George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 16 March 1778

To Henry Laurens

Valley Forge March 16th 1778


This will be delivered you by Captain Sullivan, who waits on Congress upon the subject of pay and the loss of his rank in the line of the Massachussets Officers. He is one of the Gentlemen, who in going with Major Sherburne to relieve the post we had at the Cedars in 1776, after a brave and gallant conduct fell into the Enemy’s hands. In a few days after on the treaty which General Arnold made, he generously offer’d himself, as I have been informed, and went one of the Hostages to Quebec for the performance of it.1

By some means the State of Massachussets bay, has not continued him in their line—nor has he any appointment in the Army. He is now on parole, thro the indulgence of Genl Carleton and has applied to me for pay & rations from the time of his return; and considering also the deprivation of his rank, as hard and injurious, he hopes he will be provided for in a suitable manner, and according to that standing which he formerly held in the Army.

Captain Sullivan’s wishes in either instance, cannot be answered by me. As to the first, the Resolution of the 19th of January, regulating the pay of prisoners, which is the only rule for my government, seems to have drawn the line between Officers on parole, who are continued in service, and those who are not; and making that the only criterion to fix pay, to have procluded every other discrimination. And the powers which were vested in the respective States to appoint Officers, prohibit any interference by me in his favor, as to the latter.2

I have stated the nature of the Captain’s claims and the reasons, which are opposed to his obtaining relief in either instance from me. I shall only add, that the neglect by the States in their appointments, of the Officers who were in captivity, where there was no other objection to them,3 was at least ungenerous—if not impolitic & unjust. It has been the case in many instances, and as to the Gentleman, who is particularly the subject of this Letter, the testimonials that have been given of his character as an Officer, were much in his favor & greatly to his Honor.

By accident the Resolution of the 19th of January alluded to above, has been mislaid—I must trouble you with a request for another copy of it.

I transmit Congress Colo. Chs Webb’s application to resign. As Genl Huntingdon in whose Brigade he is, & in whom I have the utmost confidence, is perfectly willing, I have only to say upon the occasion, that I have not the smallest objection to the measure.4

Genl Sullivan set out for Rhode Island on Friday last to take the command there, in consequence of the Resolution of Congress, directing me to send a Major Genl there for that purpose.5 Supposing Genl Greene in the Quarter Master line, I have now only one Major General left in Camp. I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir Your Most Obed. Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The LS is docketed in part: “refd to bd War as far as respects cpt. Sullivan.” Congress read the letter on 23 Mar. (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 , 10:278). The Board of War on 26 Mar. “agreed to report to Congress Resolved, That captain Ebenezer Sullivan be allowed his pay and rations during the time he has been & shall remain a prisoner of war; also such a sum as shall be thought reasonable to reimburse him for his expences in his journey hither on the business mentioned in his petition; and that it be referred to the Treasury Board to adjust the same” (DNA:PCC, item 147; see also ibid., 288). That report was referred to a second committee, which agreed that Sullivan should be paid, and the Committee on the Treasury subsequently determined that Sullivan was owed $1,011, which amount Congress, on 3 April, ordered paid (ibid., 296–97, 304–5).

1For a statement of Capt. Ebenezer Sullivan’s case, see Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s first letter to GW of 2 March.

2For the resolution of 19 Jan., see ibid., 61–62. The “appointment of all officers, and filling up vacancies, (except general officers)” was “left to the governments of the several states” by a congressional resolution of 16 Sept. 1776 (ibid., 5:763). In forwarding the Board of War’s recommendation of 26 Mar. supporting Sullivan’s claim, Horatio Gates wrote to Laurens: “The board are aware that the above report militates with the resolve of Congress passed 19th of January last, captain Sullivan not now being an officer of the United States. Yet they cannot but concur in opinion with Genl Washington that both justice and good policy required that the several states should have continued in commission those officers in captivity to whom there was no other objection. But this being neglected the board beg leave to declare their opinion that their pay & rations at least ought to be allowed” (DNA:PCC, item 147).

3At this point Harrison’s draft includes additional text: “and who were liable to no other imputation.”

4In Webb’s letter to Laurens of 13 Mar., he cited age and a constitution “so far enfeebled . . . as to render me incapable of enduring the Fatigues of a Campaign” in requesting a discharge from the army. On the same page Jedediah Huntington endorsed the “Propriety” of Webb’s resignation (DNA:PCC, item 152). Huntington’s letter of 13 Mar. transmitting Webb’s resignation to GW was also enclosed. In it Huntington noted that he had given Webb “a Furlough to the 1st of May in Order to settle his Regimental Accounts” (DNA:PCC, item 152).

5The previous Friday was 13 March. For John Sullivan’s appointment, see GW to Sullivan, 10 March. For the resolution of 21 Feb., see Laurens to GW, 21 Feb., n.3 (see also ibid., 188).

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