George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Patrick Henry, 9 June 1779

To Patrick Henry

Smiths in the Clove [N.Y.] June the 9th 1779


Among the various difficulties that have occurred in the Army—there have been few more distressing or more injurious to the service than the disputes about rank—and those which have arisen from irregular promotions. A case has lately happened of this nature between John Allison & John Lee Esquires respecting the Lieutenant Colonelcy in the 1st Virginia State Regiment.1 The inclosed paper contains a Copy of the claims of the parties and of the Opinion of a Board of Field Officers as to their rights, which is submitted to Your Excellency to approve or disapprove, as it leads to a revocation of Commissions, which I do not consider myself authorized to direct in any instance.2 If the Board’s opinion is confirmed which is in favor of Mr Allison, and who was clearly a superior Officer to Mr Lee—it will be necessary to revoke the Commission of Lt Colo. granted the latter and that of Major granted to Captain Quarles. It will also be necessary in conformity to the Opinion of the Court—which is founded in justice to the line of the Army in general, that the Commissions of Lieut. Colonel and of Major given by Colo. Gibson3 to Mr Allison & Meriwether respectively, as mentioned in the proceedings, should be vacated—and New Ones issued bearing date at the time Lieutenant Colonel Brent was promoted to the command of the 2d State Regiment in consequence of Colo. Smith’s Resignation.4 I am sorry to observe upon this occasion, that there does not appear to have been that degree of candor & delicate conduct used, either in granting Commissions of Lt Colonel and Major to Mr Allison & Mr Meriwether in the first instance, or in obtaining those in the last for Mr Lee & Mr Quarles, which I could always wish to characterize Officers. The sooner Your Excellency determines the point and transmits the result the better—as till then matters will remain in suspence and confusion to the detriment of the service. I have the Honor to be with great respect and esteem Your Excellency’s Most Obed. & Most Hbl. sert

G: Washington

Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

Thomas Jefferson, who had replaced Patrick Henry as Virginia governor on 1 June, replied to GW from Williamsburg in a letter of 23 July: “Your Letter of the 9th ulto has been taken under consideration, and I have now the pleasure to inform Your Excellency, that the report of the Board of Field-Officers contain’d therein, meets with the intire approbation of the Executive of this State; I have therefore inclosed four blank Commissions, which it is requested You will be pleased to order to be filled up properly for the respective Officers intitled to them. I have been induced, Sir, to give You this trouble, lest any Mistake shou’d hereafter arise on account of dating any of the said Commissions” (LS, DLC: GW). For the enclosed report, see n.2 below. GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison docketed Jefferson’s letter in part: “ackn[owledge]d 10th” (see postscript to GW to Jefferson, 6–10 Aug., DLC:GW, where Jefferson’s letter is mistakenly dated 19 rather than 23 July). GW announced the revised commissions in General Orders, 24 Aug.; see also ch-cannot find letter in date search GW to Jefferson, 26 Aug.(DLC:GW).

1For this rank dispute, see General Orders, 11 May, and n.1 to that document.

2The original letter from colonels Christian Febiger, John Green, and William Davies; lieutenant colonels Burgess Ball and Thomas Gaskins; and majors John Webb and Thomas Posey to GW, written at Middlebrook on 29 May, reads: “At a meeting of the Field Officers of the Virginia Line present agreeable to Generale Orders to enquire into and give their Opinions relative to the Rights of John Allison and John Lee Esqrs. to a Lt Colonelcy in the 1st Va. State Regiment: Present Colo. Febiger Lt Colo. Ball[,] Gaskins Majors Posey and Webb.

“It appears that originally there were Officers appointed for 3 State Regiments and that on the Resignation of Colo. Morgan sometime in 1778 Lt Colo. Brent conceiv’d himself entitled to his Regiment, and at the Request of the Officers of Colo. Gibsons Regiment (in which he serv’d) who thought themselves aggriev’d by his Continuance gave up his Command in said Regiment on a Supposition and Condition, that a third Regiment existed. on which Colo. Gibson on the 19th of June appointed John Allison Esqr. then Major to the Rank of Lt Colonel & Captain Merewither to the Rank of Major and sometime About the Midle of August fill’d up their Commissions as such and dated Lt Colo. Allisons Comission the 1st & Major Meriwhithers the 2nd of February 78—though it appears, that Colol Gibson had previous to this receivd a Letter from the Governor of Virginia and Showd it to Allison & Meriwhether acquainting him, that a third State Regiment had never existed and directing Lt Colo. Brent to return to his Command as such in the Regiment, in Consequence of which Lt Colo. Brent, to whom Colo. Gibson had not shown the Letter, requested a Board of Officers, which was in Consequence order’d to sitt in the Beginning of Septbr 1778, in Pursuance of whose Opinions Lt Colo. Brent resum’d his Command.

“The Day after the publication of their proceedings in Generale Orders, Lt Colonel Allison says he went to head Quarters with a View to resign, rather than return to his Duty as major but not finding his Excellency spoke to Lt Colo. Harrison his Secretary, who advisd him not to resign on any Account, on which Lt Colo. Allision told him, he would not, provided he could obtain Leave of Absence Colo. Harrison then advis’d him to submitt to the Opinions of the above mention’d Board and promis’d him his Interest to procure him Leave of Absence. Lt Colo. Allison then left the Regiment and went into the Country and afterwards receiv’d the annex’d Letter from Colo. Harrison permitting him to go to Virginia, in Consequence of which he went home leaving Major Meriwhether to act as such without objecting to it allthough without makeing any publick Declaration of his quitting the Service.

“Matters continued in this Situation till the 1st of January of 1779, when Captn Quarls, who was then in Virga, on the Resignation of Colo. Smith of the 2nd State Regiment, procur’d a Certificate from him, that Major Merewhither was Major of the 1st State Regiment and promis’d Commissions for Major Lee as Lt Colo. to the first and himself as Major to the 2nd,

“Lt Colonel Allison Acknowledges, that he never inform’d the Governor and Councill of his Intentions to return to his Duty or not, but on his hearing of Colo. Smiths Resignation return’d to Camp to claim his Command, and Major Quarlls says, he did not mention Lt Colonel Allisons Situation to the Governor, when he procured the abovemention’d Commissions.

“The Board after maturely considering the Claims of John Allison & John Lee Esqrs. are of Opinion, that if the Governor and Councill of Virginia Still consider Lt Colonel Allison as an Officer in the Service of that State, and choose to revoke the Comissions of John Lee Esqr. & Captn Quarrls, that Lt Colo. Allison take Rank in the 1st State Regt only from the promotion of Lt Colo. Brent to the Command of the second State Regiment” (DLC:GW). GW had requested this elaborated report in his letter to the Virginia Field Officers, 19 May (see also General Orders, 29 Aug. and 7 Sept. 1778).

3Col. George Gibson commanded the 1st Virginia State Regiment from June 1777 to February 1782.

4Col. Gregory Smith had resigned his commission on 2 May 1779.

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