George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 6 June 1777

To John Hancock

Head Qrs Middle Brook June [6]th1 1777.


I this morning had the Honor of your Letter of the 5th with its inclosures.

The Resolution of the 30th of May, respecting the French Gentlemen, who came passengers in the Amphitrite, reached Camp before your Letter and has excited much uneasiness in the Artillery Corps. The inclosed Copy of a Letter from Genl Knox will convey their anxiety upon the Subject, & which I think it necessary to transmit, as well from duty as on account of his request.2

The difficulties upon this occasion arise from the peculiar circumstances of most of the Officers composing the Artillery Regiments at this time. I do not know for my own part, what Operation Congress precisely meant the Resolution should have, but if the Commissions which these Gentlemen are to receive, should give them rank from the date of those they had from the King of France, or from their compact with Mr Dean, there are but few Officers now in the Artillery, who will not be superseded in their command, unless some method is adopted to prevent it. This I am persuaded Congress had not in contemplation, because it is opposed to policy, & to justice, & I am led to beleive, the Resolution was come into for want of due information how matters were circumstanced in this instance.

The Officers now in the Artillery, I am obliged to consider of great merit. Experience has proved them to be most warmly attached to the rights of their Country, and their conduct in the line of their profession, has been such, as does3 the highest honor to themselves & the Gentleman who immediately commands them. Without derogating the least from the character of the French Officers, who are to be commissioned, and whom I wish to receive every countenance they merit, there is strong reason to doubt, laying aside every consideration of policy, whether they have seen as much real service as our own in the course of Two Campaigns. It would be hard—not to say unjust, that the latter should loose their command, when they have a claim to every mark of favor, & after they have taken great pains to form their Companies. The service requires that they should not, and I am convinced the Event would be attended with the most fatal consequences. But what is to be done? This is a case of difficulty, view it as you will. I am not for rejecting the French Gentlemen—far Otherwise—I am for employing them—public faith and the encouragements given to bring them over demand that it should be done. After much thought & consideration upon the Subject, Two modes occur to me, as only possible by which it can be effected, and by which the inconveniences I have mentioned can be remedied. One is, that a New Corps of Artillery should be formed and these Gentlemen attached to it. This we have reason to fear cannot be done, from the difficulties we have experienced in raising Men & from their having no Interest or connexions with the people. Their situation in such case, if they are Men of Sentiment and active dispositions would be irksome & distressing. The Other is, that our present Officers, now under consideration should have their Commissions antedated to give them precedency of rank; And this may be done with the greater propriety, as most of them were intended to hold the posts they now sustain before the French Gentlemen had any claim upon us. It is true, they were not commissioned, Because the Old Corps existed under the first arrangement: Further it is said, and there is no doubt of the fact, that these Gentlemen were promoted by Brevet, just before their departure from France merely to give them rank here, antecedent to which our Officers were superior to them in this point; And those Brevets only confer local rank—confined to the French American Colonies. This latter mode appears the most eligible; If it is adopted, they will be distributed through the Corps as Assistant Officers; their want of a knowledge in our language incapacitates them for command in the first instance, and not only so, but to place them at the Head of Companies over Officers that have been at great trouble—pains and expence in raising the Men, would be both unmilitary and unjust. I shall now quit the Subject, wishing that whatever will best conciliate matters, and advance the public good may be done—suggesting at the same time with all deference, as it is much easier to prevent Evils, than to remedy them after they have happened, it will be well in all cases of Foreign & indeed Other Applications, that the consequences which granting them will involve, should be maturely weighed & taken in every point of view. In the present case of difficulty, things I am persuaded, might have been adjusted with the greatest facility, had the Committee of Foreign Applications, been fully possessed of All the circumstances respecting the Artillery Regiments.

By a Letter from Genl Gates of the 2d Instant transmitting a Copy of One from Genl Poor, the Enemy, who were at Split Rock according to their last advices which I forwarded, have returned down the Lake. Captn Whetcomb had been sent out to reconoitre and reported on his return, that only One Boat remained.

From Sundry Accounts from New York there is reason to beleive the Enemy are on the point of making some expedition. Their preparation of Ships for Troops—Light Horse &c. indicates that they intend to go by Water. What their Object is, yet remains a Secret. The inclosed Copy of an Examination, is very particular & as recent as any that I have received. The person who gave the information belongs to Cape May County & appeared to be a sensible—intelligent Lad.4 A Deserter of the 71st this moment came in. You also have his Examination inclosed.5 I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir Yr Most Obedt sert

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 9 June 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 , 8:427–28).

1Although the LS and the copy of the LS in DNA:PCC, item 169, are dated 5 June, the draft and Varick transcript are dated 6 June. Richard Kidder Meade first dated the draft 5 June, but then he or Harrison, who added the last two paragraphs to it, changed the date to 6 June. GW’s acknowledgment of Hancock’s letter to him of 5 June in the first paragraph indicates that this letter was written on 6 June. The enclosure of the 7 June examination of British deserter William Mitchell indicates that the letter was not dispatched to Philadelphia until that date.

3At this place on the manuscript of the LS, Harrison first wrote the word “them,” and he then struck it out.

4Enoch Willis, who left New York on 5 June, says in the enclosed undated examination “that he worked on Board a small Vessel fitting up for Horses; that she had in 36 Butts of water & about 50 Bundles of Hay, and was to have 30 Days Provision, she cou’d carry only 11 horses—that he thinks there were at least 50 Vessels Vizt sloops, schooners, & small Brigs, fitted for the reception of horses; three or four of which had taken in their quantity the morning he came away, that about ten days ago, he worked on board a Ship which was to take in Troops and six months Provision & water, that the greatest part of the Troops were bro’t over from Staten Island to N. York which it was said were to Embark on board the Transports laying there—that a reinforcement had arrived within these four Days said to consist of 2,000 Men from Europe, but it was surmised they came from Quebec, he saw four of the Ships & the Men on Board were all Hessians—that many ships with Troops on Board had fallen down towards Staten Island—that Philadelphia was the object talked of. that there is an exceeding hot press in N. York for the purpose of manning their Vessels—dont spare the Inhabitants or Trade’men of the City—that the Ships had all the flat Boats in, which they could collect & he understood the Pontoons were also to be put on Board” (DLC:GW).

5This examination, dated 7 June, reads: “William Mitchell of the 71st light Company stationed at Brunswic at the old Bridge. He crossd at the new Bridge last Evening at 9 o’Clock and arrived here this morning about 10 OClock. He heard it read in orders Yesterday that the British Troops were to proceed in 6 days for New York and there to embark. That the Transport Ships were to be drawn for by different Regiments, That 10,000 Fascines were about making and imagines all will be finished to day. The report among some in the Camp is that they are destined for Boston and among others for Philada. All their heavy Baggage removed three days since and embarked at New York. Last Monday week [26 May] in the Affair at Bound Brook Majr Strabenzie [Turner Straubenzee] was badly wounded in the Shoulder, and Genl [James] Grants Horse had his Head shot off. The flat Boats which were at Brunswic upon Carriages are taken off and sent towards New York” (DLC:GW).

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