George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant William Colfax, 2 October 1779

To Lieutenant William Colfax

[West Point] 2d October 1779


What Major Gibbs’s plan is—& what his present line of conduct tends to, I shall not take upon me to decide; nor shall I at this moment enquire into them—I mean to act coolly & deliberately myself, and will therefore give him an opportunity of recollecting himself. He has been guilty of a peice of disrespect; to give it no worse a term—such an one, as I much question if there is another officer in the line of the army would have practiced: & because I wou’d not suffer my orders to be trampled upon; a supercilious, & self-important conduct on his part is the consequence.

But this by the bye—Whether you have embarked voluntarily in Majr Gibbs’s present plan of separation—which I think incumbent on me to say, is an act entirely of his own seeking—or whether you have been lead into it from an opinion that having given offence, your company might not be altogether pleasing at my Table, I cannot undertake to say. But to remove all doubt, I am lead from a regard to my own character, & by principles of justice to yours, to inform you, that I consider you as the instrument, not the cause of disobedience to my orders, respecting the Tent.1 That I had not the smallest intention, nor has there been any thing said or done by me, which could be construed into a meaning, that I wished to remove you from my Table.

When there were four Officers belonging to the guard, the number was too great to have them all there—when they were reduced to two, I refused to encrease them, because those two might always be there. and this ever since has been my design & expectation, which is now repeated to you, lest misconception, or misinformation shou’d be the cause of your present separation—After having made this explanation, I shall add, that if it is your choice to follow the Majors example, it rests altogether with yourself to do so. I am, with esteem Your friend & Servant

G: Washington


William Colfax (1756–1839), a farmer from New London, Conn., enlisted in May 1775 as a private in Col. Samuel H. Parson’s 6th Connecticut Regiment. In January 1776, he became a sergeant-major in the newly organized 10th Connecticut Regiment and was wounded at the Battle of White Plains in October of that year. In January 1777, Colfax joined the 1st Connecticut Regiment as an ensign and received promotion to second lieutenant in January 1778. The following April, he was detached from his regiment and assigned to the Commander in Chief’s Guard. In March 1779, Colfax became a first lieutenant, to rank from March 1778. When Maj. Caleb Gibbs relinquished command of GW’s guard at the end of 1780, Colfax became lieutenant-commandant of the guard. Although he officially transferred to the 5th Connecticut Regiment in January 1781 and to the 2d Connecticut Regiment in November 1782, Colfax continued to serve “on command” as commander of the guard and was wounded at the Battle of Yorktown in October 1781. He was promoted to captain in April 1783. After the guard was disbanded in June 1783, Colfax assumed command of a company in Col. Heman Swift’s regiment of Connecticut Continentals in September, where he served until he left the army in November 1783. After the war, Colfax moved to Pompton, N.J., and served in the New Jersey militia, where he rose to the rank of brigadier general, commanding a brigade in the War of 1812.

1The exact nature of GW’s dispute with Gibbs has not been determined. Gibbs soon returned to duty.

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