged with Dispatches from the Minority [in Parliament] to Congress, that Commissioners were appointed with full Powers, and that if on their Arrival in America, the different Assemblies refused to treat, they were to treat with Congress. Temple on his Arrival, delivered his Budget, which was truly farsical, being only a Button of his Coat, in which was contained a Scrawl from Arthur Lee informing Congress, that Troops were to sail from Ireland & for the particulars, referring to Temple who could give Information, as he Lee had acquainted him with the State of Affairs & the Designs of Administration. We have never seen Temple, it is said, he is sick, some say he is mad, from his Conduct in taking this Journey to deliver such a trifling Letter, if this is his sole Business, the latter Opinion seems well founded” (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 , 3:408–9). The letters from Arthur Lee have not been identified. For other reports of the intelligence brought by Temple, see William Hooper to Joseph Trumbull, 13 Mar., Richard Smith’s Diary, 15 Mar., and Richard Smith to Samuel Tucker, 16 Mar. 1776, ibid., 371–73, 384–85, 388–89.