George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joseph Phillips, Sr., 7 March 1792

From Joseph Phillips, Sr.

Maidenhead New-Jersey 7th March 1792.


I beg leave to offer my services as an Engineer, tolerably well versed in that business; and would go in that character [(]if wanted) to the Westward the ensuing Campaign. I would not at this time have attempted to divert the attention of the illustrious President of the United States, from contemplation on the more important interests of the Union; to such a very small object as myself; had I had any the least personal acquaintance with the Secretary of War: And I beg that this unfavorable circumstance alone, may be admitted as an apology for the obtrusion.

I have written notwithstanding, to General Knox more fully on this subject, and could not repress my vanity, which I am afraid will appear too conspicuous, by an inclosure to him, of a very polite note of approbation, signified to me by order of His Excellency the Commander in Chief, in the year 1776 by Rob. H. Harrison Secretary in regard to some Works proposed to be erected.1

I shall be happy in an appointment, as above; It is the first I ever sollicited, and if I succeed, it will (I believe) be the last effort, I shall ever make in a Military Character, and must suffice, my lack of service. I have a son, now with the Army in that Country.2 I have the honour to be Your most devoted, faithful humble & most obedt servt.

Jos. Phillips.


Joseph Phillips, Sr., of Hunterdon County, N.J., served as an engineer at Fort Pitt and in the West Indies during the French and Indian War. On 14 June 1776 he was commissioned major of the militia regiment raised in Hunterdon and Somerset counties. In August 1776 Phillips was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and following the death of his commanding officer at the Battle of Long Island, he became colonel of the regiment. Phillips was appointed colonel of the 1st Regiment of Hunterdon County militia in March 1777.

1Phillips wrote GW in October 1776 requesting permission to reinforce existing batteries and erect new ones opposite Fort Washington, N.Y., in order to annoy enemy shipping on the Hudson River. Robert Hanson Harrison informed Phillips of GW’s approval of the plan and gratitude for the “generous motives which Induced you to lay the measure before him” (see Harrison to Phillips, 12 Oct. 1776, in Phillips to GW, c.12 Oct. 1776, note 1).

2Phillips did not receive a military appointment, but his son Joseph Phillips, Jr., also of New Jersey, who was a surgeon’s mate in the levies during Arthur St. Clair’s ill-fated campaign against the Indians in 1791, was reappointed on 11 April 1792. The younger Phillips was promoted to surgeon in June 1796, and he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in early June 1802.

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