George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Colonel Theodorick Bland, 8 November 1778

To Colonel Theodorick Bland

[Fredericksburg, N.Y., 8 Nov. 1778]


You are hereby appointed to superintend the removal of the convention troops from the State of Massachusetts1 to Charlottesville in Virginia—You will therefore proceed immediately on the shortest route to Ensfield, or to where the first division of the troops may have arrived, and announce yourself to the officer commanding. You will then dispatch Major Jamison, who is directed to assist you in the execution of this duty, to the rear of the troops, to see that the necessary provisions and arrangements are made for the intermediate and successive divisions.

A proper escort of militia from the State of Massachusetts is to attend the troops to Ensfield, at which place they will be releived by the militia of Connecticut, previous notice being given to have them in readiness. You will take care not to dismiss the old guard till releived by the new. The Militia of Connecticut are to proceed as far as the North River where they will either be releived by a guard of Continental troops, or New-York militia.

During the march you will have respect to the quarter Masters who are appointed to attend the Troops and see that their haulting places are convenient for cover and accommodation2—You will also have regard to the Commissaries, so that good provisions be destributed and at the proper times.

You will accommodate the stages of march to the state of the weather—the condition of the troops, and the nature of the country through which they travel.

You will attend to the complaints which may arise and obviate them as far as possible.

The annexed route will bring the troops as far on in their march as Fish Kills3—You will then be furnished with a new route for your direction thro’ the states of New-York—New Jersey—Pennsylvania Maryland, and to their place of destination in Virginia.

As soon as you meet the first division of the troops it will be necessary for you to give me notice, that I may form a judgement of the time at which they may arrive at the North river. Given at Head Quarters this 8 Novr 1778.

G. W——n

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

Of the 4,640 British and German soldiers captured at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, 4,145 remained in American custody at this time in camps near Boston, Massachusetts. Supplying these troops with food and clothing had become more difficult with each passing month, and the proximity of British garrisons in New York and Rhode Island encouraged a steady stream of prisoner escapes. Many Americans worried moreover that the British would eventually launch an expedition to liberate the entire Convention Army. Congress consequently resolved on 16 Oct. 1778 to instruct GW to march the troops to Charlottesville, Va., “with all convenient speed” (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 , 12:1016). The location was chosen because of its relative safety and ease of supply, and also because of the lobbying of delegate John Harvie of Albemarle County, who offered some of his land on Ivy Creek, a few miles north of Charlottesville, as a site for the prisoners’ barracks.

The Convention Army’s 700-mile march to Charlottesville under Bland’s supervision began on 9 Nov., as three German and three British divisions departed in stages of two per day. GW and his officers, fearing a British rescue attempt, watched the prisoners’ slow progress with concern, but the march through Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia proved largely uneventful, although about 400 prisoners escaped en route. The last division of the Convention Army reached the site of its new barracks on 19 Jan. 1779. For more on the removal and route of march of the Convention Army, and the likely location of its barracks near Charlottesville, see Philander D. Chase, “Years of Hardships and Revelations: The Convention Army at the Albemarle Barracks, 1779–1781” (Magazine of Albemarle County History, 41 [1983], 8–53); see also Du Roi, Journal description begins Journal of Du Roi the Elder: Lieutenant and Adjutant, in the Service of the Duke of Brunswick, 1776-1778. Charlotte S. J. Epping, trans. New York, 1911. description ends , 129–49; Eelking, German Allied Troops description begins Max von Eelking. The German Allied Troops in the North American War of Independence, 1776–1783. Translated by J. G. Rosengarten. Albany, 1893. description ends , 147–49; and Stone, Riedesel description begins William L. Stone, trans. Memoirs, and Letters and Journals, of Major General Riedesel, during his Residence in America. 2 vols. Albany, 1868. description ends , 2:45–63.

1“The State of Massachusetts” is in Tench Tilghman’s writing.

2GW’s assistant secretary, James McHenry, wrote to Quartermaster Gen. Nathanael Greene from headquarters on this date: “Colonel Bland who is appointed to superintend the removal of the Convention troops, will set out to-day on this service, His Excellency mentioned to you the providing of a quarter master to attend the troops on their march. One who may continue with them till they arrive at Charlottsville in Virginia. You know the qualifications necessary on this occasion, and I suppose have made your choice. You will be pleased Sir to notify the Gentleman of your appointment of Col. Blands intention to set out to day, and that it is his Excellencys pleasure he should accompany the Colonel. You will also be pleased to communicate his name when he will be ready and where he may be found” (DLC:GW).

3The attached “Route of the Convention troops to Fish Kills” indicates that the troops were to march “via Springfield[,] Enfield[,] Simsbury[,] New Hartford[,] Norfolk[,] Canaan[,] Sharon[, and] Fish kills.”

Index Entries