George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Richard Peters, 24–25 January 1778

To Richard Peters

Head Quarters Valley Forge 24[–25]th Jany 1778


I have recd your favr of the 8th instant and that of Mr Nourse of the 16th.1 Upon the Rect of yours some time ago, upon the subject of the leather in the Vatts at Germantown,2 I made enquiry, and was told then as I am now, that except that which is fit to put into the Curriers hands is immediately worked up, and that which is not sufficiently tanned is shifted into other Vatts, that it will be undoubtedly spoiled. As I had no person to superintend this Business I did not think it worth while to remove the leather, when there would have been almost an absolute certainty of its being ruined. I have seen nothing of Capt. Ming, but if you will order him down, and he will prepare some Tanneries at a convenient distance back from Germantown to receive the leather, I will furnish a proper party and endeavour to bring it off.3 The less that is said of this matter the better, as it must be executed with secrecy and dispatch. You certainly must be misinformed as to the quantity of leather in Germantown or Capt. Mings consumption must be much less than I imagined. Those Tanyards at the lower end of the town may probably be out of our reach without risquing too much—I think the plan of having some Boats upon Susquehannah a very good one. Altho’ the Army may not have occasion to pass, yet they will very much expedite the passage of the Supplies which we shall probably have occasion to draw from the West side of that River next Campaign—Genl Mifflin who had those built which we used upon Delaware, is well acquainted with the proper kinds.

The demand of the Return of Messs. Wallace and Philipse agreeable to the terms of their parole comes in my opinion more directly under cognizance of the State of New York, whose prisoners they are. They have several times exchanged Flags with the Governor of the City of New York on the subject of their state prisoners, and I think they may with more propriety make a peremptory demand of those Gentlemen, except they will exchange Mr Fell for one of them, than I can. It is more than probable that the State may have some of the Friends of the Crown in their Custody, and if they threaten retaliation upon them it will have more effect than my writing to Genl Howe, who to the best of my knowledge, said he had nothing to do with them when they were demanded by Govr Trumbull. Would it not be proper to write to Govr Clinton, and know from him in what light the Gentlemen above mentioned are considered by the State?4

P.S. 25th Jany. Since writing the foregoing I have recd a letter from Genl Heath of the 6th in which he says.

“I have sounded what your Excellency observed with respect to Genl Hamilton. Genl Burgoyne informs me that he never heard Genl Hamilton hint any such desire, but whether he should be exchanged or not he must go to England as his Regiment is one of those under the Convention, and he is a General Officer only in America. I shall again sound the matter with General Hamilton with all due caution.”

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1These letters have not been found.

2This letter has not been found; it was probably one of the letters from Peters dated 28 Nov. and 4 and 5 Dec. 1777, to which GW responded on 14 Dec., promising that “I shall direct Genl Armstrong who remains upon the East Side of Schuylkill to endeavour to find out what Leather is tanned in & about Germantown and to have it removed.”

3Ulrich Ming (Meng; 1731–1796) of Germantown, Pa., whose first name appears in several renditions including “Wolrich,” “Wollery,” “Wollory” and “Wollore,” was a former secretary of the Germantown Library Company who had been appointed a captain in Lt. Col. Benjamin Flower’s regiment of artillery artificers in April 1777.

Joseph Clark recorded in his diary that on “Sunday evening, January 24th, a party of 200 of our men went with 30 or 40 wagons down to German Town, and took a great quantity of leather out of the vats, and brought it off to camp. The enemy got early word of it, and pursued them a considerable distance with 8,000 foot and some horse, and 4 field pieces, but had not the good fortune to overtake them” (Clark, “Diary,” description begins “Diary of Joseph Clark, Attached to the Continental Army, from May, 1778, to November, 1779.” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society 7 (1853-55): 93–110. description ends 104). Hessian captain Johann Ewald and Howe’s aide Captain Muenchhausen date this raid as occurring on 26 January. Ewald describes it: “Colonel [Robert] Abercromby was sent out toward Germantown with both battalions of English light infantry and two companies of light dragoons in order to seek out and destroy an enemy party of fifteen hundred men which had taken a position behind Germantown. At the same time, Major [John Graves] Simcoe and the Ranger Corps, with a corporal and twelve jägers, marched to Frankford to get transported the little forage left that the army had not consumed during the campaign, because we got wind that the enemy wanted to use it.

“During the night Colonel Abercromby took his route by way of Vanderen’s Mill, crossed Wissahickon Creek, proceeded up the Schuylkill to Levering’s Tavern, and there turned to the right through the woods toward Beggarstown in order to approach the enemy in the rear. In case the enemy wanted to harass Major Simcoe’s foraging, the colonel could cut him off completely from the left bank of the Schuylkill, where he had to take his retreat. But since we were entirely surrounded by spies, the enemy had received information and retired, and the colonel overtook only the rear guard, of which he cut down a part and captured eight men, along with the adjutant of General Sinclair [Aquila Giles]. In the meantime, the purpose of the foraging was attained, for on this occasion a herd of cattle which grazed behind Frankford was taken away from the enemy, whereby the army obtained a day’s fresh meat at Washington’s expense” (Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 117–18). Muenchhausen put the strength of the American detachment at 400 and recorded that the British took no prisoners “except Major Geil (the first adjutant to General Greene), who was spending some time with a beauty” (Muenchhausen, At General Howe’s Side description begins Friedrich von Muenchhausen. At General Howe’s Side, 1776–1778: The Diary of General William Howe’s Aide de Camp, Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen. Translated by Ernst Kipping. Annotated by Samuel Smith. Monmouth Beach, N.J., 1974. description ends , 47). See also John Armstrong to GW, 26 Dec. 1777, and John Sullivan to GW, this date.

4This was not the first time that GW had raised the possibility of an exchange of former New Jersey congressional delegate John Fell for Hugh Wallace or Frederick Philipse, Loyalists seized in August 1776: see GW to William Livingston, 11 May 1777.

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