George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hancock, 7 June 1776

From John Hancock

Philadelphia June 7th 1776.


The enclosed Letter from the Commissioners in Canada, I am commanded by Congress to transmit to you. The Contents of it are truly alarming. Our Army in that Quarter is almost ruined for Want of Discipline, and every Thing else necessary to constitute an Army, or to keep Troops together. The Congress, in this Situation of our Affairs, have resolved that Genl Wooster be recalled from Canada. I am therefore to request, you will immediately order him to repair to Head Quarters at New York.1

Yesterday I sent off an Express to Genl Mercer with Orders to set out directly for Head Quarters, and at the same Time enclosed his Commission.2

I enclose you a Resolve respecting Docr Potts’s appointment in Canada.3 You will please to give him Orders to go, either into Canada or to Lake George, as you may think most proper. I have the Honour to be With every Sentiment of Regard & Esteem Sir your most obedt & very hble Ser.

John Hancock Presidt

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 12A.

1Commissioners Charles Carroll of Carrollton and Samuel Chase wrote to Hancock on 27–28 May from Montreal: “Genl Thomas is now at Chambly under the small Pox, being taken with that Disorder he left the Camp at Sorrel and wrote to Genl Wooster to come & take the Command. When the Interest of our Country & the Safety of your Army is at Stake, we think it a very improper Time to conceal our Sentiments either with Respect to Persons or Things. Genl Wooster is in our opinion totally unfit to command your Army and conduct the War. We have hitherto prevailed on him to remain in Montreal. His Stay in this Colony is unnecessary, and even prejudicial to our Affairs. We would therefore humbly advise his Recall.

“In our last we informed you of the deplorable State of the Army. Matters have not mended since. We went to the Mouth of Sorrel last Week, where we found all Things in Confusion. There is little or no Discipline among your Troops; nor can any be kept up while the Practice of enlisting for a 12 Month continues. The genl officers are all of this opinion. Your Army is badly paid; and so exhausted is your Credit, that even a Cart cannot be procured without ready Money or Force. . . . We cannot find Words strong enough to describe our miserable Situation. You will have a faint Idea of it, if you figure to yourself an Army broken & disheartned, half of it under Inoculation or under other Diseases—Soldiers without Pay, without Discipline, and altogether reduced to live from hand to Mouth, depending on the scanty & precarious Supplies of a few half starved Cattle, and trifling Quantities of Flour, which have hitherto been picked up in different Parts of the Country.” The commissioners also give a detailed account of Arnold’s attempt to rescue the prisoners captured at the Cedars (DLC:GW; see also 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 , 4:80–85).

Congress read this letter on 6 June and promptly responded by ordering a copy of it to be sent to GW and directing Wooster to go to New York (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 , 5:420–21; see also the enclosed copies of those resolves in DLC:GW).

3Congress resolved on 6 June “that Doctr Jonathan Potts be employed as a physician and surgeon in the Canada department or at lake George as the general shall direct, but that this appointment shall not supersede Dr Stringer” (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 , 5:424). For a discussion of Potts’s appointment, see GW to Hancock, 25–26 April 1776, n.17.

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