George Washington Papers

Instructions to Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, 21 September 1777

Instructions to Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton

[c.21 September 1777]1


The distressed situation of the army for want of blankets and many necessary articles of Cloathing, is truly deplorable; and must inevitably be destructive to it, unless a speedy remedy be applied. Without a better supply than they at present have, it will be impossible for the men to support the fatigues of the campaign in the further progress of the approaching inclement season. This you well know to be a melancholy truth. It is equally the dictate of common sense and the opinion of the Physicians of the army as well as, of every officer in it. No supply can be drawn from the public magazines—We have therefore no resource but from the private stock of individuals. I feel, and I lament, the absolute necessity of requiring the inhabitants to contribute to those wants which we have no other means of satisfying, and which if unremoved, would involve the ruin of the army, and perhaps the ruin of America. Painful as it is to me to order and as it will be to you to execute the measure, I am compelled to desire you immediately to proceed to Philadelphia, and there procure from the inhabitants, contributions of blankets and Cloathing and materials to answer the purposes of both; in proportion to the ability of each. This you will do with as much delicacy and discretion as the nature of the business demands; and I trust the necessity will justify the proceeding in the eyes of every person well affected to the American cause; and that all good citizens will chearfully afford their assistance to soldiers, whose sufferings they are bound to commisserate, and who are eminently exposed to danger and distress, in defense of every thing they ought to hold dear.

As there are also a number of horses in Philadelphia both of public and private property, which would be a valuable acquisition to the enemy, should the city by any accident fall into their hands,2 You are hereby authorised and commanded to remove them thence into the Country to some place of greater security and more remote from the operations of the enemy.3

You will stand in need of assistance from others, to execute this commission with dispatch and propriety; and you are therefore impowered to employ such persons as you shall think proper to aid you therein.4 Given.5

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Robert Hanson Harrison docketed the undated draft: “Sept. 1777. To Colo. Hamilton Instructions.” Although this document is dated 22 Sept. in Sparks, Writings description begins Jared Sparks, ed. The Writings of George Washington; Being His Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, and Other Papers, Official and Private, Selected and Published from the Original Manuscripts. 12 vols. Boston, 1833–37. description ends , 5:67–68, Ford, Writings description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. The Writings of George Washington. 14 vols. New York, 1889–93. description ends , 6:78–79, and Fitzpatrick, Writings description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799. 39 vols. Washington, D.C., 1931–44. description ends , 9:248–49, the letter that hamilton wrote to Hancock on 22 Sept. at Philadelphia indicates that these instructions were issued on the previous date: “I left camp last evening and came to this city to superintend the collection of blankets and cloathing for the army” (Syrett, Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 1:331–32).

2At this place on the draft manuscript, Hamilton first wrote and then struck out the phrase: “As horses also are much wanted for the use of the army; and there are a great number in Philadelphia.”

3In Philadelphia on 23 Sept. Hamilton wrote Lt. Col. Anthony Walton White: “In consequence of orders received from His Excellency General Washington, I desire you will press all the horses in this city, & neighbourhood—in order to be conveyed thence to some place more remote from the present seat of the war, except such as come under the following description: Those which are the property of poor needy persons, whose livelihood depends upon them, and those which belong to transient persons, or persons who are on the point of leaving the city, and will want their horses for the purpose. This is the general outline of your duty: such deviations as particular circumstances may require are left to your discretion” (photocopy, NjP: Von Hemert Autograph Collection).

4At this place on the draft manuscript, Hamilton first wrote: “in the business you are upon.” He then struck out that phrase and inserted “therein” above the line.

5This word is the beginning of the phrase used in most of the closings to GW’s instructions: “Given under my hand.”

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