George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 2 March 1779

From Henry Laurens

Philadelphia 2d March 1779.

Dear sir.

At my return to Philadelphia from Middle Brook1 I found on my Table Your Excellency’s favor of the 17th February—were I to indulge a pen, always prompt to express the feelings of my heart, truths might drop, which ‘though truths, had better be understood than displayed, therefore I shall say only in one word, I count it one of the highest honors of my Life to have been for some Weeks an Inmate in my own House with General Washington & his Lady,2 an honor coveted by the first Men of the Age, hence you will see Sir, how much I think myself overpaid for those respects which you are pleased to take notice of.

Possibly the secret of preparing Fascines at Staten Island was unfolded at Elizabeth Town in the late project for surprizing General Maxwell & captivating my worthy friend Governor Livingston,3 had success attended these attempts, the triumphs of Sir Henry, & our mortification would have been in extremes, Emulation of the vigilance at that post, will hereafter appear in every subordinate department throughout Your Excellency’s command, every commanding Officer will think himself insulted by the Knight’s repeated schemes for effecting surprize & carnage, which implies a disdainful confidence of finding American troops always off their guard.

Your Excellency will find under cover with this, two Carolina Gazettes which contain all the intelligence I have received from the Southward since the 15th January. Mr Hutson has a Letter of the 21st of that Month, importing in very general terms, that Major General Lincoln was at the head of 3500 Men Brigadier General Williamson commanding 1000. had given a detachment of the Enemy’s Troops who were penetrating the Country towards Augusta a severe repulse.4

A schooner loaden here with Military Stores, about 18 Tons, was captured on her voyage for so. Carolina within a few hours after she left the Capes of Delaware.5 this is an untoward circumstance. Carriage by Land will be intolerably slow & expensive & the avenues by Sea are said to be shut up.

Mr Barton the Gentleman who will have the honor of delivering this to Your Excellency, is desirous of paying a visit to his Father at New York; before Mr Barton’s arrival in this City I had received a Letter directed to his Father, the propriety of delivering it unopened submitted to me by the Gentleman who had forwarded it from France, upon enquiry I learned that Mr Barton the elder had gone over to the Enemy,6 therefore by advice of my friends I opened & found it to be from the present Gentleman, exhibiting a contrast of Characters between Father & Son. upon the arrival of the Latter, I delivered him his Letter & requested a Copy of it, which I shall inclose under the present cover as the best recommendation of a suitor to Your Excellency for a permit to pass either to or beyond the Enemy’s Lines—such a permit cannot at present be obtained in philadelphia.7

Mr Barton has desired me to add to his own the name of a Mr Zantzinger who intends to accompany him. I know nothing of the latter & no more of the first Gentleman than I have already mentioned, I must confess myself prejudiced in his favor, but I have given him no ground for beleiving that I act the part of a solicitor—he understands, “that I send a Copy of his Letter, & that General Washington will do as he shall think proper.”8

shall I request Your Excellency to present me in the most respectful terms to Mrs Washington, a Box of Oranges &c. from Don Juan de Miralles is waiting the call of the Dep. Quarter Master, I am apprehensive the event will be, Mrs Washington’s wishes that Mr Laurens had eat the Oranges while they were sound. believe me with the most sincere & respectful attachment Dear sir. Your much obliged humble servant

Henry Laurens,


1Laurens, who had been granted a leave of absence from Congress on 4 Feb., left Philadelphia on or about 16 Feb. and attended the celebration that occurred two days later at the artillery park near Pluckemin, N.J., to mark the first anniversary of the French alliance. He returned to Congress by 25 Feb. (see 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 , 13:144, 250, and GW to William Maxwell, 16 Feb., n.3).

2The Washingtons had lodged at Laurens’s house during their recent visit to Philadelphia.

3For accounts of the British raid on Elizabeth, N.J., on 25 Feb., which included an unsuccessful attempt to capture Gov. William Livingston at his nearby house, see William Maxwell to GW, 27 Feb., and notes 3, 4, 5, and 7 to that document.

4Neither this letter nor the enclosed newspapers have been identified. For an account of the current military situation in South Carolina and Georgia, see Benjamin Lincoln to GW, 7 February.

Richard Hutson (c.1747–1795), a lawyer from Charleston, S.C., who had been elected a South Carolina delegate to Congress in January 1778, attended Congress during the spring of 1778 and from late October 1778 to late February 1779. A native of South Carolina, Hutson had graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1765 and then returned home to study and practice law. In addition to serving in Congress, he was a member of the South Carolina house of representatives 1776–80, 1782–86, and 1789–90; a state privy councilor 1780–83; and lieutenant governor 1782–83. Following the surrender of Charleston to the British in May 1780, Hutson was imprisoned with several other South Carolina Patriot leaders at St. Augustine, Fla., until they all were released in July 1781. After the war, Hutson served for many years as a judge on the state chancery court.

Andrew Williamson (c.1730–1786), a prominent militia officer and political leader in the area around Ninety Six, S.C., became a controversial figure during the latter years of the Revolutionary War because of his apparently shifting loyalties. Having immigrated to South Carolina from Scotland as a child, Williamson received little formal education. He made a reputation for himself as an Indian fighter on the Southern frontier during the French and Indian War, when he served as a South Carolina militia lieutenant, and during the Cherokee expedition of 1776, which he commanded as a militia colonel. Williamson served in the first and second South Carolina provincial congresses 1775–76 and the state general assembly 1776–80. In the summer of 1778, he commanded a South Carolina militia contingent on the aborted East Florida expedition, and that fall he led another militia force against the Creek Indians in Georgia. Promoted to brigadier general of militia by January 1779, Williamson was reported on 1 Feb. 1779 to have 870 Continentals and militia under his command near Adams Ferry, S.C., across the Savannah River from British-occupied Augusta, Ga. (Lesser, Sinews of Independence description begins Charles H. Lesser, ed. The Sinews of Independence: Monthly Strength Reports of the Continental Army. Chicago, 1976. description ends , 102–3). When a large contingent of North Carolina militia reinforced Williamson on 13 Feb., the British withdrew down the Savannah (see Laurens to GW, 16 March, n.1). In August 1779 Williamson conducted a punitive expedition against the Cherokee, but in the spring of 1780, he was frustrated in his efforts to persuade the upcountry militia to resist the British invasion of South Carolina. Williamson’s acceptance of British protection in June 1780 and his subsequent move from his home near Ninety Six to a plantation within the British lines around Charleston convinced most Patriots that he was a turncoat. In the spring of 1782, however, Williamson began acting as an American spy, sending valuable intelligence about the British forces to Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene through Lt. Col. John Laurens. On Greene’s recommendation, the South Carolina legislature eventually restored Williamson’s citizenship and his confiscated property to him. Williamson continued living near Charleston for the remainder of his life (see Greene to John Mathews, 22 Dec. 1782, and Williamson to Greene, 22 Dec. 1782 and 28 Jan. 1783, in Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 12:331–32, 339–41, 395).

5The schooner Count d’Estaing, which had sailed from Charleston, S.C., to Philadelphia in mid-January with a letter from South Carolina president Rawlins Lowndes to Laurens requesting military stores, sailed on its return voyage to Charleston on 13 Feb. carrying some of the artillery and musket ammunition that Congress on 2 and 8 Feb. had directed to be sent to South Carolina (see Lowndes to Laurens, 9 Jan., in Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 15:30–32; Lowndes to Laurens, 15 Jan., DNA:PCC, item 72; Laurens to Lowndes, 12 Feb., 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 , 12:58–59; and 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 , 13:133, 151, 195). “A larger quantity of these Stores,” Laurens and the other South Carolina delegates, William Henry Drayton and Richard Hutson, wrote to Lowndes on 12 Feb., “would have been shipped in this Vessel could she have carried them, but we shall endeavour to find some opportunity of sending forward what remains here of the quantities ordered” (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 , 12:60–61).

6Thomas Barton (1728–1780), who had attended Trinity College in Dublin, emigrated from Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1750 and became a tutor at the Academy of Philadelphia and at a small school near Norristown, Pennsylvania. Marrying David Rittenhouse’s sister Esther Rittenhouse (d. 1774) in 1753, Barton went to England two years later to be ordained an Anglican minister, and he returned to Pennsylvania a short time later as a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Reverend Barton evangelized Indians around Carlisle, Pa., for some time and served as a chaplain on the 1758 Forbes expedition against Fort Duquesne, on which GW also served. There is no evidence, however, that the two men were well acquainted with one another. In 1759 Barton settled in Lancaster County, Pa., where he established three Anglican churches. Steadfastly loyal to the king at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Barton was obliged to close his churches in 1776, and in the fall of 1778 he moved with his second wife, Sarah Thornbury Barton, to British-occupied New York City, where he became chaplain of the 3d Battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers and where he died on 25 May 1780 (see George Bryan to GW, 5 March 1779, and Royal Gazette [New York], 31 May 1780).

7William Barton (1754–1817), the oldest son of Rev. Thomas Barton, had recently returned home to Pennsylvania from England, where had gone in 1775 for education. Although his letter to his father by way of France has not been identified, it is certain that he did not share his father’s Loyalist views. William Barton had taken an oath of allegiance to the United States soon after his ship docked at Baltimore on 8 Jan. 1779, and before long he was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar and began practicing law in Philadelphia. Barton also made use of his expertise in heraldry and economics. In 1780 and 1782 he assisted congressional committees in designing the great seal of the United States, and in 1781 and 1786 he published treatises on paper money. Barton received an honorary master’s degree from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) in 1781 and another one from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1785. In 1787 he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society. Barton sent GW an essay on heraldry on 28 Aug. 1788 (see Papers, Confederation Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1992–97. description ends , 6:476–78) and a paper about population growth on 10 Aug. 1792 (see Papers, Presidential Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series. 17 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1987—. description ends , 10:645). By 1800 Barton had moved to Lancaster, Pa., where he had grown up as a boy, and in 1813 he published a biography of his uncle, astronomer David Rittenhouse.

8Paul Zantzinger, a Lancaster, Pa., tailor who had previously supplied clothing to the Continental army, was William Barton’s brother-in-law (see GW to Laurens, 17–18 Nov. 1777, and n.7 to that document, and George Bryan to GW, 5 March 1779). On 6 March, GW wrote Brig. Gen. William Maxwell from Middlebrook: “The bearer Mr [William] Barton being desirous of meeting a friend of his, (who is now within the British Lines)—at Elizabethtown point—You will be pleased to grant him a Flag to convey his letter containing a Request for that purpose” (Df, in John Laurens’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). On 18 Feb. 1780, and again on 14 April 1780, the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council gave William Barton and Paul Zantzinger permission to meet and confer with Rev. Thomas Barton at Elizabeth, N.J., on private business (Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 12:256, 317). Reverend Barton and his wife apparently wanted to return to Pennsylvania, but on 6 and 19 May 1780 the Pennsylvania council rejected William Barton’s and Paul Zantzinger’s petitions to allow them to do so, nor would the council permit Barton and Zantzinger to go to New York City and return to Pennsylvania (Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 12:339, 357). Reverend Barton’s death in New York City on 25 May 1780 put an end to these efforts.

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