George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Smith, 21 August 1778

To William Smith

Head Quarters [White Plains] August 21st 1778


I received your letter of the 15th Inst. by Lieut. Colonel Burr.1

It gives me pleasure to find that the conduct of the flag was such as contributed to your ease; and I am much obliged to you for the attention shewn to the convenience of my officers.

It was really altogether out of my power to take any concern, (without interfering with the civil authority) in the matter of your request, but I have transmitted the letter to Governor Clinton who I doubt not will do every thing proper on the occasion.2 I am Sir your Most Obt Servt.

Df, in James McHenry’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

William Smith (1728–1793), a New York lawyer and historian, had served from 1763 to the outbreak of the Revolution as chief justice of the Province of New York and since 1767 as a member of the provincial council. Having twice refused to take an oath of allegiance to the state, he was among those ordered banished within enemy lines by the state commissioners for detecting and defeating conspiracies. Smith left New York with the British troops in 1783, and in 1785 he was appointed chief justice of Canada, where he served until his death.

1Smith’s letter of 15 Aug. has not been found, but according to Smith’s memoirs, he wrote GW “to thank him for the Civilities of his Officers and to solicit his Permission to my Servants to follow me with the Horses” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs, 1778–1783, 4). According to Lt. Col. Aaron Burr, Smith’s letter “requested his Negroe Slaves, his Coach Horses, and the Remainder of his Moveables now at Haverstraw” (Burr to George Clinton, 19 Aug. 1778, NHi). GW had appointed Burr on 1 Aug. to conduct Smith and other Loyalists to New York City (see Robert Hanson Harrison to Burr, 1 Aug., NjMoHP, and Clinton to the Commissioners for Conspiracies, 2 Aug., in Hastings, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 3:601–2).

2GW wrote George Clinton on this date: “The inclosed was received by Colo. Burr, who conducted the Flag which was sent in with Mr Smith and his family. As I did not conceive myself authorised to interfere or give any orders respecting the matter referred to me, I barely acknowledged the Receipt of it, and informed Mr Smith that I had forwarded it to you” (LS, CSmH).

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