George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Parke Custis, 22 January 1777

To John Parke Custis

Morris Town Jany 22d 1777

Dear Sir,

Your Letter of the 7th came to my hands a few days ago, and brot with it the pleasing reflection of your still holding me in remembrance.1

The misfortune of short Inlistments, and an unhappy dependance upon Militia, have shewn their baneful Influence at every period, and almost upon every occasion, throughout the whole course of this War. at no time, nor upon no occasion were they ever more exemplified than since Christmas; for if we could but have got in the Militia in time, or prevaild upon those Troops whose times expired (as they generally did) on the first of this Instt to have continued (not more than a thousand or 1200 agreeing to stay) we might, I am perswaded, have cleard the Jerseys entirely of the Enemy. Instead of this, all our movements have been made with inferior numbers, & with a mix’d, motley crew; who were here today, gone tomorrow, without assigning a reason, or even apprising you of it. In a word, I believe I may with truth add, that I do not think that any Officer since the Creation ever had such a variety of difficulties & perplexities to encounter as I have—How we shall be able to rub along till the New Army is raised I know not. Providence has heretofore saved us in a remarkable manner, and on this we must principally rely. Every person, in every State, should exert himself to facilitate the raising and Marching the New Regiments to the Army with all possible expedition.

I have never seen (but heard of) the Resolve you mention, nor do I get a Paper of Purdies once a Month—those who want faith to believe the Acct of the shocking wastes committed by Howes Army—of their Ravaging—Plundering—& abuse of Women, may be convinced to their Sorrow perhaps, if a check cannot be put to their progress.2

It is painful to me to hear of such illiberal reflections upon the Eastern Troops as you say prevails in Virginia—I always have, and always shall say, that I do not believe that any of the States produce better men, or Persons capable of making better Soldiers; but it is to be acknowledged that they are (generally speaking) most ⟨wretchedly officered—⟩to this, and this only, ⟨their demerits⟩ is to be attributed. the Policy of those States has been, to level men as much as possible to one standard. the distinction therefore ⟨between officers⟩ & Soldiers, is lost—⟨determination mutilated⟩ is destroyed—and that hunger, & thirst after glory which spurs on the ⟨mutilated⟩ to distinguishd Acts, has ⟨mutilated⟩ Officers; which, for the most part, ⟨mutilated⟩ are men of low Character, Friends persons, & such as have had Influence (perhaps undue Influence) to raise Men—entering the Service probably, ⟨mutilated of pay which they gain by, for Gentlemen cannot live upon it.

This is the true secret, and we have found, that wherever a Regiment is well Officered, the Men have behaved well—when otherwise, ill—the ⟨misconduct⟩ or cowardly behaviour always originating with the Officers, who have set the example. Equal Injustice is done them, in depriving them of Merit in other respects; for no People fly to Arms readier than they do, or come better equip’d, or with more regularity into the Field than they.

With respect to your enqu⟨iries about the payment⟩s made Mr Matzai ⟨I cannot⟩ answer them with precission, b⟨ut I am ex⟩ceedingly mistaken if I have not made him two, for both you and myself. indeed I am as sure of it as I can be of any thing from the badness of my Memory—I think I made him one payment myself, and the Treasurer, or Hill made him the other. The Book however in which I keep your Accts will shew it (the parchment covered Quarto one) as you will, I suppose, find your self charged by me, with the payments made Matzai.3

In my Letter to Lund Washington I have given the late occurrances—& to avoid repetition I refer you to him.4 My love to Nelly—& Compliments to Mr Calvts Family & all other enquiring friends leaves me nothing else to add than that I am Yr Affecte

Go: Washington

ALS, ViHi. The mutilated text in angle brackets in the fourth paragraph was caused by heavy ink markings, apparently made after the letter was received, and the remainder of the text in angle brackets occurs along the folds of the document. GW addressed the cover: “To John Parke Custis Esqr. at Mount Vernon Virginia.” Excerpts from this letter were published in Purdie’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg) on 14 Feb. 1777.

1Custis’s letter to GW of 7 Jan. has not been found.

2GW may be referring to resolutions passed by the Virginia general assembly on 21 Dec. 1776 and printed in the supplement issue of Purdie’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg) on 27 Dec. 1776, and again on 3 Jan. 1777. The first resolution sought to “forward and encourage the recruiting service” in Virginia, and the second resolution gave Gov. Patrick Henry and the privy council special powers to defend the state while the general assembly was out of session. Alexander Purdie (d. 1779) printed and edited the Virginia Gazette, one of two newspapers being published in Williamsburg by that name at this time. The 27 Dec. issue of the newspaper also printed allegations of rape committed by British soldiers in New Jersey.

3Philip Mazzei (1730–1816), an Italian wine merchant, arrived in Williamsburg in the fall of 1773, and with the encouragement of Thomas Jefferson purchased land near Monticello, Jefferson’s mountaintop home in Albemarle County, Va., to attempt an agricultural experiment “for the Purpose of raising and making Wine, Oil, agruminous Plants and Silk” (Plan of Philip Mazzei’s Agricultural Company, 1774, in Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 1:156–59). The venture was subscribed to by about thirty prominent Virginians, including both Custis and GW who bought one share each at £50 sterling per share, payable in four six-month installments beginning in November 1774. Entries in GW’s cash accounts show that the first payment of £12.10 for each share was made on 21 Nov. 1774 (see Cash Accounts, November 1774). Although a memorandum that GW wrote the following spring shows that GW planned “at all events” to pay the second installment on time, no receipts have been identified for the final three installments for either share (see GW’s Memorandum to Fielding Lewis, 30 April 1775, and its enclosure of that date, Money to Receive and to Pay). Mazzei’s agricultural venture collapsed during the Revolutionary War. In 1779 Gov. Patrick Henry sent Mazzei to France to borrow money for the state of Virginia. That scheme failed too, and Mazzei did not return to Virginia until late 1783. Mazzei paid a brief visit to GW at Mount Vernon in May 1785, shortly before he returned to Europe for good (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:140), and in the 1780s he wrote Recherches historiques et politiques sur les Etats-Unis de l’Amérique septentrionale, a scholarly four-volume history of America. James Hill (1736–1802), a planter from King William County, Va., was hired to manage the Custis estates in March 1772 after three of his neighbors wrote letters of recommendation to GW, one of which referred to his accounting abilities (see Hill to GW, 9 Dec. 1771, and note 1). Hill also served as GW’s agent on the York River (see GW to Thomas Newton, Jr., 10 July 1773).

4GW’s letter to Lund Washington has not been found.

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