George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hancock, 9–12 November 1776

From John Hancock

Philada Novr 9[—c.12]th 1776.


You will perceive from the enclosed Resolve, that Congress having reconsidered their Vote of the 14th Octr, have agreed to give the former Allowance of one Dollar & one Third of a Dollar to the Officers on the Reinlistment of every Soldier in the Camp.1 The compleating the Army being at present an Object of the utmost Importance, the Congress are desirous of adopting every Means in their Power, to induce the Officers to fill up their respective Companies, as soon as possible.

You will please to take the most effectual Steps for punishing in an exemplary Manner, as far as the Articles of War will admit, all Deserters from the Army at this Time of Trial and Danger. The Baseness of those Officers and Soldiers who can turn their Backs upon their Country in her present Situation, merits the severest Chastisement.2

The enclosed Letter from Col: Miles to Mr Wister of this City, I am directed by Congress to transmit to you, that you may take such Steps relative to the Exchange of the Gentlemen therein mentioned, as you may judge proper.3

Mr Partridge, one of the Committee from the State of Massachussetts Bay, having laid before Congress, sundry Resolves of that State increasing the Pay of their Troops beyond what the Congress had given, they have come to a Resolution disapproving of that Measure; and have agreed, that the Troops in the American Army may be enlisted for three years, or during the War, as shall be most agreeable to them, subject to the Terms mentioned in the enclosed Resolves.4 I have the Honour to be with every Sentiment of Esteem & Respect, Sir, your most obed. & very hble Sert

John Hancock Presidt

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 12A. Although the last paragraph of this letter has no separate dateline, Hancock’s discussion in it of Congress’s resolutions of 12 Nov. concerning enlistment terms indicates that the paragraph must have been added to the letter on or shortly after that date (see note 4).

1The enclosed copy of this resolution of 7 Nov. is in 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 , 6:932). For the resolution of 14 Oct. that had temporarily abolished this recruiting allowance, see ibid., 874.

2Congress approved a resolution to this effect on 7 Nov. (see ibid., 933).

3Samuel Miles’s undated letter to William Wister suggesting Miles’s exchange for Deputy Postmaster Gen. John Foxcroft and the exchange of Col. Samuel John Atlee or Lt. Col. James Piper for Foxcroft’s secretary Francis Dashwood is in DLC:GW, ser. 4, with the documents dated 7 Nov. 1776, the date on which Congress read Miles’s letter and ordered it to be sent to GW (see ibid.). William Wister (1746–1800), Miles’s brother-in-law and business associate, was a prominent merchant in Philadelphia. Miles wrote GW on 10 Nov. requesting GW’s help in effecting his and the exchange of three other American officers including Piper (see GW to Miles, 25 Nov., and notes 1 and 2).

4The Massachusetts General Court resolved on 19 Oct. to use state funds to supplement by as much as twenty shillings a month the regular Continental pay of each Massachusetts noncommissioned officer and private who enlisted for the duration of the war (see Mass. House of Rep. Journal description begins A Journal of the Honorable House of Representatives of the Colony of the Massachusetts-Bay in New-England. Watertown, Mass., 1777. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records.) description ends , May 1776–Feb. 1777 sess., 128). When the Massachusetts committee of arrangement conferred with GW for the first time at his headquarters at noon on 2 Nov., it learned that this measure was “very disagreeable” to the commander in chief. “We informed him,” the committee wrote James Warren the next day, “of what we took to be the sense of the Assembly relative to the disposition of our people, and the means necessary to induce them to engage in the service, and that nothing would have influenced our Assembly to have made any addition to the establishment as settled by Congress, but its being absolutely necessary in order to [accomplish] our recruiting our quota of men. But it was clear in his Excellency’s mind, that, though it might promote the raising of our quota, yet it would effectually prevent the inlisting of the remainder of the Army, if [unless] the other Colonies should adopt similar measures, which, he thought, [they] never would do, as it was not without repeated applications that he could induce Congress to give them [the soldiers] a suit of clothes yearly; and further, he was of opinion that in case the other Colonies should be able to raise their quota on a lower [pay] establishment, they never could be brought to duty in the camp without murmuring, if not mutinying, and that he had seen convincing experiments of this kind in the year past in some southern regiments raised at five dollars per month, and brought to do duty with the other part of the Army. But he advised the Committee to make immediate application to Congress on this matter, and suspend the inlistments till we receive an answer. And as his advice comported with our instructions, we have appointed Mr. George Partridge to repair to Congress for instructions or advice; and should be glad of further instructions from the honourable Court how we shall conduct in case your resolves for raising our proportion of the new Army should be reprobated by Congress, which we do much expect. In the mean time we shall be employed in examining the characters of the officers recommended by the General for the new Army, and their minds relative to engaging” (Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 3:496; see also Timothy Danielson to the Committee of the Assembly of Massachusetts, 5–6 Nov., ibid., 521–22, and GW to Hancock, 11 November).

Partridge arrived at Philadelphia on the evening of 8 Nov., and on 9 Nov. Congress referred the matter of the supplemental Massachusetts pay to a committee of three members: James Wilson, Edward Rutledge, and George Wythe. That committee reported on 11 Nov., and the resolutions to which Hancock refers were passed on 12 Nov. (see Samuel Adams to James Warren, 9–12 Nov., 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 , 5:457–59; Hancock to the Massachusetts Assembly, 13 Nov., ibid., 478; and 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 , 6:936–37, 940, 944–45). In the first of these two resolutions Congress orders the Massachusetts committee of arrangement “not to inlist their men on the additional pay offered by the assembly of that state.” To make recruiting for the new army somewhat easier, however, Congress in the second resolution permits each noncommissioned officer and private soldier who enlists for three years to receive the twenty-dollar bounty and the same pay allowed to men who enlist for the duration of the war. Grants of 100 acres of land still are reserved exclusively for persons enlisting for the war (ibid., 944–45).

Partridge returned to the committee of arrangement at North Castle, N.Y., on the evening of 16 Nov., and that same evening the committee wrote Tristram Dalton, speaker of the Massachusetts house of representatives: “The Army, before our coming, were notified of the terms proposed by our Assembly for the inlistment of our quota of troops, and should we now endeavour to inlist them on the Continental plan, appears to us (were it contained in our commission) entirely fruitless” (Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 3:711–12). After consulting with several members of the General Court who were present, the committee nevertheless revised its recruiting orders to accord with Continental terms and proceeded to recruit what men it could. “A small number are inlisted on the plan of Congress,” the committee wrote the General Court on 7 December. “We thought proper, as we proceeded on different encouragement than was expected by the Assembly, to officer but six battalions. . . . We have given the officers and soldiers assurance, that if the State of Massachusetts Bay made any additions to the soldiers’ pay or bounty, those that inlisted on the Continental establishment before that took place, should be allowed the same” (ibid., 713).

George Partridge (1740–1828) represented Duxbury in the Massachusetts provincial congress from 1774 to 1775 and the state’s house of representatives from 1775 to 1779, when he was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress. Partridge served in the Continental Congress from 1779 to 1785, and he was a member of the U.S. Congress from 1789 to 1790.

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