George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 13–15 November 1777

From Henry Laurens

York [Pa.] 13[–15]th Novemr 1777


Since my last of the 7th I have had the honour of reporting to Congress Your Excellency’s favors of the 8th & 10th Currt.

The Chairman of the Treasury Board in answer to my pressing intreaty for dispatch to replenish your Military Chest has desired me to inform your Excellency—“that from the removal of the Office from Baltimore & philadelphia the Money department has been greatly obstructed but that the utmost diligence Shall be exerted to forward a Supply of Money to the pay Master General as soon as possible.”1

Our Treasury is nearly exhausted a circumstance the more unfortunate as it happens in the moment when demands have conspired which exceed all former Sudden Calls—I trust there will be no necessity for further urging the Board, if there Should be, I will not fail to do every thing proper on my part to ward off the impending Evil of being more deeply involved in Arrears to the Army.

I return the most Sincere thanks for your Excellency’s polite compliments on my appointment to the Chair in Congress, a determination equally unthought of & undesired by me, former experiments had instructed me to know & to wish to Shun the labour & variety of trouble attendant upon a faithful discharge of the Duty of president. while I continue in that Office & enjoy the honour of your Excellency’s correspondence & confidence, it will be impossible for me to be wittingly deficient in any mark of Esteem for a Character, which, after holding near twenty Years in a respectable light, I have learnt to revere. Let me also assure your Excellency, there are no incentives which could prevail on me to Spend another day of the fragment of my Life in this or any public Station, but the Love of Country.

I am indeed conscious of the narrowness of my abilities for discharging the trust reposed in me with a propriety even to my own Satisfaction, I nevertheless dare trust my Self, for diligence, integrity &, at all hazards, for an unwearied attention to the Interests of the United States of America.

Sir, I am incapable of flattering I hope incapable of an approach to the view, but I should be ungrateful, or unfeeling, if I did not add, that I am perfectly happy under a persuasion that every error or failure of duty which may appear in the process of my present Task will be interpreted & considered by Your Excellency with that Candor for which you have ever been distinguished.

Congress from all appearance are well Satisfied with the measures taken by Your Excellency with respect to the Frigates above Philadelphia & the disposition of part of the Northern Army,2 the Resolves of the 5th were certainly formed while an opinion prevailed that Fort Clinton was garrisoned by the Enemy & apprehensions of their gaining a formidable footing—on Hudson’s River fixed in every mind.

Your Excellency will receive with this a packet containing Commissions for the Field Officers of the Pennsylvania Regiments in Conformity with the arrangement by the Board of Officers, this business has occasion’d some delay of the present Express, it was reported to me that there were no blanks & I was under that mistake obliged to send to Lancaster for a new impression—The Resolutions of Congress on that branch will accompany the Commissions.3

14th While I was attending Congress this Morning your Excellency’s Letter of the 11th was brought into the House & reported—a Report relative to Claims by French Officers happened to be a Subject in debate which continued till adjournment, I am now returning to Duty in the Same place & will apply for directions what answer to return on the important article of Clothing.

It is a Rule in Congress to commit Letters to the consideration of particular Boards these being dispersed in different parts of the Town & governed by Rules of their own for meeting, it is not always or I should rather say, ’tis Seldom in the power of the President to answer with that dispatch which may seem necessary, this may give no information to Your Excellency, yet but my being uncertain in that particular, I think the intimation not improper in order to account for any apparent omission on my part.

Under Cover with this your Excellency will find Copies of Resolves of Congress.

11th Inst. Ordering Commissions to be granted to Officers in the department of the Commissary general of Military Stores—The Commissions are Issued accordingly.4

the 10th directing Your Excellency to cause a Strict enquiry to be made into the conduct of Lt Reynolds as Set forth in certain depositions to which the Resolve is annexed.5

14th Relative to Clothing for the Army & continuing the powers with which Your Excellency was vested on the 17th Septemr last, to the 1st March next unless Sooner revoked.6

14th Permitting Genl Schuyler to attend to his private affairs till further Notice.

to the same effect respecting General St Clair with the addition of an Order, that a Warrant Issue for 150000 Dollars to be remitted to William Bedlow Esquire deputy paymaster at Fish Kill.7

it may not be amiss to intimate to Your Excellency that the liberty granted to Major Genl Schuyler followed a Motion founded on a Letter received by a Member of Congress from the General8that to Majr Genl Sinclair proceeded from the appearance of his Name Subscribed at a meeting of a board of Officers.

& by Special order I am to transmit a Copy of that Resolve to himself.

the Resolve relative to Clothing backed by a second Address to several of the Neighbouring States will shew that Congress have not been inattentive to the necessities of the Army, whatever remissness may appear elsewhere, there are parcels of Clothing at New Orleans at Charles Town & at Boston the property of the United States, measures are now taken which I hope will bring the whole forward & Some parts very soon9—besides these I this Morning dispatched Orders to Boston for purchasing in private hands a quantity of Clothing Sufficient as Majr Genl Heath has informed for about 10000 Men & also a large quantity of Shoes, the public are indebted to the vigilance of Majr Genl Heath for this discovery he not only sent Notice by an Express Messenger that Such articles were to be purchased at Newberry Port & Salem but has Secured a preference to Congress10—upon this very important occasion I will move Congress for leave to Send duplicates by a Second Express in order to guard against possible accidents of delay or miscarriage.

A report was this Morning 15th made by the Board of War on the “Opinion of the Officers of the Virginia Line” & recommitted.11

Among other papers in the present dispatch will be found a packet containing Nine intercepted Letters for persons with the Enemy, these have been inspected & are now Submitted to your Excellency’s disposal.12

Congress have ordered additional Sums to be paid to the French Gentlemen of Mr Du Coudray’s Suite & Some others—Resolved to give Monsr St Colombe a Captain’s Commission & appear determined to Stop there13—Some Brave Troops who are not provided for I fear will be reduced to piteous circumstances & must be relieved from private purses or Suffer the most grievous inconveniencies. I remain with the greatest respect & esteem.

ADf, ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers; LB, DNA:PCC, item 13.

1The communication from treasury board chairman James Duane to Laurens has not been identified.

2Congress passed resolutions about these two subjects on 4 and 5 Nov. (see Laurens to GW, 5 Nov., and notes 1 and 5).

3For Congress’s resolutions of 12 Nov. settling the rank of Pennsylvania field officers, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 9:896–97.

4Ibid., 890–92.

5The resolution concerned “one Lieutenant Reynolds, of the additional regiments [William Malcom’s],” but no man fitting that description has been identified (ibid., 883).

6Ibid., 905.

7Ibid., 901.

8Schuyler’s letter was undoubtedly received by James Duane, a longtime friend who put forth the motion for his relief. See Duane to Schuyler, 19 Nov. (Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 8:282–83).

9Congress’s resolution of 14 Nov. reads: “Resolved, That General Washington be informed that Congress have long since written to the commissioners in France for cloaths complete for eighty thousand men, and have received for answer that they might be expected here by the setting in of winter; in consequence of which, Congress have reason to hope for this necessary arrival in a short time: that Congress have also adopted various other means for importing cloathing, which they have reason to expect will be successful; and, on the 16th day of October, ordered a copy of the General’s return of articles wanted for the army to be transmitted to the respective assemblies of the eastern and middle states, with a pressing recommendation to them to use their utmost endeavours to collect the same without delay, and send them to the army. But, since the wants of the army are immediate, Congress wish the General may avail himself of the powers vested in him for obtaining these necessary supplies from the disaffected inhabitants, Congress being of opinion that the well disposed people of these states will rather be pleased than dissatisfied with a procedure, by which their enemies shall be compelled to supply those things that are essential to the support and comfort of the army; and the more especially as even the disaffected will be paid a reasonable price for what is demanded of them” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 9:905).

10See William Heath to Henry Laurens, 31 Oct., in DNA:PCC, item 157. For Laurens’s “Orders to Boston,” see his letters to Samuel Allyne Otis, to William Heath, and to the speaker of the executive council of Massachusetts, Jeremiah Dummer Powell, all 14 Nov., copies of which are in DNA:PCC, item 13.

11The board’s report has not been identified, but for the background and Congress’s resolution on the subject, see GW to Laurens, 1–3 Nov., and note 11, and to Patrick Henry, 13 November.

12The enclosed letters have not been identified.

13For resolutions on these subjects, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 9:902–5, 930–31.

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