George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 22 April 1776

To John Hancock

New York 22d April 1776


I was this day honored with the receipt of your favor of the 20th Instt. I have now the pleasure to acquaint you that the four Regiments design’d for Canada embarked Yesterday with a fair Wind for Albany under the Command of Colonels Greaton, Patterson, Bond & Poor, besides which there was a Company of Rifle Men, a Company of Artificers and two Engineers—The whole commanded by Brigadier General Thompson.

I have repeatedly mention’d to the Honorable Congress the distressful situation we are in for want of Arms—With much pains and difficulty I got most of the Regiments from the Eastward tolerably well furnished, but find the York Regiments very badly provided. Colonel Ritzema’s has scarcely any, and yet these Men being inlisted during the War, and at five dollars per Month, ought not (in my judgment) to be discharged, as we find it almost as difficult to get Men as Arms. This is a matter of some importance which I should be glad to receive the particular opinion of Congress upon.1

Mr Baldwin, is one of the Assistant Engineers ordered to Canada—He is indeed a very useful Man in his department, but declined the Service on Account of his pay, which he says is inadequate to his Support. In order to induce him to continue, I promised to represent his Case to Congress, and would recommend an increase of his pay, and that he should have the rank of Lieutinant Colonel, of which he is very deserving. I beg leave therefore to recommend him to the Congress, and that they would make provision for him accordingly.2

A few days ago application was made to me by the Committee of Safety for this Colony for an Exchange of Prisoners, for the particulars I beg leave to refer you to their Letter a Copy of which you have inclosed—As there is a standing Order of Congress that no Sailors or Soldiers shall be exchanged for Citizens—I did not incline to comply with their request without the particular direction of Congress, But I have been since informed that the Prisoners mentiond in the Committees Letter as Citizens are really Seamen taken from private Vessells, but not in Arms—How far this may alter the Case, or how far the reasons which induced the Congress to pass the resolve abovementioned may still exist must be left to their determination.3

The Militia, which on my application were Ordered to this place to keep possession until I should arrive with the Continental Forces, were obliged to return home without their pay, as there was not then Money sufficient in the Treasury for that purpose and to answer the Exigencies of the Army—This occasion’d great uneasiness among them and may be attended with very bad consequences in case we should have occasion for their Service on any future emergency—I therefore beg the Congress would make provision for their pay, and point out particularly whether it is to be done by the Commander of the Continental Forces or by the Provincial Assemblies or Conventions from whence they are sent.4

As the time for which the Rifle Men inlisted will expire on the first of July next, and as the loss of such a valuable and brave body of Men will be of great injury to the Service, I would submit it to the Consideration of Congress whether it would not [be] best to adopt some method to induce them to Continue—They are indeed a very useful Corps, but I need not mention |this, as their importance is already well known to the Congress; It is necessary they should pay an early attention to this matter, as we know from past experience that men are very slow in reinlisting.5

When I had the honor of seeing Admiral Hopkins at New London he represented to me the weak State of his Fleet, occasion’d by Sickness, and the damage he receiv’d in his engagement with the Enemy and requested I would spare him 200 Men to assist him in a design he had formed of attacking Wallace—This I readily consented to, & the Men are to be return’d as soon as the Service is performed.6

I wish it was in my power at present to furnish General Lee with the Companies of Artillery he desires—I have already sent two Companies to Quebec, and I have not yet been able to procure a return of those that are here—I expect Colonel Knox every Moment and shall then be able to determine whether any can be spared from hence—Blanketts we are in great want of ourselves, and it was with great difficulty a few could be procured for the Rifle Men that were Ordered for Canada.7

I inclose you Mr Winthrop’s receipt for two hundred thousand dollars brought some time ago from Philadelphia by Major Sherburne, which you will Please to deliver to the Continental Treasurers.8

On my arrival here I found that Mr Livingston had been appointed by the Provincial Congress a Commissary to furnish the Continental Troops station’d in this City, with Provisions—I suppose this was done because there was no Continental Commissary then on the Spot. Mr Livingston still claims a right of furnishing all the Troops but those lately arrived from Cambridge. Mr Trumbull is now here, and as I consider him as the principal in that Office I should be glad to know whether any part of the Continental Troops is to be furnish’d by any other than their Commissary General—I must needs say that to me it appears very inconsistent, and must create great confusion in the Accounts as well as in the Contracts. I intended to have laid before Congress the Amount of the rations as supplied by Colonel Trumbull and Mr Livingston, and called upon those Gentlemen to furnish me with a seperate Estimate for that purpose—Colo. Trumbull has given me his, by which it appears he supplies the Troops at 8d. ⅓ per ration. I have not yet receiv’d any from Mr Livingston but am inform’d his Contract is at 10d. ½—The difference is immense as it will amount to no less than two hundred Pounds per Day for 20,000 Men—It is indeed to be considered that Mr Livingston’s Contract is including every other Charge, and that to Mr Trumbull’s must be added Store hire, Clerks & every other Contingent Expence, but even then it will not amount to so much as Mr Livingstons by a penny per ration which in the Gross will be something very considerable—I thought it my duty, without prejudice or partiality to state the matter fully to Congress that they might take such Order upon it as to them shall seem necessary[.] I cannot however in justice to Mr Trumbull help adding that he has been indefatigable in supplying the Army, and I beleive from his Connections in New England, is able to do it on as good terms as any Person in America.9

The several matters contained in the foregoing I must beg the early attention of Congress to, and that I may be favord with an Answer as soon as possible. I have the honor to be most respectfully Sir Your most obedient Servant

Go: Washington

LS, in William Palfrey’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, DLC: Hancock Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 25 April (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 , 4:307).

1In a resolution of 26 April Congress agreed that for the present time no troops should be disbanded for the lack of arms and recommended that GW apply to the New York provincial congress and committee of safety for arms taken from Loyalists or any others available (ibid., 312; see also GW to the New York Committee of Safety, 29 April 1776).

2Congress gave Jeduthan Baldwin the rank and pay of lieutenant colonel on 26 April (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 , 4:312).

3GW enclosed a copy of the New York committee of safety’s letter of 17 April. The Continental Congress’s earlier resolve regarding the exchange of prisoners is dated 2 Dec. 1775 (ibid., 3:400). Although GW again asked for guidance on this matter in his letter to Hancock of 11 May, he apparently received no specific answer. When Congress acted on 22 July 1776 to empower the commander of each military department to negotiate exchanges, it reiterated its formula of 2 Dec. 1775: citizen for citizen, soldier for soldier, and officer for officer of equal rank. Congress then added, however, that states could make any exchange they thought proper “for prisoners taken from them or by them” (ibid., 5:598–99).

4The governments of the colonies that furnished the militiamen were requested by a resolution of 26 April “speedily to transmit to Congress, authenticated muster rolls, and accounts of monies due to such respective militias, in order to their being immediately settled and discharged” (ibid., 4:312).

5Congress had approved the reenlistment of the riflemen on 15 April (ibid., 284; see also Hancock to GW, 27 April 1776).

6Congress expressed its approval of this assistance in a resolution of 26 April (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 4:312). For GW’s request for the return of the men and the commodore’s reluctant compliance, see GW to Hopkins, 25 April, and Hopkins to GW, 1, 12, 22 May 1776.

7“I find myself a good deal distressed for artillery men and officers,” Charles Lee wrote to Hancock from Williamsburg on 6 April. “I apprehend gener[al] Washington could now without inconvenience spare us a company from the main army[.] The regiments are here compleat in numbers . . . but horribly deficient in arms, shoes and blankets—The deficiency of arms, I know is general therefore shall not venture to apply for ’em. But if blankets could possibly be procured a multitude of lives would be saved for the night dews in this country [are] very destructive” (DLC:GW). Hancock apparently enclosed a copy of Lee’s letter in his letter to GW of 20 April, along with Congress’s resolution of 19 April desiring GW to send Lee an artillery company “if it may be done consistent with the general good of the service” (DLC:GW; see also 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 , 4:296). Henry Knox arrived at New York on 30 April. GW did not send any artillery to the southern department this spring, but on 18 and 19 Mar. Congress had ordered Louis O’hickey d’Arundel (Dohickey Arundel), an experienced French artillery officer, to join Lee and serve as captain of an artillery company that Lee was directed to raise in Virginia (ibid., 211–12, 241; see also Hancock to Lee, 1 April 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 , 3:469).

8William Winthrop (1753–1826), the youngest son of Professor John Winthrop of Harvard College, was currently acting as agent at New York for the paymaster general, James Warren, who had stayed in Boston. Two receipts signed by Winthrop on 23 April, each for $100,000, are in DLC:GW. When Palfrey became paymaster general on 4 May, Winthrop turned over all the records in his hands to him. Although Hancock recommended Winthrop to Palfrey as his clerk, Winthrop was not so engaged by the new paymaster general.

9On 16 Feb. 1776 the New York provincial congress appointed New York City merchant Abraham Livingston (1754–1782) commissary for the troops arriving in the city from Westchester and Dutchess counties, and on 16 Mar. 1776 Livingston made a contract with the provincial congress to furnish all of the Continental troops in the colony with provisions at 10½ d. New York currency per ration for the ensuing six months (N.Y. Prov. Congress Journals description begins Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety, and Council of Safety of the State of New-York, 1775–1776–1777. 2 vols. Albany, 1842. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends , 1:303, 367). For the controversy over that contract and Livingston’s voluntary relinquishment of it, see General Orders, 24 May 1776, and note 2. For Joseph Trumbull’s estimate of the cost of a ration at New York, see Trumbull to GW, 19 April 1776.

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