George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Maryland Delegates, 23 May 1779

From the Maryland Delegates

philadela May 23d 1779.

Dear General

We had the Honor of a Letter from his Excellency the Governor of Maryland last night, by express, dated on the 20th Inst.1 The Devastation and cruelties hourly committed by the Enemy in Virginia, and the probability of their acting the same part in Maryland, unless timely prevented, has justly alarmed the people of that State. We lament that the Army under the Command of your Excellency does not admit of a Detachment from the Maryland Troops. Were it possible to head the Malitia by a small Body of regular Troops, they would turn out with more alacrity and act with greater vigour thus incorporated, than alone. It may indeed happen, that the present views and progress of the Enemy may render any extensive preparations for Defence in Maryland unnecessary. But the Destruction of portsmouth and Suffolk joined to the Threats of the Enemy are sufficient to induce a belief in the minds of the Citizens of Annapolis and Baltimore, that their Cities are not safe unless defended by superior force. We have no accurate knowledge of the strength of your Army, nor any precise Ideas of your Excellencys present plans of operation, and therefore tho’ we, as individuals and Citizens of the State of Maryland wish, yet we do not look for any immediate aid from the main Army. Such as is consistent with the good of the whole, should the State be actually invaded, we know we shall receive. The principal Design of our writing to you at this time, is to inform your Excellency of the desire of the Governor of Maryland, to have Genl Gist sent down to Baltimore to head the Militia. He is a native of that place, has considerable weight with the Militia and will be of much Service if that City is attacked. Should the State be invaded, we cannot help suggesting in addition to the request of the Governor, considering the inexperience of Militia officers in general, that one or two other regular officers would also be found, extensively useful, if the state of the Maryland Troops will admit of it, but the propriety of this step we leave altogether to your Excellency and have the Honor to be with the most cordial affection your Excellency obedt & Hble Servts

Geo. Plater2

Wm Carmichael

John Henry Junr3

Dan. of St Thos Jenifer


1The enclosed copy of a letter from Gov. Thomas Johnson to the Maryland Delegates, dated 20 May in council at Annapolis, reads: “We have not had any certain late Intelligence from Virginia the same Express which carried letters to Congress brought letters from Governor Henry dated 11 & 12th inst. which gave us the same information doubtless that he communicated to Congress. We have not been however without several flying reports, how far they can be depended on we do not know. If the most probable are true they have two Hessian Brigades and a number of Tories & refugees commanded by Kniphausen. They have burnt Portsmouth & Suffolk and are on their way to South Quay. They have got a great Number of Negroes and have behaved with great cruelty. it is conjectured in Virginia that they desighn to visit this place and Baltimore as soon as the work is done or they are drove off in Virginia, we imagine the head of Elk is as much an Object as either Baltimore or Annapolis. In our situation where nothing is wanted in all probability to secure us against 2500 Men but Arms we cannot but remember how we have stripped ourselves of our Arms for the support of the Common cause and the little attention that has been paid to our request to return them. It may be too late for this occasion or perhaps not if it is possible to get a return of our arms or any of them pray do so & send them to the head of Elk with all Expedition. we had some Arms in that Neighbourhood but ordered them to Baltimore and unless some Assistance is given by the Congress little can be done by the Neighbouring Militia. If there should be an attempt against the head of Elk; though We hope cheif of the Continental stores will have been removed from thence. Could not General Gist be spared from Camp? Our Militia have a confidence in Him, He would be very usefull, he would be in his own neighbourhood acquainted with every Man & Every foot of Ground. If you can, send Him to us. we much want the Money to pay for the flour &c. purchased for Congress our Treasury is in advance & poor we shall want money if we are obliged to defend ourselves” (DLC:GW). Congress read Johnson’s letter on 24 May and referred it to the Board of War, resolving at the same time that “the Board be directed to furnish, with all convenient dispatch, to the State of Maryland, 600 stand of arms, for which the said State is to be accountable” (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 , 14:638; see also the Board of War to GW, 24 May).

The delegates also enclosed an extract of a letter from Samuel Purviance, dated 20 May at Baltimore: “Deserters from the Enemy say, that their Destination was Georgia as soon as they accomplish their Bussiness in Virga—yet the general Opinion, was that they intended to destroy Annapolis & Balt: before they left the Bay—Militia are collecting fast at Wmsburg—Col: Washington had marched from Fredericksburg with Baylor’s Dragoons—Our Militia tis feard will not turn out briskly without some regulars to support them—If Col: Moylands Horse at Lancaster, or Part of them, cou’d be order’d here, they will be of great Service, if we are invaded, & will encourage the Militia—I woud therefore beg as you regard our Preservation, that you wou’d use your utmost Endeavors to get the whole, or Part of Moyland’s Horse sent into this State—The young Gentlemen of this Place have opened a Subscription for a temporary Troop of Horse—We are fiting the Conqueror Galley, & believe the Chester is now fit for Service at Annapolis—we have it in Contemplation to fit two more Galleys to lie in the River as Batteries, which we expect to be able to man with Volunteers for temporary Service” (DLC:GW). For more on the British raid on Portsmouth, Va., and the vicinity, see William Maxwell to GW, 3 May, n.2, and John Jay to GW, 22 May, n.1.

2George Plater (1735–1792) of St. Marys County, Md., was educated at the College of William and Mary and practiced law in Annapolis, also serving before the war as a member of the Maryland assembly, a judge of the provincial court, and a member of the state council. He served intermittently from 1776 to 1791 as a member of the state senate, and from 1778 to 1780 as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He was elected governor of Maryland in 1791 and died in office.

3John Henry, Jr. (c.1750–1798) of Dorchester County, Md., graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) in 1769 and subsequently studied law at the Middle Temple in London. He returned to the United States in 1775 and practiced law, also serving as a member of the Maryland Assembly and, from 1778 to 1780 and 1785–86, as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He served two terms as a U.S. senator from Maryland, 1789–97, and was governor of Maryland in 1797–98.

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