George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Peters, 16 September 1776

From Richard Peters

War Office [Philadelphia] Septr 16th 1776

The Board of War have directed me to lay the foregoing Memorial of the Second Lieutenants of the Virginia Regiments before your Excellency for your Opinion & Advice thereon which the Board request you will communicate to them as soon as convenient.1 I have the Honor to be Your most obedt humble Servt

Richard Peters Secy


1Congress read this undated and unsigned petition from the second lieutenants of the 1st Virginia Regiment on 14 Sept. and referred it to the Board of War (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 , 5:760). Addressed to Congress, the document expresses the petitioners’ view that promotion of lieutenants should be based on date of commissioning rather than rank within companies, because, they say, their way to future advancement has been blocked by the many first lieutenants who have been “put over their heads” while they were on active duty and unable to seek “that preferment in their different Counties, which their services and friends would probably have procur’d them” (DNA:PCC, item 42).

That argument is refuted explicitly in an undated and unsigned petition addressed to GW about this time by the first lieutenants of the 3d Virginia Regiment. “Yr Memorialists,” they write, “woud humbly represent to yr Excellency the Mode by which the Troops were raised in Virginia. . . . Every first Lieutt took Command, & succeeded to a Company before any Second Lieutenant, altho the Commission of the 2d Lieut. was of elder date. The dating of Commissions of the Virgina Officers being from the Completion of the Companies, was the reason why any Second Lieut. bore a Commission of an elder date than a first Lieutenant. . . . Till very lately, no Second Lieutenant entertained an Idea, of ranking before a first Lieutenant—on the contrary, many of the eldest Second Lieutenants have (where Vacancies happened) received first Lieutenants Commissions; & many first Lieutenants, bearing Commissions of younger date than Second Lieutenants, have seceeded to Companies, without the smallest Objection on the part of the second Lieutenants, & this even in the Regiment to which the Petitioners belong” (DLC:GW).

GW returned the second lieutenants’ petition with his reply to the Board of War of 30 Sept., in which he says: “Having considered the inclosed Memorial which you were pleased to transmit for my advice thereon, I beg leave to inform you, that in my Opinion, the service will be most advanced in general cases, by directing promotions in a Regimental Line. However I should think this had better be practised than Resolved on, always exercising a right of promotion on account of extraordinary merit or preventing a succession to office where It is wanting and the person claiming unfit for it” (LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; see also the LB in DLC:GW and the Varick transcript in DLC:GW).

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