George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Israel Putnam, 5 January 1779

From Major General Israel Putnam

Camp at Reading [Conn.] 5 Jany 1779

Dear Sir

I have just been favoured with yours of the 20th and 26th Ulto have noticed the contents, and shall regulate matters accordingly.

Nothing new has happened since I had the honor to address you on the subject of the disturbances in General Huntingtons Brigade,1 which I am happy to inform you has not been repeated, or attended with any farther ill consequences. The Prisoners, who were confined as being the chief instigators & ringleaders in the meeting, are still under the Provost-Guard; Tho if we may judge of their new disposition, by the Petition they have presented to me, (a copy of which is inclosed)2 there is little reason to doubt of their being truly sensible, of the enormity of their crime, & fully resolved to atone for it, by a reverse of conduct, should they obtain a pardon. The subject is exceedingly delicate, and after the just representation, which I gave, of the circumstances, in my last; I wished to avail myself of your Excellency’s opinion, whether pardon or punishment was most likely to produce the desired effect: for to me there seems, scarcely to be a middle way, in the present case, between capital punishment, and absolute remis<sion>.

I am fully sensible, there are many things to be taken into consideration; on the one hand, the dangerous example, of suffering such proceedings to pass with impunity; or the other, the particular circumstances & character of the Prisoners, most of whom I am well informed, are sober, spirited, ambitious Young fellows of good families & educations, who have signalized themselves in action, & acquired the best reputations as Soldiers—I shall do nothing rashly in the affair, nor take my ultimate resolution, untill I have heard from you, or consulted the Field Officers of the Regiments, to which they belong.3

I learn, from Long Island, that there is a considerable Detachment, of the <mutilated> gone to the East end of it, by <mutilated> 1500 to 3000, said to be under the command of Sir William Erskine, their object unknown, conjectured by some to be an attempt to procure Stock & forage—by others to make a descent on the main. I am with the greatest esteem your very humble Servt

Israel Putnam


1Putnam’s letter on this subject, apparently dated 31 Dec. 1778, has not been found; but see GW’s letters to Putnam of 18 Jan. and 5 February. On 9 Jan., Congress received a letter from Putnam “giving an acct of Huntingtons Regiment attempting to Mutiny, confind some and prevaild on the rest to return to their Duty,” which the delegates referred to the committee meeting with GW; the letter has not been found (Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 11:439).

2The enclosed, undated copy of a petition of the arrested soldiers of Brig. Gen. Jedediah Huntington’s Brigade to Putnam, reads: “This is to inform Your honour, of the Hearty and Sincere repentance of your humble Petitioners of that Shocking Crime, which we your humble Petitioners have lately been Left to commit, for wch we are now under Confinement. We would Sincerly and humbly Acknowledge that we have been Guilty of that, which justly Deserves the Frowns of the Genl and all the other Gentlemen, Who are Friends to Dicipline and Good Order in the army. We are sensible of the dreadful consequence such things carry with them, but we would Earnestly beg Liberty to Certify the Genl that It was for want of serious Consideration & For not having a right understanding of things, The Genl that Day Inform’d us of many things which we were absolutely ignorant of, which gave as great satisfaction our Earnest and Sincere prayers are that the Genl would be graciously Pleased to Pardon us, and the Genl may Depend on our fidelity and Good conduct, for the Future” (DLC:GW).

3GW wrote to Putnam on 18 Jan. recommending he exercise “wholesome Severity” against the mutineers, but leaving the final decision up to him; see also GW’s letter to Putnam of 5 February.

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