George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Carbery, 25 July 1789

From Henry Carbery

New York July 25th 1789


Though I feel from my peculiar situation, the most distressing difficulty in Addressing myself to You, I am flattered an Apology would be unnecessary in persuing a Line marked out by Yourself, for Applicants to observe. I will not trouble You, Sir, with a detail of my Family, however antient, or much to my Credit—nor will I dwell upon my Sufferings—or the blood I have spilt, and property I have lost, by my early, and steady Patriotism. My character is known to some Gentlemen in the Legislature—and I take the liberty of refering to, Mr Chas Carroll, Mr Henry, Mr Seney, Mr Daniel Carroll, Mr Smith Mr Gale, Mr Stone, Mr Grayson, and Mr Hartley, with whom I served in the Army from the beginning of Seventy Seven untill his Resignation.

If You can Forgive me, Sir, for one single act of Indiscretion, for which I can never forgive myself, You will make me happy, and I shall ever consider myself as under the most particular, and Sensible Obligations.1

My first Object would be a Military Capacity, but as no Troops are raising, I should receive with a great deal of Gratitude, an appointment in the Customs, meerly sufficient to maintain me—For such an employment I am fitted from my knowledge in Accounts—and I trust I should not disgrace Your Nomination.

Though I should not flatter myself with emoluments equal to my diligence, Yet I should enjoy the Delightful Idea of being Restored to the Bosom, and Confidence of my Country—and of ranking once more, with Those who have fought, and Suffered for America. I was a Youth, Sir, at School in Maryland, the place of my nativity, when the Freedom of Your Country called you forth in the late Contest. Not very long after Your departure, I took my Leave of very aged, and Tender Parents—One of whom, I saw no more. It would be wrong in me to proceed with a Narrative of my uncommon Story, lest it might too much affect the Goodness of a Man, to whom I sincerely wish the most uninterupted Series of perfect Tranquility, Health, and Happiness. I am, Sir, Your Devoted hble Servt

Henry Carbery


Henry Carbery (Carberry; 1757–1822) began his military service in 1776 as a “Gentleman Cadet” in the St. Mary’s County (Md.) Independent Company, then served as a first lieutenant in Hartley’s Additional Continental Regiment in 1777. By 1779 he had reached the rank of captain when the regiment became the 11th Pennsylvania. He was wounded in action in August of that year (Marine, British Invasion of Maryland, description begins William M. Marine. The British Invasion of Maryland, 1812–1815. Baltimore, 1913. description ends 238–39).

1Carbery’s difficulties stemmed from his involvement in a 1783 attack on Congress, then meeting in Philadelphia. The journals of Congress note that on 19 June 1783 “information was recd by Congress, from the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, that 80 Soldiers, who would probably be followed by the discharged soldiers of Armand’s Legion were on the way from Lancaster to Philadelpha . . . declaring that they would proceed to the seat of Congress and demand justice, and intimating designs agst the Bank.” For a brief period Congress considered leaving the city and convening elsewhere before the arrival of the mutineers. On 20 June the soldiers, commanded by their sergeants, reached Philadelphia, and on 21 June, professing that their only object was to obtain settlement of their accounts, they gathered in the street before the State House, where Congress had assembled. The Pennsylvania executive council was meeting in the same building. “No danger from premeditated violence was apprehended, But it was observed that spirituous drink from the tippling houses adjoining began to be liberally served out to the Soldiers, & might lead to hasty excesses. None were committed however, and about 3 O’C., the usual hour Cong. adjourned; the Soldiers, tho in some instances offering a mock obstruction, permitting the members to pass thro their ranks.” Meeting again in the evening, Congress debated on appropriate action. “At one moment the Mutineers were penitent & preparing submissions; the next they were meditating more violent measures. Sometimes the bank was their object; then the seizure of the members of Congress with whom they imagined an indemnity for their offence might be stipulated.” By 24 June, “efforts of the State authority being despaired of, & the Reports from the Barracks being unfavorable,” Congress adjourned to Princeton, and the mutiny promptly collapsed. Most of the mutineers accepted furloughs. “At the time of submission they betrayed their leaders the chief of whom proved to be a Mr. Carberry a deranged officer, and a Mr. Sullivan a Lieutenant of Horse; both of whom made their escape. Some of the most active of the Sergeants also ran off” (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 25:971–72, 973–74). According to Otho H. Williams, Carbery had entered the army “against the wishes of his father who disinherited him for doing so; when the Pennsylvania line was reduced, Carbery was put out of the army with nothing more to live on than a good military name.” He was still in the neighborhood of the barracks at Lancaster when the troops began their march, and he and Lt. John Sullivan accompanied them to Philadelphia. There is no real evidence that Carbery and Sullivan instigated the mutiny, and after Congress left the city the two officers apparently advised the soldiers to submit. “In a military view, Carbery’s action was criminal,” Williams wrote; “after peace was restored, Carbery came back to Maryland and was trying to get himself a pardon; Congress, hearing that he was in Baltimore, appointed a committee to go into the circumstances, and that committee signed a warrant for his arrest” (Williams to Uriah Forrest, 28 April 1784, MdHi: Otho H. Williams Papers; 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 26:310–11). Carbery and Sullivan fled the United States, but both were back in the country by 1784 importuning Paymaster John Pierce for commutation certificates and arrears of pay (see Carbery to the president of Congress, 27 April 1784, John Sullivan to John Pierce, 7 Oct. 1785, Pierce to Sullivan, 25 Oct. 1785, DNA:PCC, item 38). On instructions from Congress, Carbery was arrested by Maryland officials in 1784 for his part in the mutiny and sent to stand trial in Pennsylvania courts, causing considerable controversy between the Maryland council, the judges of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and judges of the Maryland General Court over the interpretation of the Articles of Confederation’s role in settling jurisdictional questions between the states. See “Journal and Correspondence of the State Council of Maryland,” 48:523, 527–28, 550–53. Carbery evidently succeeded in extricating himself from the charges against him in Pennsylvania, for he was living in Baltimore by 1789 and launching a vigorous campaign for public employment. Letters of support for Carbery from Rinaldo Johnson to Benjamin Contee, 8 July 1789, John Davidson to Joshua Seney, 8 July 1789, Jeremiah Jordan to Michael Jenifer Stone, 3 June 1789, Edmund Plowden to Stone, 30 June 1789, and John Kilty to Joshua Seney, 7 July 1789 were enclosed in a letter from Stone to GW, 16 July 1789. Another letter of support for him written by William Smallwood on 13 June to William Grayson was enclosed in Grayson’s letter to GW of 23 July. Carbery was also recommended by his old commander in a letter to GW from Thomas Hartley, 28 July 1789. This impressive collection of testimonials, all in DLC:GW, were apparently carried to New York by Carbery. In his letter to GW, 16 July, Stone observed: “I presume sir you are no Stranger to that part of Captn Carberrys Story which threw him under the displeasure of our Country. And he thinks it fortunate for him that you are acquainted also with the causes which urged his Conduct. Perhaps it may [be] as easy to admit his criminalety as it is to discover it’s mitigation. And I own I can veiw the whole transaction without concluding he is unworthy of Future trust. Every American acknowledges the virtue of the army when it quietly dissolved into the Mass of Citizens—Unpaid dissapointed Shattered and poor. But no thoughtfull man will fail to felicitate his Country upon that Event—or forget the Causes which ensured it” (DLC:GW).

On 8 Feb. 1790 Carbery again approached GW: “Notwithstanding Your refusal to see me at New York has thrown a veil over my future prospects, chilled the ardour of my Friends, and seems to have closed up every avenue which could lead to a Reconcilation with my Country, Yet I fondly hope that, while General Washington presides, forgiveness and Mercy may be expected. . . . If the Letters I carried with me last Summer to New York, are not sufficient Vouchers for my Character, conduct, and Intentions, I know of no way, by which I can obtain better. I once, indeed, had it in my power, Sir, to hand You Letters from a most Amiable Personage, with whom You were very nearly Connected—but motives, I am of opinion, not unworthy Your Approbation, made me decline the humane, and Generous Offer” (DLC:GW). A letter of support for Carbery from Gen. William Smallwood of Maryland, 19 Mar. 1790, pointed out to GW that Carbery’s “indiscretion” could be explained by his youth and his lack of pay and that his subsequent good behavior should excuse it (DLC:GW). In 1791 Carbery was successful in securing an appointment in the United States army as a captain, a rank he retained after the reorganization of the army in 1792 until his resignation in 1794. In March 1813 he was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the army and served until 1815.

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