George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Jay, 30 January 1779

To John Jay

Philada 30 January 1779


In consequence of the authority vested in me by Congress of “directing and superintending the military operations in these States,”1 I was led to make inquiry into the State of the Magazines to the Westward.

From a late letter of Genl McIntosh’s to myself, and several to the Board of War, I find that he has been so much distressed for provision, that he has been obliged suddenly to disband all the Militia that were in service, and seems to be very apprehensive that he shall with difficulty subsist the two Continental Regiments and a few Independent Companies, thro’ the Winter.2 I communicated this to the Commissary General of Purchases, and desired him to make an estimate of3 what Magazines of provision he could establish at Fort Pitt during the Winter, or time enough in the Spring to commence operations should they be necessary. In answer to this he informed me, that the supply of the Army in the Western department had never been under his direction, and that therefore he did not conceive himself authorised to take any Steps in the matter.4

I have thought it my duty to represent this to Congress as early as possible that proper enquiries may be made of those who have hitherto had the charge of procuring supplies, whether they have made the necessary arrangements for establishing Magazines at Fort Pitt in the Spring, and if they have not, or cannot engage to do it with certainty, it will be necessary without loss of time to authorise the Commissary General of purchases to extend his Commission so as to include the Western operations. He, from transacting his Business upon a very large scale, is more likely to be acquainted with the general Resources of the Country, and consequently more able to supply our wants, than those who have been confined to a particular district.5 If the Commissary General is to undertake the establishment of the Magazines, he should immediately be made acquainted with it, that he may begin to put matters in a train for moving the provision from below as soon as the State of the Roads will admit, as I take it for granted that none can go further than the foot of the Mountains during the Winter. I fear, notwithstanding our utmost exertions, it will be late before sufficient Magazines can be formed, especially of Flour, the Crops beyond the Alleghany having been generally lost last summer by the evacuation of the Country. The transportation of that Article therefore must be very distant.

I hope Congress will view this matter in the same important light that I do, and that whatever their determination may be, it be as speedy as the Case will admit—In addition to what I have said, I shall only remark that many good consequences result from having all the Branches of the same department under one head, and that irregularity and want of system generally prevail throughout those that are detached and6 uncontrouled by a superintending Power.

The Commissary General informs me that he has pressing Calls to the Eastward to regulate some matters in his department: This is a further reason why he should know quickly if he is to undertake the formation of the Western Magazines, that he may, if it should be so, give the necessary orders before his departure.7 I have the Honor to be with great Respect Sir Your most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 1 Feb. (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 , 13:130–31). For Congress’s actions on this letter, see Jay to GW, 1 February.

1On 23 Jan., Congress had resolved that “the commander in chief be directed to superintend and direct the military Operations in all the departments in these States, subject to the regulations and orders of Congress from time to time which are to be transmitted to the commander in chief and by him to the departments for which they shall be calculated, except in cases of evident necessity when they may be sent directly to the commanding officer of the department advising the commander in chief thereof” (copy, DLC:GW; see also 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 , 13:110). The phrase “in all the departments” following the word “operations,” which is omitted on the LS, is included on the draft manuscript of this letter.

2GW apparently is referring to an unfound, undated letter from McIntosh, the receipt of which he acknowledges in his letter to McIntosh of 31 January. For McIntosh’s dismissal of militia for want of provisions, see McIntosh to the Board of War, 11 Jan., DNA:PCC, item 162.

3At this place on the draft manuscript, Tilghman first wrote “inform me.” He then struck out those words and wrote “make an estimate of” above the line.

4No written communications on this subject between GW and the commissary general of purchases, Jeremiah Wadsworth, have been found for this period.

5At this place on the draft manuscript, Tilghman wrote and then struck out the following sentences: “Here I would take the liberty of remarking upon the impolicy of making Branches of the same department independent of the Head of that department. The importance of this matter deserves the immediate attention and decision of Congress.”

6At this place on the draft manuscript, Tilghman wrote “distant” and then struck out that word.

7For GW’s orders directing Commissary Gen. Jeremiah Wadsworth to establish a provisions magazine at Pittsburgh, see GW to Wadsworth, 12 and 14 February.

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