George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Captains Thomas Bartholomew Bowen and Benjamin Bartholomew, 25 May 1779

From Captains Thomas Bartholomew Bowen and Benjamin Bartholomew

Camp Millstone [N.J.]
May 25th 1779

May it please your Excellency

The Captains of the Pennsylvania Line, having some time ago had the honour to address your Excellency on the subject of Captain Prowells promotion;1 and having since received a Letter from Governor Reed, containing some facts relative to that matter, with his Idea thereof;2 Also the Copy of a Letter from Mr Secretary Scull to Major General St Clair, inclosing certain resolves of Congress, on which he with certain emphatical marks is pleased to put his own peremptory construction.3 do with the utmost deference beg leave to lay them before your Excellency—intreating that you will, amidst the multiplicity of more important concerns, be pleased to grant them a moments consideration; when we flatter ourselves your Excellency will readily see, not only the principle on which Captain Prowell holds his present rank, but the means by which he obtain’d it.

As the Gentlemen aggrieved wish only for a candid investigation, they have not the least objection to the mode proposed (or rather dictated) by Mr Scull should your Excellency be pleased to approve it.

We intreat your Excellency’s pardon if we again presume to beg your interposition in a matter which we humbly conceive injures the whole line of Officers belonging to our State. And are with perfect reliance on your Justice.4 Your Excellency’s Most Obedt Hble Servts

(Sign’d by order & in behalf
of the Pennsylvania Captains)
T.B. Bowen Captn 9th R.P.
Benjn Bartholomew Capt. 5th P. Regt


2The enclosed letter from Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council president Joseph Reed to the Pennsylvania Continental captains, dated 20 May at Philadelphia, reads: “I was some Time favoured with a Representation from you respecting the Promotion of Major Prowell: And I shall be very happy if the Communication of the followg Facts relative to that Matter should tend to promote Peace & satisfaction on this Subject. I had the Honour of being a Member of the Committee of Arrangement, & when Major Prowell’s Rank was under Consideration it was suggested, & as I understood fully settled that upon a Question arising on a former Occasion in Col. Hartlys Regiment what Rank Mr Prowell ought to have as Captain, a Board of Officers settled it very much in his Favour by having Respect to a Commission as Captain of Artificers, tho this appeared to me rather unusual I acquiesced in it as being done by Gentlemen who were competent Judges of the Point. I do not perfectly recollect the Date of the Resolution of Congress by which Col. Hartleys & Pattons Regiments were united but I am very clear that the Arrangement was made under that Idea & that they were when united to be annexed to the Line—& I also very well remember that Col. Hartley press’d very much to give Capt. Stoddard the Majority which I utterly refused to assent to & gave him as my principal Reason that it would give Dissatisfaction to the other Gentlemen in The Pennsylvania Line. I mention this Circumstance as illustrating my Idea of this Matter as I am informed that Capt. Stoddard held the Rank of Mr Prowell, & has quitted the Service in Consequence of failing to procure the Majority of the Regiment.

“I never considered the Arrangement untill published by the Sanction of Congress to be absolutely binding & therefore should apprehend that it may yet be a proper Subject for the Consideration of a Board of Officers & if any Thing remains in my Power to promote the Justice due to all concerned & the Satisfaction of the whole Line” (DLC:GW).

3The enclosed copy of a letter from Peter Scull to Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair, dated 17 May at the War Office in Philadelphia, reads: “Understanding that some difficulties have arisen with respect to the promotion of Major prowell, and having been desired to mention my knowledge relative to it, I now do myself the honor to address you on the subject. This gentleman was arranged in his present station in consequence of the resolution of Congress of the 13th of January; a copy of which is inclosed—By that resolve you will [observe] that Hartley’s and patton’s Regiments, and the independent companies under the command of Colonel Malcom, were to be form’d into a complete Battallion and then annexed to the State of Pennsylvania: so that it would have been deviating totally from the spirit and meaning of the resolve, had officers been added to the Corps either from the pennsylvania line or from any of the other additional Regiments—This last argument has been urged; but a moments reflection must evince the fallacy of it. One mistake I believe has been committed; in dating Major prowell’s commission earlier than his right of succession to a majority accrued. This happened from not attending to the time that Cap. Grubb left the service, which was a few weeks after the battle of Monmouth; so that instead of the 1st of January his commission ought to have been dated sometime in July 1778. This mistake did not affect the pennsylvania line as he was still the youngest Major; but it should undoubtedly be rectified on account of the injustice it may do to the rest of the army. The reasons why he was appointed in preference to the other officers of the different corps that form the Regiment, have been committed to writing and transmitted to the commander in chief. Should this matter be again agitated, I should suppose that the determination of it will rest with a board of officers totally unconnected with the parties, & composed of members from the lines of other States. This has I am told been done in similar cases, and on behalf of Major Prowell who is absent I would wish to suggest it in this instance, as his case is somewhat peculiar.

“I must apologize Sir, for trespassing upon your time and patience; but as commanding officer of the Pennsylvania troops I conceiv’d that this representation would with most propriety come before you” (DLC:GW).

4The captains got their wish, as a board of general officers was convened on 28 May and Congress revoked Prowell’s commission on 5 June (see General Orders, 27 May, n.1, and 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 , 14:694). For a detailed discussion of this controversy, see GW to the Board of War, 10 Oct. 1778, n.1; see also Peter Scull to GW, 21 May.

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