George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Livingston, 1 November 1777

To William Livingston

Head Quarters [near Whitemarsh, Pa.] 1st November 1777


I think it not only incumbent upon me, but a duty which I owe the public, to represent to you the unaccountable Conduct of Brig: Genl. Newcomb at this critical time. As soon as the Enemy shewed a disposition to possess themselves of Billingsport and Red Bank I wrote to him in the most urgent manner to collect and keep up as many Militia as he possibly could to assist in the defence of Red Bank in particular, till I could afford a proper garrison of continental Troops, and altho’ I recd no very favorable accounts of his activity, or exertions, I imagined he had been doing something towards it.1 On the 26th ulto Genl Forman arrived at Red Bank with a few of his own continental Regt and some of the Monmouth Militia, and wrote me as follows “The lower Militia under Genl Newcomb have not as yet produced a single man. As being elder in command than Newcomb I have taken the liberty this day to issue orders for their immediate assembling, and will from time to time do every thing in my power to assemble them.” On the 29th he writes me again “previous to the rect of yours of the 27th I had given orders to several of the Militia Officers of this part of the Country to assemble their men, and have used my endeavours with Genl Newcomb to obtain a return of the Men it is said he has assembled, that they might be put on some duty either in the garrisons or on some out guards. But the General absolutely refuses to render me any account of himself or his Men, that I am not able to inform your Excelly whether he really has, or has not any men assembled.” In another paragraph of the same letter he says “Yet I think I could be able to collect a respectable Body of Militia was I able to overcome the obstinacy of, or to displace Genl Newcomb. From the best information I can collect, he has at no time given any assistance either to the garrison or the fleet particularly in the late attack upon Red Bank he neither harrassed the enemy in their advance, during the Assault, or in their Retreat. He thinks himself only accountable to the Governor or Major Genl Dickinson. I should be glad of your Excellency’s directions respecting my treatment of him.”2

I shall make no comments, but leave it to the opinion of yourself and the Gentlemen of the Legislature whether such a Man is fit to command in a part of the State immediately the object of the enemy’s attention, and in which the most vigorous measures ought to be pursued. If you would only direct him to obey Genl Forman as a senior Officer, much good to the Service would result from it.3

I had been more than commonly pressing with General Newcomb to assemble men at Red Bank, because I found by letters from Genl Forman that scarce any part of the 2000 Men ordered under his command to the reinforcement of this army, were, from a variety of circumstances, to be expected, and therefore I should be able to afford less Assistance of continental Troops to that valuable post.4

Colo. Dayton will inform you of the reduction of the Regiments of your State in point of Numbers, and of the distress they will labour under for want of necessaries, unless some measures can be fallen upon for supplying them. These are matters which deserve your most serious consideration, and which I recommend to your attention. It is in vain to think of filling up your Regiments by the common mode of inlistment, while the pernicious practice of hiring substitutes for the Militia prevails for what Man will engage to serve during the war, for a Bounty of twenty dollars, when he can get twice as much for serving one month in the Militia—Some of the Eastern States and Virginia have adopted the mode of drafting, and I am told it succeeds, and was the practice universal, the people would not think it a hardship. I do not mention this by way of dictating to, or directing you. I do it to shew, what has been found to answer the end in other States. I am confident that could we once be happy enough to fill the continental Regiments, we should never have occasion to trouble the Militia again.

Circumscribed as we are in our importations from abroad, the Cloathier General finds it impossible to comply with the full demands of the whole Army. It therefore becomes imcumbent upon the different States to endeavour to procure the most material Articles of Blankets Shoes and Stockings at this inclement Season. And I am convinced if assessments of those things were laid upon those only who do not perform military duty, enough might be found to make the troops comfortable. I have repeatedly sent out Officers to make collections, but they either do it partially, or neglect it wholly. I must therefore intreat you to lay this matter before your legislature as early as possible, and press them to make provision in such way as seems to them most likely to answer the end.5 I have the honor to be with great Regard Yr Excellency’s most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, MHi: William Livingston Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1For GW’s instructions to Brig. Gen. Silas Newcomb, see his letter to Newcomb of 22 October.

2For GW’s opinion about what should be done, see his letter to Forman of 31 October.

3See Livingston’s letter to Newcomb of 5 Nov., a copy of which was enclosed in and is printed as a note to Livingston’s letter to GW of the same date.

4For Brig. Gen. David Forman’s reports on his efforts to assemble militia, see Forman to GW, 11 and 15 October.

5Livingston on 5 Nov. wrote the New Jersey general assembly that the “Mode at present pursued of endeavouring to purchase [blankets, shoes, and stockings], appears from actual Experiment altogether ineffectual. The Friends of America in this State have generally parted with whatever of those Articles they could spare; the disaffected will not supply them voluntarily. The Consequence is evident, that either the Troops must remain unfurnished, or those who refuse to spare the Articles wanted, from their Superabundance, must be constrained to do it by a Law for that Purpose. Such a Law I would therefore recommend to your Consideration” (N.J. Proceedings of the General Assembly description begins Votes and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the State of New-Jersey. At a Session begun at Trenton on the 28th Day of October, 1777, and continued by Adjournments until the 8th of October, 1778. Being their Second Session. Trenton, 1779. description ends , Oct. 1777–Oct. 1778 sess., 10). Livingston’s letter was read before the assembly on 6 Nov., and the assembly passed a bill “to procure certain Articles of Cloathing for the Use of the New-Jersey Regiments on the continental Establishment” seven days later. After the assembly agreed to amendments by the legislative council, the bill became law on 25 Nov. (ibid., 11, 14, 16–18, 24, 26; N.J. Proceedings of the Legislative-Council description begins Journal of the Proceedings of the Legislative-Council of the State of New-Jersey, in General Assembly convened at Trenton on Tuesday the 28th Day of October, in the Year of our Lord 1777. Being their second Session. Trenton, 1779. description ends , Oct. 1777–Oct. 1778 sess., 11–13, 15–16; and N.J. Acts of the General Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of the State of New-Jersey. At a Session begun at Trenton on the 28th Day of October 1777, and continued by Adjournments. Being the first Sitting of their second Session. Burlington, N.J., 1778. description ends [25 Nov.—12 Dec. 1777], 3–7).

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