George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 12 December 1777

From Henry Laurens

York [Pa.] 12th Decemr 1777


I had the honour of writing to you the 8th Inst. by Messenger Barry.

Your Excellency will find under this cover an important act of Congress calculated for availing your Excellency’s Troops & for depriving those of the Enemy, of the benefit of provisions adjacent to Philadelphia.1

I beg leave to refer your Excellency to the paper and that you will be pleased to excuse brevity as I am confined in Bed by the Gout.2 I am Sir Yours &ca.

LB, DNA:PCC, item 13. The LB indicates this letter was sent “per [William] Jones” and directed to “White Marsh.”

1Laurens apparently enclosed a copy of a series of resolutions passed by Congress on 10 Dec. respecting the gathering of provisions and forage near the enemy, the passage of which had been recommended by a committee of five appointed on 8 Dec. “to take into consideration the state of those counties in the states of Pensylvania, Jersey, and Delaware, which border on the enemy, or are in the neighbourhood of General Washington’s army, and report the most effectual and vigorous measures for subsisting the army under the command of General Washington, and distressing that of the enemy” (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 , 9:1010–11). The committee, which consisted of William Duer, William Ellery, Francis Dana, Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Eliphalet Dyer, brought in a report on 10 Dec., which Congress “agreed to as follows: Resolved, That General Washington be informed, that Congress have observed, with deep concern, that the principal supplies for the army under his command have, since the loss of Philadelphia, been drawn from distant quarters, whereby great expence has accrued to the public, the army has been irregularly and [often] scantily supplied, and the established magazines greatly reduced, while large quantities of stock, provision and forage, are still remaining in the counties of Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester, which, by the fortune of war, may be soon subjected to the power of the enemy:

“That Congress, firmly persuaded of General Washington’s zeal and attachment to the interest of these states, can only impute his forbearance in exercising the powers vested in him by Congress, by their resolutions of the 17 September and 14 November, to a delicacy in exerting military authority on the citizens of these states; a delicacy, which though highly laudable in general, may, on critical exigencies, prove destructive to the army and prejudicial to the general liberties of America:

“That from these considerations, it is the desire and expectation of Congress, that General Washington should, for the future, endeavour as much as possible to subsist his army from such parts of the country as are in its vicinity, and especially from such quarters as he shall deem most likely to be subjected to the power or depredations of the enemy: and that he issue orders for such purpose to the commissaries and quarter masters belonging to the army:

“That General Washington be directed to order every kind of stock and provisions in the country above-mentioned, which may be beneficial to the army or serviceable to the enemy, to be taken from all persons without distinction, leaving such quantities only as he shall judge necessary for the maintenance of their families; the stock and provisions so taken to be removed to places of security under the care of proper persons to be appointed for that purpose; and that he issue a proclamation, requiring all persons within seventy miles of head quarters, forthwith to thresh out their grain within such limited periods of time, as he shall deem reasonable, on penalty, in case of failure, of having the same seized by the commissaries and quarter masters of the army and paid for as straw:

“That General Washington be directed to cause all provisions, stock, forage, waggons and teams, which may be, at any time, in the route of the enemy, and which cannot be seasonably removed, to be destroyed.

“Whereas, it is essentially necessary, that magazines should be seasonably provided in the interior part of the country, and many inhabitants, through motives of avarice or disaffection, refuse to thresh out their grain.

Resolved, That it be earnestly recommended to the legislature of the commonwealth of Pensylvania, forthwith to enact a law, requiring all persons within their State, at the distance of seventy miles and upwards, from General Washington’s head quarters, and below the Blue Mountains, to thresh out their wheat and other grain, within as short a period of time as the said legislature shall deem sufficient for that purpose; and, in case of failure, to subject the same to seizure by the commissaries and quarter masters of the American army, to be paid for at the price of straw only, excepting from such penalty, such families only, who, from the absence of the master, sons or servants, in the service of their country, can give good proof that their compliance with the said law was not practicable” (ibid., 1013–15). For the deadlines set by GW for the threshing of grain, see his Proclamation on Threshing Grain, 20 December. None of the actual copies of the resolutions that Laurens enclosed have been identified, but an extract from them was included in the draft of GW’s Orders to Commissaries and Quartermasters, c.15 December.

2On this day Laurens also wrote to Congress that “Your President [Laurens] has been confined to his Chamber & his Bed for three days & Nights past during which time he has not had three hours Sleep. The Malady under which he labours has made such progress as to convince him by reflecting upon former attacks that he will not be able to move out of the House nor to attend his duty in Congress for some Weeks to come” (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 , 8:408). Laurens’s desire to resign as president of Congress because of his illness, however, was opposed to such an extent that he decided to remain in office and continue to perform his public duties. After having recovered his health, Laurens wrote John Burnet on 24 July 1778 that the “stroke of the Gout” had been “extreamly severe, confined me a month and kept me lame near three months” (Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 14:65).

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