George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, 23 March 1779

From Brigadier General Anthony Wayne

Philadelphia 23rd March 1779

Dear General

I am this moment Honored with your’s of the 16th Containing the Affidavits & Extract of a letter from Govr Levingston, the Enclosed Naritive1 of Mr Archer will shew you something of the Nature2 of the Complaint3—I hope it will [not] be persuming too much on your Excellency’s good nature to Recapitulate the Circumstances which Immediately relate to myself.

some time in January—at an early hour in the morning a dirty looking fellow came abrubtly into my Chamber4 whilst I was in bed—I was disturbed5 by some high6 words between Mr Wright & him—upon enquiring the cause Mr Wright replied that that fellow said he had a Warrant for him—I asked upon whose Complaint—& desired the person to shew it, he peremptoraly refused, I Ordered him out of my Chamber which he also refused to Comply with—Mr Wright was directed to give him in Charge of my Quarter Guard until he would produce his Authority—(here it may not be Improper to mention that a day or two before this a Certain Arrowsmith a Notorious Spy & Caitiff was detected & Confined7 by me in the Center of the Camp—with a pass from a Justice Van Norstrandt in his possession)8 some time in the Afternoon Mr Van Nest Informed me that the Constable (as he called him) wanted to spake to me—I could not at that time attend to him having Gentlemen on particular buisness round me—I was again Applied to for liberty for him to go home & to return again in the Morning which was granted on Mr Van Nests Surity.

the next morning the person who I had Confined the day before came to my Quarters & told me that he was Concious of being very9 remiss in not shewing his Authority when demanded by myself & Mr Wright—that he would now shew it to me—upon perusal I found it to be a Warrant for taking Major Fishbourn and Mr Wright, (“perhaps it would not be any breach of Decorum10 or Violation of the Articles of War had the Civil Magistrate wrote to me & demanded them to be given up”) I told the Constable that he was at Liberty—& that if in place of being exceedingly rude & Insolent—he had shewed his Authority Yesterday he might have executed it without any Demur—as he might now.

We remained at Mr Van Nests for many days after—I frequently seen the same person about the House, & the young Gentlemen wished & were ready & Willing to Attend the Civil Authority11 at anytime when called on—but I never heared a Single hint further on the Occation until now.

I once had the Honor to Act in a Judicial as well as a Legislative Capacity & as such I should have thought it my duty—when an Unknown person12 should take upon him to enter & make a Disturbance in my Chamber by saying he had a Warrant for a Gentleman then in my room—to ask him for his Authority for so doing—& upon Refusal I shou’d Certainly have Ordered him into Custody until he produced it I believe that His Excellency Govr Levingston Would have done the same without thinking13 it the least Violation of Civil Authority.

I have as high an Idea of Civil Liberty as Govr Levingston or any Other Gentleman14—and have gone as far in the Support of it, & the rights of Mankind as most men in my Station—I therefore am but too tenderly hurt at the least Imputation of having diviated from that Principle—& am well Convinced that when Govr Levingston will Condecend15 to view—(as he will do) with an Impartial eye the facts herein Contained—he will not think that my Conduct had the least tendancy to Violate the Civil Authority.16

But Circumstanced as I then was, as an Officer in charge of a Detatched post17—would I not have been highly Criminal to have suffered an Unknown person Assuming Civil Or Military Authority18 to enter my Quarters & Inspect the Approaches to the Camp—to pass without an examination—& when called upon for his Authority should refuse to shew it—was it not my Indispensible duty to confine him—when not only the lives of the Troops under my Immediate Command—but the safety of the Army in General in a great degree19 depended on my care and Vigilance.

Is an Officer of Rank for doing his duty—a duty for which he was subject to Military punishment20 for neglect of—is he for doing that duty to be draged21 from publick Service to Answer a Charge that would not have lain agaist a private Citizen—even in a Country in full possession Of peace & where the laws alone22 bear Sway.

When I took upon me the Character of a Soldier I did not expect to be deprived the right of a Citizen—& on the present Charge I only acted as a free denizen23 would, or ought to have done—the Constable upon shewing his Authority was Immediately Released with free liberty to execute his Warrant.24

Major Fishbourn will Attend the proceess to be Issued against him at the time mentioned—I have buisness of a publick Nature that will Necessarily detain me25 here unless your Excellency has Occation for my Services in the field—or that any day After the first of April may not Answer the Intentions of Govr Levingston equally well.26 Interim I am Your Excellency’s Most Obt & very Hume Sert

Anty Wayne

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, PHi: Wayne Papers.

1Wayne wrote “testimony” on his draft.

2Wayne wrote “the Substance and force” rather than “something of the Nature” on his draft.

3The enclosure is a letter of this date from Wayne’s volunteer aide Henry Waldegrave Archer to GW, written at Philadelphia, which reads: “At the desire of Gen. Wayne I am to relate to your Excellency the facts that come within my Knowledge of the dispute between Major Fishbourn, & Mr Van Neste Jun.

“Some evening in January Messes Fishbourn & Wright going up stairs with an intention to go to their bed, which was in the same room in which Mr Van Neste also slept, found the door fastened within side; not knowing but it was accidental they came down, & applied to Mr Van Neste senr to Know the reason, who told them to ask his son who was in the room. The Gentleman judging by the manner in which they were answered that it was a designed thing, & enraged at being shut from their quarters, returned to the room door & broke it open. Gen. Wayne hearing a great noise, desired me to go up stairs & enquire the cause—Some of the first words I heard on my entering the room contained a threat from Mr Van Neste to Shoot Fishbourn with a Musquet he had by his bedside—in consequence of which F—— took him by the arm & struck him several Blows before I could prevent him. Mr Van Neste senr then came up stairs, & I left them talking tolerably quiet.

“The next evening the Gentlemen entered into a determination that he should sleep in the room with them no longer, & accordingly ordered him, & another person who was with him out of the bed they were in, which order was complied with after very little altercation, & not thro’ any fear of Pistols, (as Mr Van Neste says in his affidavit) which I can assure were not called for till after Van Neste & his Companion were gone out of the Room.

“I believe the next morning, or the succeeding one, a man addressed Capt. Wright at the bottom of the stairs, & told him he had a warrant for him, Wright went into the Generals room, who was still in bed, followed by the Con[s]table, & acquainted him with the matter—The Gen. desired the Con[s]table to produce his authority, he answered, he would be damned if he shewed it to any man. The Genl ordered him out of his Chamber, which he also refused to comply with—The serjeant of the guard was then called, & directed by the Gen. to take him into Custody; he was permitted by the Gen.’s order thro’ me to go home to his family in the Evening, on condition he returned in the morning—He did return, acknowledged having exceeded his duty, was sorry that he had acted wrong—We remained I believe near two weeks after this, during which time the Constable was at liberty; had every opportunity of executing his office, which he never did, or ever attempted to do, & the affair was conceived to be settled” (ALS, DLC:GW). For the deposition of Peter Davis, the Somerset County constable who attempted to serve the warrant on the officers in the home of Abraham Van Nest in Raritan, N.J., see William Livingston to GW, 9 March, n.1. This deposition gives Samuel Wright as the full name of the officer mentioned in Archer’s letter. Wright, whose full name and rank are uncorroborated, apparently served as one of Wayne’s aides.

Another aspect of this controversy is revealed in a letter of 26 March from Wayne to Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair, which reads: “Major Fishbourn is Ordered to your Camp on a Complaint of a young Mr Van Nest the Affair would at the first View Appear very trifling as you’l see by the testimonies in the Major’s hands, but the Major has Serious thoughts of Commencing a Suit against Van Nest for taking possession of my publick papers & Returns in the Majors Charge with a view of delivering them to the Enemy—who were hourly expected & we laying on our Arms to Receive them—that among Others was a powerful motive to Induce the Major to force his own Chamber door—for however Inocent Mr Van Nests Intentions might have been with regard to those papers yet the presumption was against him & it was the Major’s duty to Recover them at all events” (PHi: Wayne Papers).

4Wayne wrote “Quarters” on his draft.

5Wayne added “from my sleep” on his draft.

6This word does not appear on the draft.

7The previous two words do not appear on the draft.

8Wayne is referring to Joseph Arrowsmith, whom New Jersey authorities in October 1778 had found guilty of joining the king’s army. Wayne probably is referring to Jacob Van Nordstrand, a Somerset County judge.

9This word does not appear on the draft.

10At this place on his draft, Wayne set off between dashes the phrase “an Indignity to the Civil Authority.”

11The previous three words do not appear on the draft.

12The previous two words are not underlined on the draft.

13Wayne wrote “deeming” on his draft.

14Wayne added “I have Sacrificed both ease & affluence” on his draft.

15Wayne wrote “so far” before “Condecend” on his draft.

16The previous four words are underlined on the draft.

17On his draft, Wayne added “and at a time when I had orders to lay on my Arms ready to march, or to receive the Enemy at a moments Warning.”

18The previous six words are underlined on the draft.

19The previous four words do not appear on the draft.

20Wayne wrote “& exemplary” before “punishment” on his draft.

21This word is underlined on the draft.

22The previous three words are underlined on the draft.

23Wayne wrote “freeman” on his draft.

24Wayne added on his draft: “Notwithstanding the particular Circumstances the Army was then in.”

25Wayne wrote “require my presence” rather than “detain me” on his draft.

26No evidence has been identified to suggest that GW, Gov. William Livingston, or the Somerset County officials pursued the charges against Wayne and his staff officers. Wayne, who while in Philadelphia lobbied the Pennsylvania general assembly to improve compensation and benefits for the Pennsylvania line, returned to the army in the early summer when GW ordered him to take command of the light infantry near Fort Montgomery, N.Y. (see GW to Wayne, 21 June and 1 July, PHi: Wayne Papers).

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