George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Bowdoin, 31 March 1778

To James Bowdoin

Head Quarters Valley Forge 31st March ⟨1778⟩


The evil which I apprehended from the enlistm⟨ent⟩ of Deserters, as pointed out in my letter of the 17th instant, has already made its appearance. One of the Colonels informs me that every British Deserter sent to his Regt, except one, has already gone off. One of these people, a few Nights ago, took off a light Horse with his accoutrements from an advanced picket. I hope upon this proof of the infidelity of the above described Class that a total Stop will be put to the hiring them. It is n⟨ow⟩ prohibited by an express Resolve of Congress passe⟨d⟩ a few weeks ago.1

I hope before this reaches you that ⟨part of your⟩ Levies are upon their march to join the Regiment⟨s⟩ to which they are allotted. Genl Howe is beginning to draw his Reinforcements together, and I can with truth assure you that if he begins his operations before there is an addition made to our present force that we shall not be able to make that stand which is expected from us. I hope this short but true state of facts will induce you to exert yourselves to the utmost to forward the Recruits. Such as are not innoculated, need not be detained for that purpose, as it may be done conveniently in and near Camp, and these two great advantages will result from it, that we shall have the service of the patients upon an emergency, and they will not have a long march to perform after their recovery, which often debilitates them the remainder of the Campaign and is more fatal than the disorder itself.

I have no doubt but proper care will be taken to procure Cloathing for the Men before they march, or have it sent forward that it may be ready for them upon their arrival. I hope a due attention will also be paid to keeping up a sufficient quantity ⟨of⟩ cloathing, that the Soldier may never be reduced ⟨to⟩ want and nakedness.2 Not only a loss from sickness follows the want of covering, but desertion to a very great degree. I am astonished, considering the sufferings the Men have undergone, that more of them have not left us. I have the Honor to be with great Respect Sir Yr most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, M-Ar: Revolution Letters, 1778; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The LS is docketed, “In Council Aprl 13t 1778 Read & Sent down Jno. Avery Dy Secy”; other notes with the LS indicate that the Massachusetts house of representatives read the letter on the same date “& thereupon Orderd That Majr [Noah] Goodman & Mr [Thomas] Crane, with such as the Hon. Board shall join, be a Committee to consider the same,” and that the council concurred and added Artemas Ward to the committee.

1GW is referring to the congressional resolution of 26 Feb., for the relevant portion of which, see GW to Henry Laurens, 12 Mar., n.4 (see also 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 , 10:203). On 17 April the Massachusetts general assembly, taking note of the congressional action, resolved that if a town enlisted British prisoners or deserters, “such place shall still be holden to compleat their full quota . . . to all intents and purposes, as tho’ no such prisoner or deserter had been inlisted” (Mass. Resolves description begins Resolves of the General Assembly of the State of Massachusetts-Bay, Begun and held at Boston, in the County of Suffolk, on Wednesday the twenty-eighth Day of May, (being the last Wednesday in said Month) Anno Domini, 1777; and thence continued by Adjournments to Wednesday the seventh Day of January 1778, following, and then met at Boston aforesaid, being the fifth sitting of said Assembly. [Boston, 1778]. description ends , May 1777–April 1778 [1 April–1 May 1778], 13). Provisions to discourage the hiring of deserters were also part of the assembly’s resolutions of 20 April for completing the state’s fifteen Continental regiments (ibid., 16–21).

2Having passed resolutions for clothing its Continental soldiers and officers on 5 and 13 Mar. (ibid. [7 Jan.—13 Mar. 1778], 44, 55–56), the Massachusetts legislature took no further action for clothing the Continental army during this sitting.

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