George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Captain Nathaniel Ewing, 9 March 1779

From Captain Nathaniel Ewing

Camp Middle Brook March 9th 1779


I was appointed on the 3d January—76 a first Lieut. in the Regiment late Smallwood’s, and served that Campaign, And upon it’s establishment as the first, and the Incorporation of the seven Independant Companies as the second Continental Regts in the Maryland Line on the 9th of October following and five new Regiments ordered to be raised pursuant to a Resolve of Congress of the 16th Septr—76,1 I was appointed 2d Captain of the first Regiment on the 10th December following, which Rank I was intitled to from the 11th of October preceeding upon the Resignation of Capt. Lucas2—I continued to do Duty Under Colo. Ware who commanded that Regt ’till April—77—when the Partial and unjust Promotion of junior over senior officers &c. made by the Assembly obliged me with many others who came under that description to resign, as we could not consistent with our Sentiments of Honor remain in the Service Under such glaring Acts of Partiality extended to those whose undue Promotion was repugnant to every Military Principle.3

Lest the service should be injured by our Resignations at that critical Time, as there were a Number of Men collected at Annapolis who tho ready cou’d not be marched to Camp for want of officers we were prevailed on to make the Propositions of which the inclosed is a true Copy—The latter of these was accepted by the Assembly from which we had every Assurance of your being invested with full Powers to do strict justice to the Pretensions of every Claimant.4

Under these Impressions we reasumed our Commissions And without hesitation marched off the Trops for Camp before the resolution was framed pursuant to the above assurances given us by a Deputation from the House of Delegates in answer to our letter.

Solemn and clear as this engagement was it wou’d have been a mark of distrust, highly unbecomeing our Delicacy, and the Confidence which ought to have been reposed in the Legislative Body of our State, to have waited and demanded a sight of the Resolution before we marched which by the Deputation was pledged to vest the clearest and most Ample Powers in you for this Purpose—tho the Event will discover the Expediency of such a precaution—for the Ambiguity of the Resolution of the late Assembly thereon is an evident deviation from what was Plighted, tho perhaps in them it might not be intentional, but the construction thereof by the present Assembly and their Resolution explaining what was originally intended is a manifest violation of Public Faith.5

It must appear to your Excellency from our Letter that their adopting the establishment of the flying Camp Rank as a general and ruling Principle to regulate our Promotion was not so much an object of our Apprehension and disgust, as their partial and undue Promotions which was then and must still be considered as the only objection we could not wave And as the present Assembly have thought proper to Explain and Resolve us out of this just objection I am for holding no further Faith with them, and therfore beg your Excellency to accept my Resignation as I can never think of remaining an hour in the Service of a State in which all Confidence is forfeited And the most glaring Acts of Partiality Countenanced.6 I have the Honor to be with much Respect your Excellencys most obedt and very Humble Sert

Nat: Ewing Capt. 1st Maryland Regt

ALS, DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 1571.

1See 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 , 5:762–63.

2Barton Lucas (1729–1785) served as an ensign during the French and Indian War. He became captain in Col. William Smallwood’s 1st Maryland Regiment in January 1776 and resigned that October.

3Ewing is referring to promotions settled by the Maryland general assembly on 1 April 1777 (see Md. House Proc., Feb. 1777, 61–63). For concerns over the promotions of Maryland officers at that time, see GW to Thomas Johnson, 11 April 1777.

4The enclosed propositions have not been identified, but they likely were encompassed in an unidentified memorial of 4 April 1777 that GW enclosed to a board of general officers in a letter of 9 April 1779 (DeHi). On 10 April 1777, the Maryland House of Delegates adopted a resolution first proposed on 5 April that “the settlement of the rank of all military officers of the seven battalions raised by this state, as part of her quota of the continental army, be referred to his excellency general Washington” (Md. House Proc., Feb. 1777, 70, 81). The house concurred in a senate amendment on 11 April and adopted the original resolution with added text that reads: “That commissions be made out and the officers act according to the roster of rank agreed to by the general assembly, until such rank is settled by general Washington. That this resolution, together with all former resolutions of convention respecting rank of military officers, and the arrangement and roster of rank agreed to by this assembly, be sent to general Washington, in a joint letter from the president of the senate and speaker of the house of delegates” (Md. House Proc., Feb. 1777, 82; see also Md. Senate Proc., Feb. 1777, 44–45, 47, and GW to Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer and Nicole Thomas, 10 May 1777). For three other resolutions passed on 12 April related to arranging the rank of Maryland officers, see Md. House Proc., Feb. 1777, 85–86, and Md. Senate Proc., Feb. 1777, 47.

5Ewing is referring to the Maryland general assembly’s reconsideration of its resolution of 11 April 1777, an action prompted by GW’s letter of 5 Oct. 1778 to the President of the Maryland Senate and the Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. After tabling consideration of GW’s letter on 9 Nov. 1778, the house of delegates on 13 Nov. appointed a committee of five members to clarify the earlier resolution’s grant of power to GW to arrange the ranks of Maryland officers (see Md. House Proc., Oct. 1778, 11, 16; see also Md. Senate Proc., Oct. 1778, 2). The committee reported on 16 Nov. “that the resolutions of the general assembly referred to by general Washington, did not mean to confer powers for changing the appointment of any officer made by the assembly, by adding or taking away a grade. The general assembly, in forming the roster of rank, considered the act of convention of the 22d of August, 1776, as a superiedeas of the act of convention of the 15th of January, 1776, and conducted themselves accordingly, and the rather, as that establishment of rank of the 22d of August, was agreeable to what prevailed in most, if not all, the other states; and are of opinion, that the general assembly intended only to authorise an alteration in the instance of precedence amongst those of similar rank, where it might be found that mistakes had taken place in that respect” (Md. House Proc., Oct. 1778, 19). The house decided on 18 Nov. to take the report on GW’s letter into consideration the next morning, and on 19 Nov., “after some debate thereon,” voted 26–16 to affirm the report as a resolution (Md. House Proc., Oct. 1778, 20). The house on 21 Nov. again considered the report on GW’s letter and approved an amended resolution that reads: “Whereas the legislature of this state, on the eleventh day of April, 1777, passed a resolve, empowering his excellency general Washington to settle the rank of all officers in the Maryland forces in the continental service, to quiet the minds of, and to do justice to such as thought themselves injured by partial promotions; and as the general, doubtful of the powers to him given by the said resolve, has, by his letter of the 5th day of October, 1778, requested an explanation of the same, therefore it is RESOLVED, That his excellency general Washington have full power to settle and determine the rank of all or any of the officers of this state in the continental service, both with respect to grade and precedence, as to him shall appear just and right; and that the president of the senate and speaker of the house of delegates be directed to write to the general, advising him thereof” (Md. House Proc., Oct. 1778, 23). When sent to the senate for its approval, however, the house submitted the original resolution rather than the amended version (see Md. House Proc., Oct. 1778, 23–24, and Md. Senate Proc., Oct. 1778, 10–11). The senate made minor changes to this resolution on 24 Nov., and the house agreed to these amendments that same day (see Md. Senate Proc., Oct. 1778, 12, and Md. House Proc., Oct. 1778, 25). The resolution that was passed constrained GW’s authority to arrange the ranks of the Maryland officers, and it was this resolution that was enclosed in the letter of 8 Dec. 1778 from the President of the Maryland Senate and the Speaker of the House of Delegates to GW. For a subsequent resolution of the Maryland general assembly passed on 24 March 1779 that belatedly addressed Ewing’s complaints, see Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer and William Fitzhugh to GW, 26 March, and n.1 to that document; see also William Fitzhugh to GW, 2 January.

6Following his resignation, Ewing was discharged from the 1st Maryland Regiment on 16 March 1779 (Md. Archives description begins Archives of Maryland. 72 vols. Baltimore, 1883–1972. description ends , 18:106).

Index Entries