George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 1 October 1779

To Major General William Heath

Head Quarters [West Point] 1st October 1779.

Dear Sir

You wrote to me a few days ago respecting a small guard that is kept at Litchfeild upon the military Stores there.1 I could not give you an answer then, as I had not seen Genl Knox. He now tells me, that there is a necessity for their remaining, more especially as he is obliged to withdraw a small detachment of Artillery who are there. Be pleased to direct the non Commissioned Officer who commands the Guard to take his orders from Mr Richards deputy Commy of Stores at Litchfeild.2 I am Dear Sir Yr most obt Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. Will it not be better to releive the non Commd officer and send an Ensign with a small subalterns Command. A non Commd Officer is scarcely competent to the task.

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

On this date, GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison wrote to Heath: “His Excellency wishes you to give him any information in your power, with respect to the prisoners said by Genl Philips to have been sent from Canada. You will find a List of them and a Copy of the General’s Letter inclosed, which you will be pleased to return his Excellency” (MHi: Heath Papers). The enclosures have not been identified, but Harrison is probably referring to the letter of British major general William Phillips to John Jay, dated 8 Aug., and the list of prisoners he enclosed with that letter (see Jay to GW, 26 Aug., n.1). Phillips’s letter, in part, concerned American prisoners supposedly sent to Boston in 1778, when Heath was the commanding general in that city. See also GW to Jay, 5 September.

Heath’s reply to Harrison, dated 2 Oct. at Mandeville’s in Dutchess County, N.Y., reads: “I was honored with yours of yesterday (enclosing coppy of a letter from Major General Phillips) the last evening. I should be happy in giving the desired information on the Subject, were it in my power, but it is not.

“I recollect that some time in the year 1778 a number of American prisoners were ordered from Hallifax to New york, as was Said under convoy of a Sloop of war, that off the Bay of Boston the prisoners seized the vessel and carried her into Cape Ann or Marblehead, and that there was much dispute about it, whether those or any part of them were the prisoners mentioned by Genl Phillips, or how the matter was afterwards adjusted by the Commissaries of prisoners I cannot Say.

“a Cartel from Hallifax arrived at Boston with a number of american prisoners late in the fall, or begining of winter but Major General Gates having before that time taken the Command at Boston, no part of the Business came before me. The last mentioned Cartel may be the one to which General Phillips alludes as I think it was the first that arrived from Hallifax after the French Fleet were in Boston Harbour” (DLC:GW).

1Heath’s letter has not been found; see GW to Heath, 18 September.

2GW probably is referring to Guy Richards, Jr. (1747–1825) of New London, Conn., whom that state appointed in November 1779 as assistant commissary of issues at New London (Conn. Public Records, description begins The Public Records of the State of Connecticut . . . with the Journal of the Council of Safety . . . and an Appendix. 18 vols. to date. Hartford, 1894—. description ends 2:444).

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