George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Livingston, 1 December 1777

From William Livingston

Princeton [N.J.] 1st Decr 1777


It gives me great Concern that our recruiting upon your Plan is not yet begun in this State, for want of my being able to give the proper Instructions to the persons appointed respecting the Security to be given & the Manner in which they are to draw for the Money—To obtain proper Directions on these Subjects I wrote to Congress on the 11th of last Month, but have received no Answer,1 I now send a Copy of that Letter with an Express, which should your Excellency have an Opportunity to York Town, I would beg the Favour of you to forward—If not, the Express is ordered to proceed—I see no probability of our equalling the Enemy in Numbers by next Spring, should they only procure a reinforcement of 4000 or 5000 Men & that I cannot but think British money or British Credit may collect unless we strain every Nerve to complete our Compliment of Troops.

General Dickenson has sent me two Lieutenants one Surgeon & one Commissary taken Prisoners on Staten Island by a Detachment of our Militia under his Command—As we found them all to be Subjects of this State who had joined the Enemy since that Offence was declared high Treason by our Law, I have sent them to Trenton Gaol to be tried in the County of Hunterdon, where a Court of Oyer & Terminer is to be held about the Middle of this Month.2 If your Excellency apprehends any ill consequence respecting our Prisoners will result from our treating them in that manner, I should be glad to be favored with your Sentiments on that Subject; & I doubt not the Council of Safety will do every thing in their Power to manage the Matter as your Excellency shall think most conducive to the general Interest.3

Of the Prisoners condemned at Morris for attempting to join the Enemy, 23 are pardoned on Condition of inlisting during the War—9 reprieved till the 2nd of January next and two to be executed to morrow.4

General Dickenson informed me sometime since, that Genl Putnam was to attack New-York at the same time that he attempted Staten Island; but I cannot learn that the Old Gentleman has bore any part in the Concert.5 I fear Sir there are Newcombs—in your Army as well as in our Militia. I am with great Respect Your Excellency’s most Hum: Servt

Wil: Livingston

P.S. Our Assembly is just now in a most glorious Disposition for settling the prices of the Articles wanted by the Army; & I hope to be able to acquaint you in my next, that it has been done agreable to your Excellency’s Liking.6

ALS, DLC:GW; copy (extract), MHi: Livingston Papers.

2For Maj. Gen. Philemon Dickinson’s report on the capture of these prisoners, see his letter to GW of 28 November. Under British law a court of oyer and terminer is presided over by a judge who is authorized to hear evidence and determine the guilt or innocence of those brought before him in criminal cases.

4For earlier reports about these Loyalist prisoners, see Philemon Dickinson to GW, 15 Sept., and Livingston to GW, 5 Nov., and for a more detailed account of the men convicted, see Robert Morris et al. to Livingston, 12 Nov., in Prince, Liv ingston Papers, 2:111–18. The two men scheduled to be executed on 2 Dec. were James Iliff and John Mee (ibid., 115). Many of the men who enlisted in the American forces to receive their pardon subsequently deserted again (ibid., 116–18; see also N.J. Council of Safety Minutes description begins Minutes of the Council of Safety of the State of New Jersey. Jersey City, 1872. description ends , 268).

5For the assistance given Philemon Dickinson by Israel Putnam, see Putnam to GW of 28 November.

6The resulting “Act for regulating and limiting the Prices of sundry Articles of Produce, Manufacture and Trade, and to prevent forestalling, regrating and engrossing” was passed by the New Jersey general assembly on 11 Dec. (see N.J. Proceedings of the General Assembly description begins Minutes and Proceedings of the Council and General Assembly of the State of New-Jersey, in Joint-Meeting, from August 30, 1776, to May, 1780. Trenton, 1780. description ends , 35–36, 44; N.J. Proceedings of the Legislative-Council, 23–24; 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 , 16–20), and abstracted in the 10 Jan. 1778 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette (York). The act fixed prices on such items as salt, iron, leather, wool, flax, shoes, wheat, corn, oats, flour, pork, beef, potatoes, cider, spirits, butter, sugar, and cheese. Vendors were required to receive a certificate from their local justice of the peace specifying the price they could charge for the enumerated items, and those selling their wares without a certificate or exceeding the stipulated prices faced fines or the forfeiture of their goods. The act also forbade the withholding of the “Necessaries of Life” and stipulated that the wages paid to farm workers, mechanics, and tradesmen were not to exceed twice their 1775 level.

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