George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Livingston, 31 December 1777

To William Livingston

Valley Forge Decr 31st 1777


It being of great importance to prevent the Enemy from Supplies of Forage and provisions I must take the liberty of requesting the interposition of your interest & authority for this purpose, and that the most speedy & suitable measures may be adopted & pursued either by your direction or that of the Legislature or Council for the removal of All that lies within the vicinity of the Jersey Shore, opposite philadelphia, or that may be within the reach of the Enemy’s foraging parties, except such, as may be really essential for the Inhabitants use. They should be removed so far back from the Water that they will not be in danger of falling into the Enemy’s hands. The expediency and necessity of the procedure, I am satisfied, will appear at once to you, and I have no doubt as far as it may be in your power, it will be carried into execution. It is not unlikely, but that some of the Owners, especially if there are any tainted with toryism, will be some what averst to the measure, as it has happened in similar cases; However, I trust means will be found to do away their prejudices, and to convince them of the propriety of it. Indeed if they will reason from their own experience & that of their Neighbours on this side Delaware, they cannot but assent to it. But be this as it may, it is a matter so important, that it ought not to be dispensed with. The present opportunity, while the weather is severe, and a considerable quantity of ice in the River is favourable for the removal, as the Enemy will not be able to give any interruption. I am not without power and directions from Congress to act myself in such instances, But I would wish the business to be done by Civil authority, as their acts will create less jealousy and disgust, & be viewed in a much more unexceptionable light.1

In a few days, All our Light Horse except a few that will remain to do duty, will be sent to Trenton to winter & recruit, It being a place, under all circumstances, the best adapted to that end. Besides recruiting, they will serve to protect the Country from incursions by small parties of the Enemy, & will give security to our Stores & magazines.2 In addition to these, when we have secured & fortified our Camp, If circumstances will possibly admit, I will send a few more Troops—I cannot promise that they will be many, The Army being now much reduced by the expiration of the service of several Regiments, and from other causes equally distressing.

Your Favor of the 25th with its inclosures I received on Sunday Evening. Mr Boudinot, being apprized of the situation of Lts Buskirk & Earle & Surgeon Hammel, I presume will give the necessary directions about them. As to Browne, should he be acquitted, he must be considered as a prisoner of War. Your sentiments in the close of your Letter to Colo. Seely are certainly just and will not admit an Answer.3

I sincerely feel for the unhappy condition of our poor Fellows in the Hospitals, and wish my powers to releive them were equal to my inclination. It is but too melancholy a truth, that our Hospital Stores, are exceedingly scanty & deficient in every instance, and I fear there is no prospect of their being better shortly. Our difficulties and distresses are certainly great and such as wound the feelings of Humanity. Our sick naked—Our well naked—Our unfortunate men in captivity naked! You were certainly right in representing the state of the Sick that they may be made more happy if possible. I have ordered a Field Officer to be always in future at the Hospitals, and hope they will contribute all in their power to accomodate them & prevent some of the inconveniences which you mention & which are of great moment.4 As to the Directors, if they do not afford every aid in their power, their conduct is highly culpable and deserves the severest reprehension. I assure you, Sir, I shall ever consider myself much obliged by your information of any grievances or abuses respecting the Army, and shall never suppose you step out of your proper line in doing it. we are all equally engaged in the present Important Struggle & In the cause of Humanity, and are equally concerned in promoting them. I have the Honor to be with great respect & esteem Sir Yr Most Obedt sert.

Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Col. David Forman suggested similar measures in an undated memorial to GW that probably was written about this time: “Your Excely having Desired me to Give my opinion in what manner the State of New Jersey may be the best Defended from the incursions of the Enemy, and most efectually prevent there drawing Forage and other supplies from that State, I woold beg leave to recommend the following plan Vizt.

“That your Excly give orders to have the Countys Laying on the river Delleware raviged for fifteen Miles from Coopers Creek to red Bank—the Forage and Stock to be removed Twenty Miles back at least from Coopers Creek to Burlington, and from red Bank to Cape May to have the Forage and Stock removed Ten Miles, and none of them to be left within fifteen Miles of the river—Should the Possessors of the Forage and Stock Neglect or refuse to remove them agreeable to Said order and within the Limited Time, That your Excely woold give some persons direction Immediately to remove the said Forage and Stock agreeable to said order and sell as much as woold pay the Expence of such removeal—This together with a request to the Legislative Body to a spirited Exertion of there Militia appears to me the first necessary step.

“2dly if your Excely Could spare one Thousand Men to be Stationed at Prince Town under an officer that woold of right Direct the Movements of The Militia—he might I Conceive with great ease prevent all small pilaging or Forageing Parties from penetrateing the Country either from Philadelphia or Strainesland Side.

“Should The Enemy Come over in Such Num[bers] as to over power the Militia, the standing Troops will with equal ease Support the Militia either at Elisabeth Town, South Amboy or the Nibourhood of Burlington—The Advantages That will be derived from Stationing the Troops at Prince Town will extend farther then there Merely being in the Center of the Difrent ports That are most subject to be Attack’d. they will have better Quarters with less inconvenience to the inhabitants and will with greater ease draw Forage and other Necessary Supplies then can be done either at Trentown, Borden Town or Burlington.

“I Woold allso beg leave to Mention to your Excely that The Saltworks on the sea Coste of Monmouth County are an object worthy the Enemies Attention—The State of Pensylvania has a Considerable Works that have a small guard allowed them by the state of Pensylvania which with the Support that can at all times be drawn from the Militia of the Nibourhood may I belive be equal to the Defence of that Work—about fourteen Miles Below the Pensylvania is a still more important Works Erecting with a great Number of small ones in the Nibourhood of it, that have Neither a guard for the Defence of it, Or any dependance to make on the Militia—a Guard of fifty good Troops woold from the situation of the place make a Very Considerable opposition to any attempts to destroy it.

“The Great want of Shoes in the Army has induced me to Mention to your Excely That if a Quantity of the raw hides of the Army ware Exchanged for Tand Leather and the Shoemakers in the Militia ware imployed under the Direction of Some proper Person it woold affoard a Very Considerable Supply—and at a more moderate price then the Army is furnished” (DLC:GW). No letter from GW to Forman requesting his opinion on measures to be taken for the defense of New Jersey has been found.

For the congressional resolutions of 10 Dec. 1777 empowering GW to order the seizure of provisions near Philadelphia, see Henry Laurens to GW, 12 Dec., n. 1; for the measures of the New Jersey council of safety to secure provisions, see Livingston to GW, 8 Jan. 1778, and note 1.

3GW is referring to Livingston’s letter of 26 December. The previous Sunday was 28 Dec. 1777.

4For GW’s views about how the Continental army’s oversight of the hospitals would work in practice, see his instructions to the officers visiting hospitals, in General Orders, 15 Jan. 1778, n. 2.

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