George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 6 May 1778

From Henry Laurens

York Town [Pa.] 6th May 1778


My last was under the 3d Instant by Maj. Brice since which I have had the honor of presenting to Congress Your Excellency’s several favors of the 30th Ulto, 1st 3d & 4th Inst.

The present will cover the undermentioned Papers

  • 1. An Act of Congress of the 2d Instant for the protection of the Western frontier—amended.1
  • 2. of the 5th for establishing a plan of a well organized Inspectorship.2
  • 3. A Letter from Lieutenant Colo. Sutherland of the 47th British of the 11th April accompanied by a State of this Gentleman’s health by Doctr Weir.3
  • 4. A Letter of the 15th April from Major Agnew of the 24th & Lieutt Poe of the 47th & also a State of the health of these Gentlemen respectively by Doctor Weir.4
  • 5. Copy of a Letter from the Honble James Duane Esqr. dated Albany 24th April.5
  • 6. A Commission appointing the Honorable Baron Stüben Inspector General with the Rank of Major General.6

the Cases of the British Officers are submitted by Congress to Your Excellency referring to a Resolve of the 3d March7—I received only verbal direction on this head & that not very explicitly, if I understand right Congress mean that an Exchange should be attempted with sir William Howe being willing to gratify Colo. sutherland & the other Gentlemen upon equitable terms. I have the honor to be With the greatest Respect Sir Your Excellency’s Most Obedient humble servt

Henry Laurens
Presidt of Congress.

the bearer of this is charged with a packet containing 500 blank Oaths.

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 13.

1See 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 , 11:416–17; a copy is also in DLC:GW.

2The second paragraph of the copy of the resolution enclosed in this letter reads: “That the baron Stüben be appointed to the office of inspector general with the rank and pay of major general, his pay to commence from the time he joined the army & entered into the service of the united states.” Laurens appended this note to the paragraph: “I think the pay is to commence from the Baron’s arrival in America, some Gentlemen are of the same opinion—which shall be enquired into & adjusted if the minute above is erroneous” (DLC:GW). The printed version of this paragraph of the resolution does not differ significantly from the manuscript version (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 , 11:465–66).

3Nicholas Sutherland (d. 1781) was appointed a captain of the British 21st Regiment of Foot in March 1765 and was promoted to major in February 1772. He became a lieutenant colonel of the 47th Regiment of Foot shortly before being captured at Saratoga. John Weir (d. 1819) was appointed a surgeon of the British 3d Regiment of Dragoon Guards in February 1775 and became surgeon to the British forces in North America in May 1776. After the end of the war, he became director general of the British Army Medical Department. The enclosed letter from Sutherland to Congress and Weir’s certificate of Sutherland’s ill health are in DNA:PCC, item 78.

4William Agnew was commissioned a captain-lieutenant of the British 24th Regiment of Foot in May 1763 and became a captain in May 1767. He was promoted to major shortly before his capture at Saratoga and was back in London by September 1778. James Poe was commissioned an ensign of the British 47th Regiment of Foot in February 1770 and was promoted to lieutenant in June 1775. The letter from Agnew and Poe to Laurens and Weir’s certificate of 5 April are in DNA:PCC, item 78.

5The enclosed copy of a letter from James Duane to Laurens, dated 24 April at Albany, N.Y., reads: “I have passed some days in this City in conference with the Commissioners of Indian Affairs, on General Washington’s application for a party of the Oneidas and Tuscaroroes to join the grand Army. Every measure in our power has been taken to accelerate a requisition which his Excellency has so much at heart. These nations have sent an answer to a speech from the Commissioners on the subject, which will be transmitted by the board. In the mean time, as I this moment heard of an opportunity by express, I shall mention the substance. They say that the number of 200 is more than can be obtained: but that if the troops & fortress which they sollicited, are furnished agreeable to the Commissioners promise they will send forward a party of their warriors: the number they do not ascertain. I presume the result of the council of the six nations now assembled at Onondago to deliberate on the talk from the honble Congress will enable us to form a true judgment of the dependance which may be placed on the co-operation of those nations. If they see a prospect of tranquillity in their own borders some of them will turn out & join our Arms with alacrity: otherwise it is hardly to be expected.

“Since I wrote a state of affairs in this department in my letter of the 16th of March one of my predictions is verified. The enemy with a number of vessels & troops have appeared at Ticonderoga—a party of 600 have landed & defeated the militia of that neighbourhood—The whole northern frontier is in confusion. They apply earnestly for assistance, & declare that without it they must again abandon their farms of which many of them have so lately regained the possession. But what succour can be afforded? The inhabitants of Tryon Country are still apprehensive of an attack from the westward; and from Albany. Northward, which has been the principal scene of the last campaign, the people may be said to be at work for their lives; for if they do not at this season get in their summer crops—(fall they have none)—they must starve. In the mean time all the Continental Troops except three small regiments, barely sufficient to guard the publick stores & magazines & laboratory at this place are drawn away. These regiments are Greaton’s of about 210, Aldins 300, & Warners 124 including N.C.O.—Van Schaacks of this State, which was 500 strong, I saw go away with great reluctance on my part—of our five battalions none are now left us but Gansevorts which garrisons Fort Schuyler, & the remains of Du Bois’s employed in the defences of Hudsons river. If this State was in any tolerable security it would be my first ambition to see the forces which it has raised fighting the battles of their country in the most conspicuous field of glory: but while we are exposed in every quarter I cannot but entertain disagreeable apprehensions from the feeble condition in which it is left. I have done the little in my power to prevent the distresses which threaten us, by my endeavours to possess Congress of the true circumstances of our affairs in my letter before alluded to. That it has not had some weight I pray God may not prove a publick misfortune.

“We expect daily the resolution of the Indian Council at Onondago—much depends upon it, & I wait here to receive it & assist the Commissioners in the measures which may be further necessary in their department.

“I have received particular pleasure in taking a view of the laboratory & park of Artillery and military stores at this place. Every thing is in the most excellent order, & great honour is due to Major Stevens of the Massachusetts, who commands the corps of Artillery in this department. The conduct of this young gentleman in the field & in conducting the publick works is so distinguished as to entitle him to favour & applause. The Committee of Congress, who visited Ticonderoga in Novr 1776, appointed him Major of a corps of Artillery to be raised & to consist of three companies of Artillery & one of Artificers to serve in the northern department. The 9th of the same month he recd a Commission from Congress, appointing him Major Commandant of that corps. He is much dissatisfied on finding that Col. Crane considers him as Major of his regiment of Artillery; which Mr Stevens thinks a degradation; & seems determined to join the grand Army as a volunteer if it is insisted on. The officers of his corps are equally averse to such an arrangement—These are the facts which I promised to state to Congress, & for the truth of which he refers to Major General Gates—I wish, as Major Stevens has undergone severe service, with great reputation, & without any promotion, that a suitable attention may be paid to his merit. He declares that he is contented to retain his present rank in a seperate command. If he can be gratified consistent with the good of the publick, it seems to be a very small reward for a series of services so distinguished; & in the last campaign so eminently successful…. There are still great complaints of the want of money in this department. The Commissary of purchases is disabled from complying with his contracts, & the fat cattle intended for the Army fall into private hands for fear of the operation of the regulating law which has taken place in this & other States. The paymasters of Van Schaacks & Gansevorts regiments have taken up large sums to silence the clamours of the soldiers. It was well that they were gentlemen of credit & connections, or this seasonable remedy would have been out of their power. There are 200,000 dollars in the military chest. but it is said Mr Trumbull has directed this money to be removed to the Fish Kills: and that if it remained here there are no means to issue it; as a general officer’s warrant is necessary. If the operations of the enemy to the northward become more serious: & already they are very distressing to the frontier inhabitants: What is to be done? Is not Genl Carleton at the head of 3000 men with the entire command of the Lakes which conduct him to our very doors still formidable; if not for the purposes of conquest at least for those of ruin & desolation” (DLC:GW).

6Steuben’s commission, dated 5 May, is in DNA:PCC, item 164.

7See 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 , 10:218–19.

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