George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Jay, 3 June 1779

To John Jay

Head Quarters Middle Brook June 3: 1779


I do myself the Honor of transmitting to Your Excellency a Copy of a Report of a Board of General Officers in a dispute between the Captains in the pensilvania line and Captain prowell, who has been appointed to the majority in the 11th Regiment. If Congress approve the Report, they will be pleased to revoke Captain prowells Commission. They will see a Copy of the Memorial against his appointment, which with his claim was before the Board.1 I would also take the liberty to return the Memorials of Colonels Cortland & Gansevoort and that of Colo. Dubois, which were respectively transmitted in your Excellency’s favors of the 22d of April and 25 Ulto. It appears to me that Congress can best decide on the points they contain. The Commission from which Colo. Dubois claims rank, was obtained immediately from them in 1776. A Board of Officers could only report a state of facts already ascertained, by which it appears that Col. Dubois was in the first instance promoted over Officers of superior rank and equal merit. The confirming or revoking his appointment would ultimately rest with Congress.2 It is essential that the matter should receive the earliest decision, as the Regiments these Gentlemen command, compose a part of the forces detached against the Indians3—and I fear from the information I have received, their disputes may be very injurious to the service. I have the Honor to be with great esteem & regard Yr Excellency’s Most Obed. sert

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read GW’s letter and acted on his recommendations on 5 June (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).

1The enclosure was an extract from “the proceedings of The Board of General Officers held at Middle Brook, 29th May.” It reads: “The Board have also examined Major Prowells Claim, and are unanimously of Opinion, that the most natural construction that can be put upon the first Resolution of Congress for the incorporating [of] Pattons & Hartleys Regts, and the Independant Companies is, That it was their intention, that these broken Corps should form a Battalion and join the Pensylvania line without any alteration of rank only relative to one another, this interpretation is warranted as well from the Justice as the tenor of the Resolve … Major Prowells claim of superior Rank from having been Captain of Artificers is not admissable, neither does it appear that he has any Just pretentions from any vacancies in the Regiment. It seems to be a principle admitted throughout the Army, that Officers shall rise regimentally to the rank of Captains; and then in the State in the Line of Feild Officers. It also seems to have been the received Opinion of former Boards of General Officers, that the same principle that govern’d the State promotions, should operate in the sixteen Battallions. This principle being admitted which the Board think just and equitable, Major Prowell cannot Claim rank from the Vacancy in Patton’s Regt unless he was the Oldest Captain in the Sixteen Battallions which he will not pretend to.

“Upon what Principle Governor Reed rejected Captain Stoddar[d]’s claim and admitted Major Prowells, dont appear as the reasons that he urg’d as Objections to the one operated equally strong for rejecting the other. If Stoddard could not be promoted with out injury to the Pensylvania line, neither could Major Prowell. The Board are therefore of opinion that Major Prowells Claim is not warranted, and that his promotion is an injury to the Captains of the Pensylvania State” (DNA:PCC, item 152; 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 12:1225). This board of general officers consisted of major generals Nathanael Greene and Johann Kalb and brigadier generals William Woodford and Peter Muhlenberg. Congress confirmed the board’s findings and vacated Joseph Prowell’s commission as major in the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment. GW announced this action in the general orders for 13 June.

2The enclosures were memorials to Congress concerning relative rank from colonels Philip Van Cortlandt and Peter Gansevoort, dated 9 April, and from Col. Lewis Duboys, dated 12 May, all in DNA:PCC, item 42. The memorial from Van Cortlandt and Gansevoort apparently came to GW enclosed with Jay’s letter to GW of 22 April, which has not been found. GW announced in the general orders for 13 June the decision in Congress to rank Duboys after Van Cortlandt and Gansevoort.

3GW is referring to Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s expedition against the Six Nations. Van Cortlandt commanded the 2d New York Regiment, Gansevoort the 3d New York Regiment, and Duboys the 5th New York Regiment.

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