George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Israel Putnam, 24 January 1779

From Major General Israel Putnam

Camp Reading [Redding, Conn.]1 Jany 24th 1779

Dear Sir

I am honor’d with your Commands of the 8th Inst. respecting the Cloathing purchased by Major Bigelow and the mode to be taken for supplying the Connecticut Troops, with a proportion of it.

I know not to what your Excellency alludes, in General Parsons’s Letter, which in your opinion, contains some insinuations not of the most delicate nature: As I never saw it, or heard the contents, except in the most General terms2—But at the same time, that I am fully convinced, all the Troops of these States have ever experienced an equal share of your attention, I am as well persuaided, those of Connecticut, have fared much worse in the late distribution of Cloathing to the Army than any other. This, I am conscious, I have been verry far from attributing, in my own mind, to the partiality of any one—All that I have ever heard suggested was, that in the multiplicity of your other business, and the great number of returns which had been made to you from every Quarter, the real necessity’s of the Connecticut Troops might be overlook’d, by your ⟨e⟩ntertaining an idea, that there was a full allowance made to them, in proportion to the wants of the Army, and the quantity in the public possession. Nor have I ever learned, that any complaints have been excited because those Troops were referred to Major Bigelow for a supply of Cloathing, even after it was discover’d that the French Uniforms were far preferable; but solely because the better part of that supply, was concerted to the use of the Massachusetts Troops, whilst at Hartford, by order of the Commanding Officers, before my arrival, and because the remainder was order’d away, before they could obtain from it, one half of what they really wanted and were entitled to upon every principle—And it was not supposed, that any more of those Articles, were designed for them, as it was well known, that the route from Hartford to Reading was not usually through Fish Kill; and that the expence of Transportation must, in that case be vastly augmented.

Agreeable to your Excellencys directions I have orderd exact returns to be made, of the Shirts, Stockings, and shoes, which have been Received from the public, and which are now actually wanting to complete one pr Man, for the Connecticut Brigades, and find 2065 Shirts and 1589 pr of Stockings wanting—for shoes there is no urgent necessity at present, as a considerable supply has just come to hand from the State. And as to the Article of Blankets I am inform’d only one fifth part of the defective number has been Receiv’d. This I believe your Excellency will find to be the state of facts, upon enquiring of Mr Measam whether the Connecticut Regiments have not received their proportion of these Articles, in common with the rest of the Army—and I shall accordingly take the earliest opportunity to avail them of your order, on Mr Measam, in their favor.3

After waiting more than twenty days for your Excellencys directions respecting the Prisoners, who were confined for being principally concerned in the late Mutuny, in Genl Huntingtons Brigade; I have, upon the particular application, of a great number of the Officers of the Brigade, orderd them to be released and to join their respective Regiments.4 previous to this however, perfect good order had been restored, and greater regularity, or better discipline I believe has never prevailed, at any time, amongst the Troops, than at present.

As three of our Whale Boats, which had been from Greenwich to Long-Island, a few nights ago, after intelligence, were returning, a Violent gale of wind suddenly rose, and drove them back, two of the Boats were wrecked in Lloyds-Neck, and the crews, consisting of a Subaltern and twelve men, were made prisoners of War: the other Boat with much difficulty reached Huntington Harbour. The men were concealed in the Town, the following day and the next night crossed to the main. From these, as well as from others I am informed of the ravages of the Enemy on Long Island, of their numbering the inhabitants, and taking all the grain from them, except three Bushels per Man, and of the great distress the British Troops were reduced to, for want of Bread, before the arrival of part of the Cork Fleet;5 how much their distress may be lessened by this, I know not; but sinse the Detachment of my Troops have been on the lines, a period has been put, in a great measure, to the supplies drawn from the Country by way of Kings Bridge.

The above accounts from Long Island are this moment confirmed by Mr Smith, a Gentleman who was employd by ⟨G⟩ nel Gates last summer, to obtain intelligence from thence,6 who left it but one day sinse, and brought with him, two persons who have made it their business for two or three Months past, to become acquainted, with the situation, and designs of the Enemy. These Gentlemen report, that there are between 8 & 9,000 Men at New York, and its dependancies—that Sir Henry Clinton has lately granted the petition of the Refugees, to ⟨I ⟩mbody themselves, under officers of their own election, which they have done, to the number of 1000 or rising of it, that these new Heroes are to make an excurtion soon, into the Country, to procure cattle, and carry off or destroy, whatever stores they can find; and that the British Troops are to cover them by land and water. How far this account is to be depended upon—I don’t pretend to determine—I shall apprize Gnel McDougall, of it and take such prudential Measures as I think necessary on the occation.7 So far is certain, some of the Refugees and West Chester Militia, have, not long ago, been as near to the White Plains as Youngs’s, and taken a Captain Williams of that state, together with Mr Youngs and some others, by surprize.8 My informan ⟨ts⟩ further add, that the defensses of the inhabitants, are greater if possible, than I had before heard, and that at several places, they are allowanced at one Bushel and an half of Wheat pr Man, for their subsistance untill next Harvest & that considerable part of the Fleet, which was said to be from Cork, was private property, & the supply by it not so great as was expected.

I am much obliged to your Excellency, for the order to Col. Shelden, to furnish the number of Dragoons which I requested, & shall attend to the caution you was pleased to give, of not Fatiguing th⟨em⟩ unnecessarily.9 I am also happy to have met with your approbation in the seizure and the other methods I have taken to prevent a viola[tio]n of your Orders. I must intreat your Excellency’s further direction concerning the goods; for at the same time Governor Clinton disavows the Captors being warranted to go on shore at the Island, by his Commission; he disclaims any right of disposing of the goods, and refuses to have any thing to do with this matter; and I do not know whether any body, will be willing to intermeddle with it, except Governor Tryon, who I am told has done one act of justice, by ordering reprisals to be made, upon the estates of the nearest relations of the men who brought off the goods, to the amount of about 800 pounds, (the value of them)—They will continue in their present situation till your final pleasure is known.10 I have the Honor to be with great respt Your Excellencys Most Obedient Servant

Israel Putnam

P.S. I have inclosed, for your Excellencys perusal, the Newyork Papers of the 11th 16th & 18th Inst., as perhaps you may not have seen them.11

LS, DLC:GW; copy (extract), DNA: RG 267, Records of the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture, Revolutionary War Case Files, 1776–1786. The extract is taken from the last paragraph of the letter, consisting of its second sentence, the first part of its third sentence, and its fourth sentence. Tench Tilghman docketed the letter: “Ansd.” This reply has not been identified.

1Redding, Conn., located about eight miles southwest of Danbury and inland nearly fifteen miles from Long Island Sound, was the site of Putnam’s winter camp.

2Putnam is referring to Samuel Holden Parsons’s letter to GW of 23 Dec. 1778, which had been conveyed with Putnam’s letter to GW of that date. GW had commented on Parsons’s letter at some length in his reply to Putnam of 8 January.

3For GW’s action on this matter, see his letter to George Measam of 8 January.

4Putnam apparently first reported this mutiny to GW in a letter dated 31 Dec. 1778 that has not been found (see Putnam to GW, 5 Jan., and n.1 to that document). Putnam’s remarks indicate that he had not seen GW’s letter to him of 18 Jan., which contained guidelines for handling the imprisoned mutineers.

5British provision ships from Cork, Ireland, had arrived at New York City on 8 and 11 Jan. (see Stirling to GW, 18 Jan. 1779, and n.8).

6George Smith, a native of Smithtown, N.Y., who served from 5 Oct. 1777 to 1 April 1780 as deputy judge advocate general for the northern department, provided reports on British activities in and around New York City and Long Island to Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates at least as early as November 1778 (see Smith to Gates, 19 Nov. 1778, Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ). Gates may have employed Smith as a spy in response to GW’s request in his letter to Gates of 17 May 1778 for intelligence from New York.

7William Franklin, New Jersey’s last royal governor, had outlined efforts to organize a Loyalist corps known as “The King’s Military Volunteers” in a letter of 5 Feb. to Lord George Germain, British secretary of state for the American colonies, writing in part: “A number of refugees from New Jersey and the adjacent parts of New York having expressed to me a desire to embody themselves and to make depredations in the rebel country similar to those so frequently made by the rebels on the loyal inhabitants on Long Island and other places within the King’s lines, I have given them all the encouragement and assistance in my power. Upon my application to Sir Henry Clinton he has consented to furnish them with arms and ammunition and promised to give commissions to the officers of two companies of fifty men each already completed in this city [New York]. Several more companies are forming under my direction and will be filled in a few days. They consist chiefly of substantial farmers who have been driven by the rebels from their homes and who are extremely anxious to retaliate the usage they have received. They have bound themselves to do no damage to any friend of government and propose to bring off a number of Committee men and other rebels to keep as hostages for their own security in case any of their body should happen to be taken prisoners. The commander-in-chief is to be always informed through me of the plans of their intended expeditions previous to their embarking, lest they might anyways interfere with or obstruct his measures. They are to receive no pay but to depend on their own acquisitions for their support; and from their own knowledge of and connexions in the country they make no doubt but they shall be able to obtain something considerable from those who have robbed them of their all” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 17:52–54).

8Two somewhat different accounts in the Royal Gazette [New York] for 30 Dec. 1778 reported the recent capture of Capt. Daniel Williams, described as the commander “of three hundred free-booters, whom the rebels denominate the flying party,” and “a dangerous Partizan” who terrorized Loyalists in Westchester County. According to one account, a Loyalist force of “25 Refugee Volunteers” surprised Williams and his followers at the house of “Joseph Youngs, four miles beyond White Plains.” This same account places Youngs among those taken prisoner. For a report of this incident from a Patriot perspective, see Connecticut Gazette; and the Universal Intelligencer [New London], 15 January. Having served as a Continental army guide for much of 1777, Williams had joined the 1st Westchester County militia on 16 June 1778 as a second lieutenant in the Lower Philippsburgh Company of the 1st (or South) Regiment. After a captivity that lasted from 25 Dec. 1778 to 8 March 1780, Williams resumed his militia service and continued on duty at least into 1782.

9Putnam had requested six dragoons to accelerate the conveyance of information from the sea coasts and troops on advanced lines (see Putnam to GW, 23 Dec. 1778; GW to Putnam, 8 Jan. 1779, and n.9).

10Under orders from Putnam, goods seized by William Smith Scudder, a privateer captain commissioned by the state of New York, had been detained pending a determination of their rightful owners (see Putnam to GW, 23 Dec. 1778). The point at issue was whether state privateer commissions were being used as a subterfuge for wanton plundering. For more on Scudder’s case and GW’s avoidance of entanglement in the matter, see GW to Putnam, 10 Feb. and 9 and 21 March; George Clinton to GW, February 1779; and Putnam to GW, 2 March. Maj. Gen. William Tryon favored reprisals against the rebels (see Samuel Culper to Benjamin Tallmadge, 22 Jan., printed as an enclosure with Tallmadge to GW, 28 Jan., and n.5 to the Culper letter).

11The New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury had been published on 11 and 18 Jan., and the Royal Gazette (New York) had been published on 16 January.

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