George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Livingston, 5 November 1777

From William Livingston

Princeton [N.J.] 5 Novr 1777


I was last night honour’d with your Excellency’s Favour of the 1st Instant. General Newcombs Conduct is such as might naturally be expected from a Gentleman who was made a General, because your Excellency did not think him fit for a Collonel. I take the Liberty to inclose you a Copy of what I have wrote him;1 & if he makes any more Difficulties of that kind, I doubt not, by his present down-hill character with the present house, he will run a great risque of being superceeded, which I may venture to say would prove no Loss to his Country.

The Situation of our Troops respecting the Article of Cloathing Blankets &c. is truly deplorable. I have recommended that provision to be made in the strongest terms, by proposing a Law for taking the Articles on tender of the value whereever they can be spared; & to save time, & facilitate the Measure with the house, I have procured the Bill to be ready drawn to their hands.2

The great Deficiency of our Quota of Men is also a melancholy Consideration; & undoubtedly owing to the Cause to which your Excellency ascribes it. How the Doctrine of drafting will be relished by our Legislators I cannot determine; but sure I am, that come to it we must.

Whenever I am resolved in the mode of giving the Securities required from the Commissioners appointed to inlist &c. (concerning which I did myself the honour to write your Excellency some time since)3 I shall dispatch their several Appointments; & urge their entering upon the Business with Spirit. I have the Honour to be your Excellency’s most humble Servt

Wil: Livingston

P.S. There is a considerable Number of State Prisoners, (I suppose seventy odd) who were taken on their way to join the Enemy on Staten Island, now confined in Morris Jail, the greater part of whom will be convicted of high Treason. As sound Policy will require the Execution of the Ring-leaders; so Humanity and Mercy will interpose in behalf of the more ignorant and deluded. The latter being the Character of the Majority, I presume they will be pardoned on Condition of their enlisting in our Army, if your Excellency has no Objection against admitting them.4 As I am convinced that they embarked in the Cause of the Enemy from no real Prejudice against ours, but from the delusive and splendid Promises of artful recruiting officers, which they are now persuaded were altogether villainous, I presume they will not upon that account, be the more prone to desert; but probably in order to efface the Ignominy of their former Conduct, & to demonstrate their Gratitude for the Clemency shewn them, be the more studious of manifesting greater Fidelity to the Cause of America.


1The copy of Livingston’s letter to Silas Newcomb from Princeton, N.J., of 5 Nov. reads: “I am extreemly sorry to find there should be any difference between you & General Forman at so critical a Season as the present—Had General Formans Commission been posterior to yours, I think that even in that Case you should not dispute his Orders to you in pursuance of Orders to him from his Excellency Genl Washington; as there can be no doubt that all the Militia called out to co-operate with the continental Troops & receiving continental Pay are to be considered as under the immediate Command of the Commander in Chief of the United States. But General Forman’s Commission being prior to yours, he has undoubedly a right to command you without any such derivate Authority. You will therefore entertain no thoughts of dismissing the Men, you have Assembled, but furnish General Forman with a return of them & resign the Command of them to him agreeably to General Washington’s directions—And I cannot suffer myself to entertain the least doubt that as neither his Excellency nor myself mean by this Measure to cast the least reflection on your Character, you will not only strictly comply with the above Orders, but render Genl Forman every Aid by your influence & encouragement as a Man of your reputed Zeal for your Country’s Service ought to do” (DLC:GW).

4The capture of most of these Loyalists was first reported to GW by Maj. Gen. Philemon Dickinson in his letter to GW of 15 Sept. 1777. Livingston reported the results of the prisoners’ trials in his letter to GW of 1 December.

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