George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Elias Boudinot, 1 April 1777

To Elias Boudinot

Morris Town April 1st 1777


I am authorizd by Congress to appoint a Commissary of Prisoners1—The pay will, I expect, be about Sixty Dollars pr Month. The Duty, except as to confinement, not hard; at least after the business is once put into a proper train.

Close attendance on the Army will be requisite, in order to receive and distribute the Prisoners to places assign’d for their confinement; at each of which some person should be appointed to see that they are taken care of—that they receive what is allowed them—And, that proper Accts are kept of their expences.

The most troublesome part of this Office will be, to obtain Accts of the Expences already Incurred, for after this is once done, the business may be put upon such a footing as to be managed with regularity & ease.

I intend to annex another duty to this Office; and that is, the procuring of Intelligence. The Gentleman2 ingaged in the department of Commissary of Prisoners will have as much leizure, and better oppertunities, than most other Officers in the Army, to obtain knowledge of the Enemys Situation—Motions—and (as far as may be) designs.

Thus Sir, in concise terms, have I given you a sketch of the duties of, and my expectations from, a Commissary of Prisoners; and now, give me leave to ask, if you will accept the Appointment?3 With very great esteem and regard, I am—Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, CtSoP: on deposit at Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW addressed the cover of the LS: “To Elias Boudenot Esqr. Baskenridge.”

Elias Boudinot (1740–1821), an attorney from Elizabeth, N.J., who in November 1776 had moved his family to the relative safety of Basking Ridge, N.J., for the duration of the war, was a brother-in-law of Richard Stockton and a close friend of Alexander Hamilton. Boudinot was elected a member of the Essex County and New Jersey committees of safety in 1774 and the provincial congress in 1775, and he served as an aide-de-camp to Gen. William Livingston during the summer of 1776. For his service from 1777 to 1778 as Continental commissary of prisoners, see note 3. Elected a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress in November 1777, Boudinot attended Congress in July and August 1778. He was elected to Congress again in July 1781 and attended it from that time to November 1783, serving as its president for the last twelve months of his attendance. Boudinot was a member of the U.S. Congress from 1789 to 1795 and superintendent of the U.S. Mint from 1795 to 1805.

1See Congress’s resolution of 27 Dec. 1776 in 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 , 6:1043. For GW’s previous efforts to fill this office, see GW to Joseph Reed, 23 Feb., Reed to GW, 8, 13, 22 Mar., and Nathanael Greene to GW, 24 Mar. 1777.

2GW’s draft reads: “the Person.”

3Boudinot says in his reminiscences that after receiving this letter, he called on GW “and politely declined the task, urging the wants of the Prisoners and having nothing to supply them: He [GW] very kindly objected to the conduct of gentlemen of the country refusing to join him in his arduous Struggle. That he had nothing in view but the salvation of his Country, but it was impossible for him to accomplish it alone: That if men of character and influence would not come forward and join him in his exertions, all would be lost—Affected by this address and Supposing that I could be of some service to the Prisoners and at the same time have an eye on the military Power and prevent its encroachments on the Civil authority, I consented to accept the Commission, on the General’s assurance that I should be supplied by the secret Committee of Congress with hard money for the relief of Prisoners and that I should only be subject to his orders, in the conduct of my department” (Boudinot, Elias Boudinot description begins J.J. Boudinot, ed. The Life, Public Services, Addresses, and Letters of Elias Boudinot, LL.D., President of the Continental Congress. 2 vols. Boston, 1896. description ends , 1:42–43). A draft of GW’s commission to Boudinot of 15 April is in DLC:GW. Congress on 6 June 1777 confirmed Boudinot’s appointment and resolved to allow him the pay and rations of a colonel (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 , 8:422). Boudinot resigned the office in May 1778 in order to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress.

Index Entries