George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Wharton, 8 August 1777

From Thomas Wharton

In Council Philadelphia August 8. 1777


Complaints has been made to the Council by William McIlvaine Esqr. chief Burgess of the Burrough of Bristol against Major alias Capt. Sims of the thirteenth Virginia regiment as having greatly insulted & abused the sd Burgess, and in support of the Complaint has laid the inclosed deposition & Letter before Us.1

As it is of the greatest importance that the civil Magistrate should be supported we request your Excellency will order Major (or Captain) Sims either to make Satisfaction to Mr McIlvaine or give bail for his appearance at the next Court of Quarter Sessions of the peace for the County of Bucks to answer the charge which may be then brought against him.

Df, PHarH: Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments, 1775–1790.

1The enclosed letter and deposition contain allegations that a detachment of Continental army soldiers under the command of Maj. Charles Simms committed “outrages” and “abuses” against Dr. William McIlvaine while quartered at McIlvaine’s property at the Bristol springs. Two undated copies of McIlvaine’s letters are in PHarH: Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments, 1775–1790, one of which is endorsed in part “Originals Sent to Genl Washington,” and a copy of the deposition in the same location is docketed in part “reced August 10th 1777.” Neither of the originals have been found, however. In his letter McIlvaine accuses Simms of forfeiting “both the Carracter of a Citizen & a Soldier, setting at defiance both the civil and Millitary Powers,” and includes the deposition as proof that Simms is deserving of punishment. The deposition, signed by Alexander McDowell and John Dowdney, two local magistrates who also played minor roles in the affair, alleges that the troops “made forcible entry in to the Stables and outhouses of the said Doctor McIlvain; the said Alexander McDowell immediately applied to Major alia Capt. Sims, to remove his Troops from said Stables &c. to the Bath house, which was to be appropriated to the use of his Detachment, that upon the Said Sims’s refusing to move his Men the said Alexander McDowell enquired how many men he had in the Bath house Said Sims replied Sixty, said McDowell told him it was Sufficent to contain upwards of One Hundred by repeated experience and of consequence sufficiently convenient for the Troops lying in Said Stables &c. upon which Said Sim’s added [‘]by God Sir where my troops are there they shall Stay.’

“Doctor McIlvain then regretted to Said Sims, that he was thus burthend with troops, to which said Sims returnd that he would not move them, as it was raining, tho the Deponent Saies it realy was not raining at that Time—Doctor McIlvain then told said Sims it was an Imposition, [‘]What do you mean[’] said Sims [‘]it is no imposition.[’]

“[‘]By God sais Doctor McIlvain it is an Imposition You have no right to lay on any Subject.’ Upon which said Sims with a menacing air made a reach at the Doctor with a supposed Intention of wringing his Nose. The Doctor prevented him from that and Steped back saying [‘]Dont insult a naked Man’ upon which Sims leaped from his horse and Scared the Doctor, at the same time striking him with his fist. The Doctor resented the insult and a Fray ensued which lasted till the Doctor was brought to the ground, when the bystanding officers closed in a circle and desired Sims to kick and abuse the Doctor, holding up their side arms to prevent a Resque.” John Dowdney, who was also a deputy barracks master general, testifies that he had a surly conversation with Simms over the placement of Simms’s men, and that McIlvain attempted to accommodate the troops by asking one of the officers to bring twenty of his men to his private dwelling. Although GW replied to Wharton on 9 Aug., no evidence of the outcome of McIlvaine’s complaint has surfaced.

Charles Simms (1755–1819) of Alexandria, Va., was commissioned major of the 12th Virginia Regiment in November 1776. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 6th Virginia Regiment in September 1777 and transferred to the 2d Virginia Regiment in September 1778. GW named Simms to the board of officers for the court martial of Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold in May 1779, and in June 1779 GW appointed Simms to superintend the Continental hospitals in Pennsylvania, Simms’s native state before the war. In August 1779 Simms sought an extended leave of absence from active service for the purpose of surveying his western lands, a request that GW could not but refuse, although he allowed that Simms was “a brave intelligent and good Officer” (GW to John Jay, 19 Aug. 1779). Simms resigned his commission in December 1779. GW also had dealings with Simms after the war, occasionally calling upon him for assistance in legal matters, and both men were members of the Potowmack Company.

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