George Washington Papers

Enclosure: Extract of Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey to George Clinton, 17 August 1791


Extract of Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey to George Clinton

Burlington (Vermont) 17th August 1791


“The enclosed Papers will show your Excellency the Nature and necessity of my Business here any farther explanation of my Motives will also I conceive be unnecessary, how far the Measures I have pursued will be consistant with your Ideas of the Nature and Tendency of this Business I am at a loss to determine; The peculiar Delicacy of my Situation, and consequent embarrassment I presume may be easily immagined; to escape Censure from the Government, or reproach from the People. To draw the True Line between Rashness and Timidity, and to avoid Hostility and be obedient to the Laws of my Country appears to me exceedingly difficult—Either a Depopulation of the Northern Part of the County of Clinton or hostile Opposition cannot much longer be avoided.1

“Your Excellency’s last Letter to me contained Instructions but they were too general for my satisfaction at the present Juncture.

“That the Mode I have pursued already in seeking Advice here will be approved of I can hardly doubt; that Measure was consistent with Judge Tredwells Ideas & something that might be a Justification of my Conduct, appeared to me of Consequence—Governor Chittendon seemed pleased with the Attention—assured me of every support in Case of extremity and kindly offered at any Time to furnish me with the Means of communicating Dispatches if necessity required it. Our unprovided situation for Defence is much to be regretted, The Want of Arms & Ammunition is general on both Sides the Lake & the impossibility of making the Provision unequivocal.

“I hope to have your Excellency’s Directions as speedily as possible peremptory for every possible Emergency. I am &ca”

Mel. Ld Woolsey

Copy (in Clinton’s hand), DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey (1758–1819) was the only son of Col. Melancthon Taylor Woolsey of Long Island, New York. He served as an officer in the Continental army from 1776 until his retirement in April 1779 and was afterwards a major of the New York levies on the frontier and an aide to Governor Clinton. In March 1779 Woolsey married Alida Livingston (1758–1843), daughter of Henry and Susan Conklin Livingston, at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he established himself in business after his father’s death (Woolsey, Memoir, description begins Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey. Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey, Lieutenant, Continental Army, Major, New York Levies, Brigadier General, Clinton County Militia: A Memoir, Compiled for His Descendants By His Great-grandson. Champlain, N.Y., 1929. description ends 5, 8, 10, 11). Impoverished by wartime inflation, Woolsey began a fresh start in 1785 on a hundred acres on Cumberland Head on Lake Champlain. When Clinton County was established in 1788, Woolsey became head of its militia and first clerk of the county court (Woolsey, Memoir, description begins Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey. Melancthon Lloyd Woolsey, Lieutenant, Continental Army, Major, New York Levies, Brigadier General, Clinton County Militia: A Memoir, Compiled for His Descendants By His Great-grandson. Champlain, N.Y., 1929. description ends 12–14, 18–19, 23). GW appointed him collector of the newly created customs district of Champlain in March 1793, upon the recommendation of Congressman James Hillhouse, husband of Woolsey’s cousin Sarah Lloyd (ibid., 27; Hillhouse to Alexander Hamilton, n.d., and to GW, 2 Mar. 1793, both DLC:GW; Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 138; 1 Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 336–38; JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 81, 83, 169–70).

1The enclosures were two letters and a memorandum, copies of which Clinton forwarded to GW The first letter was written by Pliny Moore to his friend Colonel Woolsey. Moore was appointed justice of the Court of Common Pleas and a justice of the peace of Clinton County upon its establishment. Ever since his arrival to the area in 1785, he “was visited, on the first of each month, by a corporal and file of men, sent from Point au Fer to notify him that his claim of title from the state of New York would not be recognized. No attention was paid to these repeated warnings” (Peter S. Palmer, History of Lake Champlain, from the First Exploration by the French in 1609, to the Close of the Year 1814 [Albany, 1866], 175). Moore’s letter to Woolsey, dated Champlain Town, N.Y., 13 Aug., reads: “Two Days ago seven British Officers were at my House among whom I was informed was a Colonel Tomlingson who commands in the District of Montreal or in that Department a Captain Adams who acts as Engineer, Capt. Steel &ca. The Colo, desired Capt. Adams to communicate their Business to me, which he did by shewing me a paper on which he said was a Draft of a Redoubt to be thrown upon the Ground where my House stands—Told me the Ground was in Canada in the British Dominion, and the Colonel was come up to view the best Ground on the River with Orders to establish a Post here. That they should commence the Business within two Days or four or five at farthest—The Engineer informed the Colo, in my hearing that about four hundred Men and four Pieces of Ordinance the Post would require—They asked me many questions, To which I made such Answers as my Duty suggested, tho’ I presume a little Time for reflection might have arranged them to more Advantage—They strongly recommended it to me to remove my Familly and Effects—I told them when they carried me a prisoner I supposed I should be obliged to go Not till then would I remove a Shillings worth of my Effects: if a Part must become a Sacrifice the whole might—I intimated a wish that they might dare to carry their Threats into Execution, for that I was Tired of repeated Insults—They expressed much of an insulting sorrow and insulting Pity that so good a Situation, Buildings and Improvements must be so altered and distroyed; but concluded that the Service required it, That tho’ they were sorry to be the Agent must do their Duty &ca—Thus much for Information of the Fact” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). The second letter, from Moore and Justice of the Peace William Beaumont to Woolsey with the same dateline as the first, reads: “Should the British attempt an Invasion according to their Threats to Mr Moore we shall proceed against them as Rioters as far as we can—which should they come with force probably will be no farther than to command them to dispurse We shall then give you the earliest Information. In the Mean Time our Confidence in you as Commander of the Militia—leaves us no Room to doubt but you will take the most proper Measures to give us speedy Relief—Our Opinion is should they make the Attempt as they expect no Opposition they will not come prepared for any Resistance” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). The third enclosure was a memorandum written by Thomas Chittenden and Ira Allen at Williston, Vt., on 17 Aug.: “Whereas Colo. Melancton L. Woolsey of the County of Clinton and State of New York has represented to us that Col. Tomlinson Commander of the British Force stationed at St Johns &ca with a Number of British Officers did on the Eighth Day of August Instant come to the House of Pliny Moore Esqr. of Champlain in said County and that said Colo. Tomlinson did then and there publickly declare that the Place where Mr Moore’s House stood was the Place he had pitched upon to build a Redoubt and proposed to bring on a Force of four hundred Men to erect and defend said Redoubt & requested in a hostile and threatning Manner Mr Moore to remove his Effects from said Place—Whereupon Colo. Woolsey requests our Advice. On a short Consideration of the Matter we are fully of Opinion that it is Colo. Woolsey’s duty to transmit the Information he has received on said Subject to Governor Clinton and in the Mean Time to direct Pliny Moore Esquire &ca in said County of Clinton that in Case the British Troops attempt to take Possession of any Improvements, Buildings or Property of any of the Inhabitants of said County that they personally make every Opposition in their Power except that of Military Force, and that Colo. Woolsey suspend that ⟨un⟩till he has received Orders from his Superiors” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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