George Washington Papers

Circular to Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski and the Colonels of the Continental Light Dragoon Regiments, 25 October 1777

Circular to Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski and the Colonels of the Continental Light Dragoon Regiments

Head Quarters [Whitpain Township, Pa.]
October 25th 1777


I am sorry to find that the liberty I granted to the light dragoons of impressing horses near the enemy’s lines has been most horribly abused and perverted into a mere plundering scheme. I intended nothing more than that the horses belonging to the disaffected, in the neighbourhood of the British army, should be taken for the use of the dismounted dragoons, and expected, that they would be regularly reported to the Quarter master General, that an account might be kept of the number and the persons from whom they were taken, in order to a future settlement.1 Instead of this, I am informed that under pretence of the authority derived from me, they go about the country plundering whomsoever they are pleased to denominate tories, and converting what they get to their own private profit and emolument.2 This is an abuse that cannot be tolerated; and as I find the license allowed them, has been made a sanction for such mischeivous practices, I am under the necessity of recalling it altogether. You will therefore immediately make it known to your whole corps, that they are not under any pretence whatever to meddle with the horses or other property of any inhabitant whatever, on pain of the severest punishment, for they may be assured as far as it depends upon me that military execution will attend all those who are caught in the like practice hereafter.

the more effectually to put it out of their power to elude this prohibition, all the horses in your corps, in the use of the Non Commissioned officers and privates, not already stamped with the Continental brand are without loss of time to be brought to the Qr Master General to receive that brand; and henceforth if any of them shall be found with horses that are without it, they shall be tried3 for marauding and disobedience of orders.

I am fully confident, you will be equally disposed with me to reprobate and abolish the practice complained of; and will adopt the strictest measures to fulfil the intention of this letter, and prevent its continuance in future. I am Sir Yr most Obedt ser.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Copies were sent to colonels Theodorick Bland, Elisha Sheldon, George Baylor, and Stephen Moylan.

2One of GW’s informants apparently was Samuel Potts of Pottstown, Pa., who petitioned GW on 2 Oct., complaining “That under Colour of an Order or Writing whereof ⟨the⟩ annex⟨ed⟩ is a true Copy a certain Cornet Brown this Morning entered the Stable of your Petitioner at the Town aforesaid and forcibly seized and carried off three Horses the Property of your Petitioner; Against which illegal Proceedings he begs leave to remonstrate for the following Reasons.

“1st Because General Poliski had no Power or Authority to issue an Order to divest the Peaceable Inhabitants of this Country of their Property without their Consent.

“2ndly Because the said Order is illegal; inasmuch as it vests the sd Cornet Brown with a dangerous and Arbitrary Power of determining who are Whigs and who are Tories and to take without Colour of Law the Property of those whom he, tho’ a perfect Stranger, may upon false information please to call the latter.

“3rdly Because the said Cornet Brown, when told that he was more than fifteen Miles from Worcester Township, under the Pretense of having further Verbal Orders, exceeded the Limits of his said Warrant both as to the Place of taking, the Person whose Property he took, and the Horses by him carried off.

“Not doubting but your Excellency out of Regard to Law and Justice will immediately put a Check to Proceedings so indiscreet illegal and Arbitrary your Petitioner humbly prays that you would be pleased to order a Restoration of his Property to be made” (PHi). The enclosed impressment warrant has not been identified. John Brown (1762–1820) of New Jersey, who had served previously as a sergeant in Col. David Forman’s New Jersey militia regiment, became a cornet in Col. Elisha Sheldon’s 2d Continental Light Dragoon Regiment in January 1777, and he was promoted to lieutenant on 11 Oct. 1777. Brown resigned his commission in June 1779.

3At this place on the draft manuscript, Hamilton first wrote “deemed guilty.” He then struck out those words and wrote the word “tried.”

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