George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum, 22 December 1777

From Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum

Camp [Valley Forge] Decr 22d 1777.1


According to the saying of Solomon, hunger will break thro’ a stone Wall;2 It is therefore a very pleasing Circumstance to the Division under my Command, that there is a probability of their marching. Three Days successively, we have been destitute of Bread. Two Days we have been intirely without Meat. It is not to be had from the Commissaries. Whenever we procure Beef, it is of such a vile Quality, as to render it a poor Succeedanium for Food. The Men must be supplied, or they cannot be commanded.3 If This Country will not, cannot afford the means There are other States in a different Situation. The Complaints are too urging to pass unnoticed. It is with Pain that I mention this Distress. I know it will make your Excellency unhappy: But, if you expect the Exertions of virtuous Principles, while your Troops are deprived of the essential Necessaries of Life, your final Disappointment will be great, in Proportion to that Patience, w’ch now astonishes every Man of human Feeling. I mention these things on Paper, that the Evil may be inquired into. I am, with Submission, your Excellency’s most obdt Servt

J. M. Varnum

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Henry Laurens, 22 Dec. 1777, owned (1999) by Henry W. Kendall, Sharon, Massachusetts. Robert Hanson Harrison’s misdated docket on the ALS reads in part “about provisions 20 Decr 1777.”

Varnum wrote to GW three other times on this date, and once again on 24 Dec., approving the discharges of two ensigns and two lieutenants in his brigade. These four letters, along with three others written by Varnum on 4, 10, and 15 Dec. recommending the discharges of a captain and two ensigns in the 8th Connecticut Regiment, are in DNA: RG 93, War Department.

1While at Valley Forge, Varnum reputedly headquartered until mid-April 1778 at a small stone farmhouse owned by David Stephens (1719–1786), just to the west of the encampment of his brigade of Rhode Island and Connecticut troops (see Bodle and Thibaut, Valley Forge Research Report description begins Wayne K. Bodle and Jacqueline Thibaut. Valley Forge Historical Research Report. 3 vols. Valley Forge, Pa., 1980. description ends , 3:80–81).

2The saying, which Varnum attributes to King Solomon, is from William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus:

They said they were a’hungry; sighed forth proverbs

That hunger broke stone walls, that dogs must eat,

That meat was made for mouths, that the Gods sent not

Corn for the rich men only: with these shreds

They vented their complainings. (1.1)

3See Jedediah Huntington to Timothy Pickering, 22 Dec., in GW to Laurens, this date, n.2.

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