From Major General William Heath
Boston December 7th 1777
Permit me to congratulate your Excellency on the safe arrival of the Ship Flamond at Portsmouth in 75 days passage from Marseilles having on board for the service of the United States, besides a General Officer, 48 peices of brass Cannon 4 pdrs with Carriages compleat. 19 nine Inch Morters, 2500 Bombs 9 Inch. 2000–4 pd Ball. a number of intrenching Tools, 3000 Fusees, 1110 of another Quality for Dragoons, about 18000 lb. Gun Powder 61051 wt Brimstone;1 the necessary Steps shall be taken to secure them—after giving your Excellency this good News, it is with the most painful sensation that I represent the State of the Commissary’s Department, and how an Army is to be kept on foot another Campaign if matters continue as at present I cannot conceive. The 12000 bushels of Salt ordered by Congress in the month of October last to be forwarded to the middle District for salting provisions for the Magazines is every ounce yet in the Stores here. The Northern District entirely destitute of that Article: The late Commissary General directed by Resolve of Congress to deliver all the Stores in his hands to the Dy Comy Genl of Issues, no such person has appeared. The Gentleman who is to forward the Salt now waiting. The two Houses of Assembly in addition to my request have desired Colo. Trumbull, who is present, to deliver the Salt—He replies that their Resolve will not vouch his Accounts with the Auditors, therefore cannot deliver it. In this embarrassed situation of affairs, seing the destruction of the Army inevitable if neglect longer continues, I have determined to take and deliver the Salt to Mr Colt who is waiting to receive it.2 I have taken this Resolution upon the extreme necessity of the Case, thinking it better to risk the sacrificing my own Interest than, that the public Course should suffer irrepairable injury and, my dear General, I must intreat your interposition with Congress that such measures may be adopted as will save me, the Commissary, and the Store keepers harmless. I will only add, that I wish if matters remain just as they stand at present, the Army may not be Starved out of the Field in less than Nine Months.3 I have the Honor to be With great respect Your Excellencys obed. Servant
LS, DLC:GW; ADf, MHi: Heath Papers. GW enclosed an extract from this letter when writing to Henry Laurens on 22 Dec. (see also GW to Heath, 20 Dec.). The actual enclosure has not been found, but a nineteenth-century transcript, misdated “17 Decr 1777,” apparently was made from it and is in ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers.
1. The 26–gun French ship, the Flamand, commanded by Capt. Pierre Landais, arrived at Portsmouth, N.H., on 1 Dec. 1777. In addition to the munitions and ordnance that the vessel brought to assist the American war effort, the Flamand had on board Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.
2. The Connecticut general assembly had taken up the subject of removing the salt at its special session on 11 Oct. 1777: “It was in evidence before the Assembly, that the (then) late commissary general had a large quantity of salt, and other stores the property of the United States, and no person authorized to receive them, and no commissaries of purchases appointed by Congress to purchase provisions, under the regulations in the eastern department, had accepted the trust; and Gen. [Israel] Putnam had sent his earnest request that fat cattle, for the use of the army, might be immediately purchased for them, and that no person inclined to do the duty without an order from Congress, or the Assembly, and not being furnished with money, as there was an abundance of beef and pork in Connecticut, that could be procured for the use of the army, which would be disposed of unless speedily secured. The Assembly requested the Governor to write, by an express, to Congress, and acquaint them with the facts aforesaid, that Congress might adopt their own measures on the subject” (Hinman, Historical Collection description begins Royal R. Hinman, comp. A Historical Collection, from Official Records, Files &c., of the Part Sustained by Connecticut, during the War of the Revolution. Hartford, 1842. description ends , 294).
Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., wrote to Henry Laurens about the subject on 20 Oct., but before the letter’s arrival, Congress on 22 Oct. passed a resolution authorizing and empowering the commissary general of purchases to apply to the governor and council of safety of Connecticut or to the Massachusetts Board of War “or to empower the deputy commissary general of purchases for the eastern district, to import (or contract with persons who shall import and supply, on reasonable terms) a sufficient quantity of salt, for the army of the United States, in the middle district.” Congress also requested the executive authorities of the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut to assist the commissary general of purchases in moving the 12,000 bushels of salt from the middle to the eastern district (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 , 9:829–30).
Congress did not read Governor Trumbull’s letter of 20 Oct. until 3 Nov., when it resolved to authorize him to appoint a deputy commissary general of purchases and a deputy commissary general of issues for the eastern district, “provided the appointments of Congress to the respective offices aforesaid are not accepted, and General Putnam has not made such appointments,” agreeable to an earlier resolution on the subject passed by Congress on 4 Oct. (ibid., 856, 858, 766). Neither appointment apparently was filled.
The Massachusetts general assembly on 6 Dec., at Heath’s request in an unidentified letter of the same date, resolved to ask former commissary general Joseph Trumbull to release the salt to Jacob Davis of Charlton, Mass., who was to have it transported from its storage at Sunbury and Sherborn, Mass., to Hartford, Conn., and placed in the care of Peter Colt, the new deputy commissary general of purchases for the eastern department (Mass. House of Rep. Journal description begins A Journal of the Honourable House of Representatives of the State of Massachusetts-Bay in New-England. Boston, 1777–78. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records.) description ends , May 1777–May 1778 sess., 134; “Mass. Council Journal,” Nov. 1777–Jan. 1778 sess., 40–41). Trumbull, who on 29 Nov. had been requested by the Connecticut committee of war to organize the procuring of blankets and clothing in Massachusetts for the Connecticut line (Hinman, Historical Collection description begins Royal R. Hinman, comp. A Historical Collection, from Official Records, Files &c., of the Part Sustained by Connecticut, during the War of the Revolution. Hartford, 1842. description ends , 503), refused to comply, however, for the reason given by Heath in this letter to GW.
3. GW apparently enclosed an extract from this letter with his letter to Henry Laurens of 22 Dec., which Congress on 26 Dec. read and referred to a committee of three consisting of William Duer, John Witherspoon, and John Harvie. On 29 Dec. Congress revisited the subject, resolving that the committee “be discharged; and that the said letters be referred to the Board of War, and that for this purpose Mr. [Cornelius] Harnett, Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry and Mr. [Abraham] Clark, be added, and that the said committee be fully empowered to take the necessary measures for supplying the army with provisions and other necessaries” (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: 1054, 1065).