George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Board of War, 25 March 1779

From the Board of War

War-Office [Philadelphia] 25th March 1779


We beg leave to ask your Excellency’s opinion relative to a Mr Macpherson who is the subject of the inclosed memorial.1

His conduct and situation as represented in that, we believe to be justly stated; and we should chearfully have taken such notice of his merits as they deserved, could it have been done consistent with the establish’d rules of the army. He has been in the British army from his infancy, and having officiated as Adjutant for a number of years, we have reason to think he has acquired a very competent knowledge of their discipline and regulations: And as he is anxious to get into the military line in our service, several propositions have been made by him on that head, all of which we conceive it will be impracticable to adopt: His last plan was, that he should be appointed to a company in some Regiment with the brevet rank of a Major, and that he should continue to act as Aid to the Baron Steuben in the Inspectorship, ’till he could with propriety come into the line as a feild Officer—From our opinion of his acquaintance with military matters, we should have been glad to employ him in this way, were it possible; but we fear that is not the case.

There is but one post that we know of, which can be offered for his acceptance; and that is in the Staff department. From Colonel Ward’s being in Captivity we suppose the duty of Muster Master General will devolve upon Colo. Varick,2 and in this case it might perhaps not be improper unless his particular Circumstances should occasion Jealousies or Distrust to give Mr Macpherson a Deputy Muster Master General’s appointment. One part of this Officer’s duty he thinks himself perfectly master of, as from having been Adjutant, the arms and equipments of a Soldier came particularly under his notice. We mention this to your Excellency as being the only feasible scheme of employing him that has presented itself to us; & would request your sentiments as to the propriety of putting it in practise. If any method could be taken which should appear more eligible than what we have pointed out, we beg your Excellency would be pleased to favor us with your Ideas on it; as we are desirous of providing for Mr Macpherson, but would not wish to do it in the way that would create discontent.3 We have the Honour to be with the greatest Respect Your very obed. Servants

Richard Peters By Order

ALS, DLC:GW. Robert Hanson Harrison wrote on the cover: “Another letter 26 only to be acknowledged.” This letter has not been found.

1This enclosure, found in DLC:GW, is a petition of 6 Jan. from William Macpherson to Congress that reads: “May it please the Honorable Congress to be informed, that their Petitioner late a Lieutenant and Adjutant in His Britannic Majestys 16th Regiment of Foot, hath rather than continue in Arms against his native Country and the cause of Liberty, not only resigned those Commissions which rendered him independent for Life, and rejected many solicitations to go to the Southward where he was positively assured of being advanced, but at the risk of perhaps perpetual imprisonment had he been taken in the attempt made his escape from New York the 19th Ultimo, tho not before he had solicited Sir Henry Clinton’s permission to pass the British Lines who positively refused him that liberty unless he would give his Parole of Honor not to enter into the service of the United states of America, which engagement your Petitioner would not enter into being fully determined to offer his service to the Honorable Congress as soon as possible, his inducements for which are many, first, the ardent desire he has of exerting himself in the Glorious Cause in which his native Country is engaged a Cause which his Father has most sincerely at heart and in support of which his beloved Brother fell.

“Your Petitioner soon after the Commencement of the present contest applied to the Commanding Officer of the Garrison of Pensacola where he was then Quartered for permission to go to the Head Quarters of the British army, which step was absolutely necessary to be taken before he could quit the Army but was positively refused.

“Your Petitioner has been bred to Arms from a very early period in Life, and has been seven Years Adjutant of the 16th Regiment of Foot, which has given him an opportunity of accquiring a knowledge of his Profession which he could not have obtained without being in that Station, he therefore humbly begs the Honorable Congress will please to grant him such rank in their Service as the opportunities he has had of gaining a knowledge of the Profession of Arms may deserve, which will not only be the Manner in which he can most essentially serve his Country but will afford him an Opportunity of revenging his Brothers fall.

“The Compliance of the Honorable Congress in this matter, will fix the most lasting sentiments of gratitude in the Breast of their Petitioner.” The original of this petition from Macpherson is in DNA:PCC, item 41. Congress read the petition on 9 Jan. and referred it to the Board of War (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 , 13:43).

Another enclosure may have been an extract, misdated 7 Jan., from the minutes of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council for 1 Jan. recommending McPherson to Congress “in regard to the memory of his brother Major John Macpherson who fell before the Walls of Quebec, as well as in consideration of his own merit” (DLC:GW; see also DNA:PCC, item 41, for the original extract, and Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11:655). William Macpherson (1756–1813) enlisted in the British army at an early age, purchased the rank of lieutenant in the 16th Regiment of Foot on 26 July 1773, and served as adjutant of that regiment before resigning his commission in 1778. His efforts to join the Continental army finally succeeded in September 1779 when he was appointed a brevet major. He subsequently served as an aide to Lafayette. After the war, Macpherson secured appointments in Philadelphia during GW’s presidency as surveyor of customs, inspector of the port, and naval officer (see Macpherson to GW, 27 April 1789, in 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 , 2:137–39). He also served as colonel and brigadier general in the Pennsylvania militia. Macpherson’s older brother, John, had died on 31 Dec. 1775 during the storming of Quebec while an aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Richard Montgomery.

2For the capture and exchange of Col. Joseph Ward, commissary general of musters, see GW to Richard Varick, 15 Feb., and n.1 to that document.

3GW’s reply of 29 March to the Board of War confirmed the board’s views on Macpherson.

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