George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Jay, 10 May 1779

From John Jay

Philadelphia 10th May 1779


I have had the pleasure of receiving your Excellency’s Favors of the 3rd, & 7th Instt with the several enclosures referred to in them; the former was committed for the purpose of executing the measures it recommends—the latter will be communicated to Congress this morning.

Herewith are enclosed Copies of two Acts of Congress respecting the defence of the State of Rhode-Island, with a copy of a Letter from Governor Greene of the 26th Ulto, upon that Subject1—also an Act of the 7th Inst., making further Provision for the defence of Georgia and South-Carolina.2 I have the Honor to be With the greatest Respect And Esteem your Excellency’s Most Obedt Servt

John Jay Presidt

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 14.

1The enclosed copy of a letter from Rhode Island governor William Greene to Congress, dated 26 April at Providence, reads: “In December 1776 the Enemy took possession of Rhode island with a great force; and the other islands belonging to the State consequently fell into their hands.

“The remaining part of the State is only a strip of Land, bordering upon the Sea, not having a foot in it twenty miles distant from a good landing place. Rhode island is nearly the center; from whence the enemy may arrive at Providence (which is at present the capital of the State) or at any other trading town, in so short a time after their embarkation that it will be impossible to assemble a body of militia to oppose them, before they have effected their business and retreated. And further our most fertile lands lye upon the Coast, exposed to the ravages of the Enemy.

“In this situation, not having any Continental troops in the State, and receiving but little assistance from the neighbouring States, we ordered a Brigade of eighteen hundred men to be raised for fifteen Months, and were obliged for some time to call the whole militia upon duty, and to keep one third of all our fencible men in the Field many Months. In the spring of 1777 an Attack upon Rhode island was miditated; but, after collecting a considerable body of Men, it was given up. By the preparations for which the State was put to very great expence, and much distressed. In September following the plan of another expedition to Rhode island was concerted; in which more than half the fencible men in the State were employed for a month. This also failed. In the spring of the year following the Brigade having served their limited time we were obliged to raise another of fifteen hundred Men for twelve months. We continued from time to time, to call forth a considerable part of our Militia until August 1778, when the last Expedition to Rhode island took place. In this expedition, so intolerable had been the sufferings of the Inhabitants, and so great their Zeal to expel the Enemy, that all our fencible Men were ordered into the service.

“The conventions of the New England States which met at Providence in December 1776, and at Springfield in July 1777, were so sensible of the Inability of this State to defend itself against the common Enemy, that they entered into Stipulations that the three other States should furnish certain quotas of Men for the defence of this; which were approved by Congress. These stipulations, we are sorry to say (though sometimes partially) were never fully complied with. Indeed for Months together we have had no troops from either of those States.

“Owing to these causes we have been under the cruel necessity of taking the Inhabitants from their farms, in the seasons of plowing, planting sowing and gathering in their crops; by which means husbandry hath been neglected, the State impoverished And we are now almost upon the verge of a famine.

“Since the Arrival of the Brigades under the command of General Varnum, and genl Glover and of col. Jackson’s regiment, the State hath been much eased. We have nevertheless been obliged constantly to keep part of our Militia upon duty.

“The Enemy are now six thousand strong; in the very heart of the State. The time for which the State’s brigade was inlisted expired on the sixteenth of March last. Another is ordered; but as yet we have reinlisted but about three hundred and fifty of them; owing principally to the want of Money to pay their bounties, and to the great discouragement the service hath received by the soldiers not having been paid any wages for several Months past. The States of Connecticut, and Newhampshire do not even encourage us to expect a single Man from them. Massachusetts Bay, it is true, have ordered a regiment of five hundred Men to our relief, of which about forty only have arrived; nor do we see any prospect of their soon completing the Number ordered.

“The Enemy are in possession of one third part of the whole State in value. Our commerce, from whence we derived great part of our subsistence, is in a manner annihilated. The Inhabitants have been harrassed beyond measure. The State is burthened with debt, reduced to poverty, and cannot even support the brigade now raising without the Assistance of Congress, and we have not, exclusive of our own Militia, more than Three thousand men upon duty in the State.

“In this most critical and deplorable situation we are much surprized at an order received from his Excellency General Washington for General Gl⟨over’s⟩ brigade to hold itself in readiness to march from th⟨is⟩ State upon the shortest notice.

“The duty we owe to ourselves, and our Country compels us to remonstrate against this order. Should it be carried into execution our whole sea-coast must be depopulated unless we call forth our Militia to guard it: And of the two evils we can hardly say which we would choose. Nay our very existence as one of the United States will be greatly endangered.

“We cannot avoid observing that a distinction seems to have been made between this, and every other State invaded by the Enemy; there being no other, in which the Enemy have posted themselves with force, ⟨left⟩ in so defenceless a condition. Nor can we help humbly giving our Opinion that there is no place where a just proportion of the continental troops can be more usefully employed than in this State, which at present contains a third part of the whole strength the enemy have in the United States.

“We therefore most earnestly request Congress to take this matter into immediate consideration, and to give directions to his excellency General Washington not to call General Glover’s brigade out of the State untill it shall be replaced by an equal number of other Continental troops” (DLC:GW).

The enclosed copies of two resolutions that Congress adopted on 7 May in response to Greene’s letter read: “Resolved, That a copy of the said letter be transmitted to the commander in chief, And that he take such order thereon as the necessities of the State of Rhode Island may require and the good of the service admit” and: “Resolved That it be and it hereby is earnestly recommended to the state of Newhampshire, Massachusetts bay and Connecticut to furnish and keep up constantly in the state of Rhode island and Providence Plantations their several quotas of troops as adjusted by the resolution of a committee from the said states and the state of Newyork which met at Springfield in the state of Massachusetts bay the 30 day of July 1777” (DLC:GW; see also JCC, 14:554).

For the background to this proposed movement and GW’s eventual decision to cancel it, see John Sullivan to GW, 16 April; GW to Horatio Gates, 17 April; John Glover to GW, 26 April; the Rhode Island Legislature to GW, 26 April; GW to Glover, 4 May; GW to Greene, 11 May; GW to Gates, 14 May; and GW to Jay, 14 May.

2The enclosed copy of some Congressional resolutions of 7 May relating to the southern states reads: “The Comee to whom was referred the letter from the lieutenant Governor of South Carolina brought in a report, whereupon.

“Resolved, That the recruits lately raised and raising in Virginia to compleat the sd State’s quota of troops for the Continental army be ordered with all possible expedition to join the Southern Army in South Carolina.

“That Col. Bland’s regiment of light Dragoons be ordered to join the Southern army as expeditiously as possible.

“That the commanding Officer of col. Baylor’s regiment of light Dragoons be directed to order as many of the dismounted men of the said regiment as col. Bland has spare horses for to join Col. Bland without delay.

“That the said commanding officer be directed to detach all the mounted and equipped men of the said regiment under officers proportioned to the number of men to join Col. Bland’s regt & proceed therewith to reinforce the Southern Army.

“That Mr President write a letter to the Governor of Virginia requesting in the name of Congress that the new levies in Virginia may be furnished with the cloathes promised them by law as speedily as possible, and if this cannot be immediately done that the State use its influence to induce the men to proceed with satisfactory assurances that the cloathing shall follow as soon as possible.

“Resolved That the State of North Carolina be earnestly requested to compleat its quota of troops in the most expeditious mode and that the third, fourth, fifth and sixth continental regiments raised in that State be employed in the southern service” (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 , 14:559–61).

GW had suggested these measures in his letter of 30 April to Richard Henry Lee.

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