George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Board of War, 17–18 August 1779

From the Board of War

War Office [Philadelphia] Augt 17[–18] 1779


We have the Honour of your Excellency’s Letter relative to Capt. Edmondstone to whom we have sent the Directions you mention.1

We have directed the Clothier Genl to send to Camp a Quantity of Linnen which accidentally came into the Hands of one of the Agents appointed by the Board in a large Purchase made by him for the Army. We are informed that this Linen is of a Quality fit for Officers & therefore we have directed the Clothier General to estimate the Price it would have brought in January 1777 & inform the Clothier at Camp thereof that the Linnen may be delivered out at that Price in such Way as your Excellency shall direct. We are of Opinion that the Officers of the Artillery, Horse & additional Regiments should at least have the Preference if not the entire Appropriation of this Linnen; the Officers of the State Quotas being more immediately under the Care of their respective Governments. There may perhaps be sufficient for 300 Shirts. We have received no Answer to our repeated Applications to Congress on the Subject of Officers Cloathing—This Linnen is all we expect to have under our orders fit for Officers.2 Your Excellency will therefore no Doubt reserve some for the Officers on Detachment. However we leave this entirely to your Determination. It is a difficult Matter to distribute scanty Supplies & indeed the whole of the Clothing Bussiness is so disagreeable that we are always sorry when we are obliged to trouble you on the Subject. Some more perfect Plan should be fallen upon than even the new Arrangement which is full of Uncertainties & leaves much of the Bussiness to be transacted under our orders as to Purchases.3 The States are making but feeble Efforts in procuring the Supplies for their Troops. Some of them we believe are doing Nothing. This Remissness gives us much Pain for we most earnestly wish that no Purchases were expected from us. We have had so much Trouble in this Bussiness, have been subject to so much Censure however groundless & beside spend so much of our Time in this Line, which ought to be devoted to other Affairs, that it is with the utmost Reluctance & Dissatisfaction that we find ourselves obliged to continue our Endeavors, to prevent the Troops from suffering. But we are determined to do all we can however unpleasant the Task. We shall have purchased & made before the Winter sets in, a large Number of Suits of woolen Clothing. Including the imported Clothing & that made here last Year there will be at least 20,000 Suits. Our Prospects as to Shirts, Shoes, Hatts & Blanketts are by no Means pleasing & we have directed the Clothier General earnestly to call on the Governments of the several States for Supplies of these Articles. It is expected that the States should procure the principal Supplies for their Troops & yet they have done the least in affording them the necessary Assistance. Would it not answer a valuable Purpose if your Excellency were to write a pressing circular Letter to the Executives of the States requesting them immediately to exert themselves in cloathing their Troops? We would do it but we are persuaded you have more Interest with them. We expect to have 7 or 8000 Shirts soon ready to send to Camp from this Place. All our Agents have standing & pressing Orders to buy & the Commercial Comittee have sent to the West Indies for a Parcel of Linen. Yet it will be necessary for the States to use their utmost Exertions as our joint Endeavours will not be more than sufficient.4

Congress have referred the Letter whereof the inclosed is a Copy to us & directed we would take Order thereon.5 But we think the retaliating on Col. Billop will be putting him so much on a Par with Randolph as that if an Exchange were offered of Capt. R. for him it could not be refused. Mr Randolph is a mere Citizen tho’ an enterprizing & deserving one.6 Yet it might give great Offence to our Officers who are Prisoners if a Person of Col. B’s. Rank were given for Mr Randolph. However we shall be obliged to your Excellency for your Opinion. There is something peculiar in the Case & we wish it could be made an Exception if not too inconvenient to the Service. At any Rate we think a British Officer of the Rank of a Captain might be selected as an Object for Retaliation or Exchange. We take the Liberty of requesting your Excellency either to give us your Opinion on the Case or to avoid Circuity & Delay to give the proper Orders to the Commissary Genl of Prisoners as you think best. The Reason the Friends of Mr Randolph fix upon Mr Billop is that beside the Circumstance of his being first captivated by Mr Randolph he has powerful Connexions with the Enemy who would interfere in Randolph’s Favour to prevent the Inconveniencies of Retaliation upon Mr Billop. Mr Randolph is in a languishing State of Health & may perish unless speedily relieved. This induced us to ask your Excellency to give immediate Orders ⟨in⟩ the Case.7 We have the Honour to be with the greatest Respect & Esteem your very hble Servants

Richard Peters
By Order

The Arrangt of Spencers Regt is received & the Commissions shall be sent.8 So soon as the Massachusetts Line is finally settled by Congress the Commissions for those Officers shall also be sent.9

The inclosed Act of Congress was passed in Consequence of our Report & we hope it will be a Means of giving Satisfaction on the Subject of Deficiencies of Clothing.10

18th Augt 1779

We have just recd the Memorial of which the enclosed is a Copy & we beg your Excellency’s Information to enable us to report to Congress.11


1The Board is referring to GW’s letter to the Board of War of 10 August. For the Board’s delivery of instructions to Capt. Archibald Edmonstone in the matter of his parole, see n.2 to that document.

2For GW’s dissatisfaction with the small amount of this supply for the officers, see GW to the Board of War, 26 August.

3For Congress’s new ordinance for the regulation of the clothing department, see 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 13:353–60.

4GW wrote to the state executives regarding supplies of clothing on 26 Aug. (see GW’s first Circular to the States, that date). For GW’s disappointment with clothing situation reported by the Board, see GW to the Board of War, 26 August.

5The signed letter from Abraham Clark to the New Jersey delegates to Congress, dated 9 Aug. 1779 at Elizabeth Town, N.J., reads: “There is now confined in the Provost in New York Capt. Nathl Randolph of this State taken Prisoner some time last Winter, who hath been constantly in the Provost since taken, and no possible means appears to obtain his discharge but by Colo. Billop now a Prisoner on Parole in this State taken some short time ago by a small Party of Continental Forces stationed as a guard at Woodbridge. It must be remembered that Mr Randolph after enduring a long confinement and severe treatment in Captivity, upon obtaining a Release acted as a Partisan with a small Party on our Lines without any Commission or Emolument from Congress or pay from the State, and was with not more than a Dozen Men of more service in guarding our Stores than any Fifty Men ever employed for that purpose. This rendered him exceeding obnoxious to the Enemy. While thus employed he took Colo. Billop Prisoner, who Mr Randolph said he intended to keep for his own Ransom in case he should fall into the Enemies hands, which from his dangerous Enterprizes appeared probable enough to happen; But as we then had no State Commissy, Mr Billop was exchanged by the Continental Commissy for a Colo. of the Pennsylvania Forces: And Mr Randolph last Winter had the Misfortune, for the second time to fall into the Enemy’s hands, where he remains as above related—his spirits are now greatly depressed; he thinks himself Neglected, observing that he had brought upon himself the implacable resentment of his Enemies, before he had secured the Friendship of his Country. He remembers that Colo. Billop was once his Prisoner, taken at his own expence and disposed of by the Continental Commissy, and that Mr Billop is now in our Power, and his former exchange being considered as a Loan to the Continent, the Debt can now be paid exactly in Kind & Value. Mr Billop says the Enemy will not exchange Mr Randolph for him, and there is no doubt but the Enemy will part with him very unwillingly, they have hitherto refused every proposed exchange, but all who know Colo. Billop, his Rank, Connections, and Interest with them, will readily believe that in case he is given up to the Tormenters to be treated in the same manner Mr Randolph is, the exchange may soon be effected. It is not a little mortifying that Colo. Billop should be admitted to his Parole to live with his Brother in Jersey enjoying every Comfort possible but that of perfect Liberty, while Mr Randolph and many others with the Enemy are suffering close imprisonments. You will be pleased to lay this matter before Congress in hopes of obtaining an order for the proposed Exchange, as Mr Baity will not otherwise agree to it; and that until the same is effected Mr Billop be treated similar to Mr Randolph. There appears such evident Justice in the request, that I flatter myself it will be as redily granted as asked; and indeed it is the only visible means of obtaining Mr Randolph’s Discharge. A speedy Determination is necessary, a delay may be as fatal to Mr Randolph as a denial in case the Colo. in the mean time should be otherwise exchanged” (DLC:GW).

6The Board is referring to Capt. Nathaniel FitzRandolph of the New Jersey militia.

7For GW’s proposal regarding the exchange of Billop and FitzRandolph, see GW to the Board of War, 26 August.

8See GW to the Board of War, 8 August.

9For GW’s submission of the revised arrangement of the Massachusetts line and the Board of War’s delay in returning the commissions, see GW to Jay, 5 Aug. (first letter), and n.7 to that document.

10See 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 14:970–971.

11The copy of the memorial from Col. Charles Harrison, dated “Philadelphia 17th August 1779” and addressed to “his Excellency the President, and the other Members of Congress,” reads: “The memorial of Charles Harrison, Colo. of the Virginia Battalion of Artillery, sheweth: That at the time of his appointment to the command of the said Battalion, Colo. Crane was a Major in Colo. Knox’s regiment: that notwithstanding this, the Board of General officers, who were appointed in the Orders of the 5th of August 1779 to settle the relative rank of the Colos. of Artillery, have given precedence to the said Colo. Crane before your Memorialist. that this appears the more extrodinary, since the same Board have adjudged the rank of your Memorialists regiment to be the first. Your Memorialist therefore prays that an Inquiry may be made into the premises, and the arrangement above mentioned rectified” (DLC:GW).

The following day, Harrison submitted a letter to the Board of War with “Reasons” in support of his memorial concluding with the statement, “Col. Harrison claims Rank from the Date of his Commission equally with his Regiment, which is the first in Rank by the Report of the Board of Officers” (DNA:PCC, item 147). For GW’s response to Harrison’s memorial, see GW to the Board of War, 26 Aug.; see also Board of War to GW, 3 Sept. (first letter).

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