George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Stirling, 18 January 1779

From Major General Stirling

Middle Brook January 18: 1779

Dear Sir

I had the honor to receive your Excellency’s letter of the 14th Yesterday Morning: I went over to your Quarters and had Capt. Bibby to dine with me there; after dinner I dispatched him in very good humour with the enclosed letter to General Phillips;1 he left with me the two enclosed letters for your Excellency No. 1 & No. 2. one of which he says encloses a letter to the president of Congress.2 I belive this will be the last of these kind of Vissits. he went of[f] early this Morning and I have Since received the enclosed No. 4. with the letter to Capt. Bibby which it seems it is General Phillips’s wish you should see.3 the enclosed No. 3. was brot me by Leiut. Maxwell & Leiut. Steel both of the Convention troops, the request of the former, I thought very improper to grant nor did I approve of that of the latter, to pass through Philladelphia; I therefore gave them the shortest Route thro’ Lancaster and injoyned them to keep strictly to it.4 I enclose the last advices I have had from Genl Maxwell & Major Howel,5 the latter is full of News, his account of the troops of the different embarkations very nearly agrees with the account I sent your Excellency in Columns.6 The Resolve of Congress respecting the two Emissions of paper Money is publish’d in General Orders,7 and sent to all the detachments of the Army I am your Excellencys most Obedient Humble Servant


by Rivingtons paper of the 13th it appears that 13 Vessels are Arrived from Cork, but this is no part of that Cork fleet so long expected. they Sailed the first of Septr these the Middle of October. the printer is Silent as to their Cargo and I dont belive they have brot any great Supply of flower.8

ALS, DLC:GW. Although Tench Tilghman docketed this letter “Ansd 25th,” GW actually replied on 26 January.

1The letter to Maj. Gen. William Phillips that Stirling gave to Capt. Thomas Bibby probably was one written at Middlebrook on 17 Jan., an extract of which is in DLC:GW. That extract reads: “I had the Honor of receiving your Letter of the 6th by your deputy Adjutant General. The Uncertainty of General Washingtons return to this place, and the route by which he would come from Philadelphia, induced me to persuade Mr Bibby to remain here while I should communicate his business by Letter to General Washington, I late last night received his Excellencys answer. I find he is still of oppinion that no good can possibly result from any negotiation on the subject of an Exchange of the Convention Troops, the proposal of exchanging whole Corps of Officers and men together was a point urged by the Brittish Comissioners at Amboy and was objected by ours as inadmissable and inconsistant with the powers vested in them. These sentiments have since been confirmed by Congress.”

In his letter to Stirling of 14 Jan., GW had cautioned Stirling against negotiating prisoner exchanges with Phillips, based in part on information that GW had received from his assistant secretary James McHenry, who had remained at the Middlebrook headquarters while GW was in Philadelphia. McHenry wrote Tench Tilghman on 18 Jan. from Middlebrook: “His Excellency’s last letter to Lord Stirling has returned Capn Bibby to Genl Philips. He set off this morning from Mrs Bells. In some instances I find His Lordships wiliness has been great—but without the policy and judgement of our general. Mr [William] Noble, (one of Gen. Philips’ aides) had procured when here a pass for an officer to come to Head Qrs whenever Gen. Philips should have important reasons for a dispatch—Capn Bibby has made use of this permission and it may be used again with propositions as inadmissible as those Mr Bibby had to propose to his Excellency—I mention this that some measure may be taken by the officer who commands at Charlotte Ville to prevent its further operation.

“Gen. Philips asked a great deal in order that he might obtain something—and not only for himself—but others. Lord Stirling I presume will forward his Excellency a letter from Gen. Philips written to obtain leave for an officer to go into Canada, by way of the Lakes—When I recd it I sent it to Lord Stirling in the inclosed, and his Lordship gave the officer an answer in the negative.

“I am extremely glad that Gen. Philips will be refused his request to Congress. When allies begin to mistrust each other the utmost caution is necessary—Even Where they do not suspect a mistrust is easily excited—But I have other reasons. Every officer of convention thinks himself a perfect master of the disposition of the country and the State of our currency—This leads them to consider the french alliance as a charm which may be dissolved—A charm that cannot resist the propensity which they imagine waits in the continent to coalesce with England if assisted by the depreciation of our money and the continuance of the war. They have collected every thing that happened at Boston between the french fleet and the populace—the murmurs of the people after the disappointment at Rhode Island—with every sentiment of the tories with whom they have communicated in their progress thro’ the country—Every circumstance of this kind is weighed against the permanency of our alliance and independence. In short such infatuated men are much better at Charlotteville than New-York—At least their opinion and reports might serve to strengthen a popular delusion with which even the british commissioners were strongly possessed.

“I must leave you to your pleasures while I go to dine with the earl of Stirling and kiss the hand of Miss Vanhorn” (DLC: McHenry Papers; see also note 4 to this document).

2These enclosures apparently were Phillips’s two letters to GW of 6 Jan. [1] [2], in the first of which Phillips enclosed his letter to John Jay of that date, requesting Congress’s permission to spend six weeks in New York City tending to his private affairs before proceeding to Charlottesville, Va., where he would “wait in patient exile for an Exchange” (DNA:PCC, item 57). On 23 Jan., Congress denied Phillips’s request and ordered him “immediately to repair to the place of his destination in Virginia” (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 , 13:104; see also John Jay to Phillips, 23 Jan., in 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 , 11:508).

3Enclosure “No. 4” may be Phillips’s letter to GW of 16 Jan., which, along with Phillips’s two letters of 6 Jan. [1] [2], GW had received by 26 Jan. (see GW to Phillips, that date). The letter to Bibby has not been identified.

4Enclosure “No. 3” may be Phillips’s letter to GW of 4 Dec. 1778, which has not been found (see GW to Phillips, 26 Jan.). McHenry had written to Stirling on 15 Jan. from Middlebrook: “I have the honor to inclose your Lordship a letter and some papers from Genl Philips of the Convention Troops, to his Excy Genl Washington, to obtain his passport for Lieut. Maxwell to cross the lakes to Canada on parole—I will not my Lord say in positive terms that his Excellency would not grant the permission—But it is my opinion that the General would refuse it under the present circumstances of affairs—Should your Lordship be of this opinion some proper excuse will occur to your Lordship as a reason for Lt Maxwells rejoining the convention troops without waiting for his Excellency’s return” (DLC:GW). Lt. Hamilton Maxwell of the 31st Regiment had served in the Burgoyne campaign apparently with his regiment’s grenadier company or light infantry company, both of which had been detached for the campaign, while the rest of the regiment stayed in Canada. Of the three lieutenants named Steel or Steele who were paroled under the terms of the Saratoga convention, Maxwell’s companion most likely was Lt. Thomas Steele of the 29th Regiment, who apparently had served in the campaign with his regiment’s detached grenadier company or light infantry company (see Hastings and Holden, 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 , 2:451).

5These enclosures have not been identified.

6This account has not been identified.

8A paragraph in James Rivington’s Royal Gazette (New York) for Wednesday, 13 Jan., listed thirteen ships that had left Cork, Ireland, on 12 Oct. 1778 and had arrived at New York on “Monday last,” 11 January. Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister wrote in his dispatch of 11 Jan. from New York City that “on the 8th the much longed-for Cork provision fleet arrived” (Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 248).

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