George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Robert Howe, 22 May 1780

Highlands 22d May 1780

Dear Sir

It is impossible to express to your Excellency the Difficulties I have met with to supply this Army with Provision or the Anxiety of my Mind consequent thereto—The Recollection of it is as painful to myself as the Recital would be to you. The inclos’d Copies of Letters & Proceedings will give you Information [on] the Methods I have been compel’d to adopt—extraordinary perhaps in their Nature, but warranted by Necessity, & upon the Success of which the Maintenance of this important Post absolutely depends. Previous to taking this Step every other Means possible had been tried, & we were reduced to the last Barrel of Provision, exclusive of that in the Redoubts which we are now compel’d (yet ought not but in a Case of Investiture ever) to break in upon. This Scarcity owes its Rise to no Want of Exertion or Providence in me, for my unwearied & unabating Efforts have been used from the first Moment of my Command down to this Time, & that in such a Variety of Modes as would be tedious to relate—Among these however Governors & States have been written to for their Assistance repeated circular Letters have been sent to Magistrates requesting their every legal And personal Aid & Exertions—Private Characters of Influence have been applied to, to give Energy to the Efforts of our Commissaries & Quarter Masters—Reiterated Orders & Letters have been transmitted to the Executive Staff Departments, & Officers of Distinction sent out that Personal Application might give Force to literary ones—My own Money & Credit, & the Credit & Money of my private Friends have been advanc’d & pledged to the utmost, & to those Measures it is owing that we are now together. These Resources however being exhausted, nothing was left us but the Measures fallen upon, which having Equity for their Basis, & remitting some Necessity will I flatter myself justify their Adoption.

That I did not write to you Sir previous to my taking these Steps was owing to some Expectations I had of Supplies which might have rendered them unnecessary, & in which my Dissapointment was as udderly as unexpected—The Mode indeed was the Result of those Dissapointments, & Necessity compel’d the Execution of it in the Instant it occured to us, for not one Moment was to be lost—If however it should be disagreeable to your Excellency as Col. Hay set out but the Day before yesterday & was to fall upon the Plan only as a dernier Resort, your Disapprobation transmitted by Express will stop its Progress before any extensive Operation of it takes Place—but it is my Duty to add that if this Method is not pursued some other which will be instantaneously effectual ought be fallen upon.

Next to the Approbation of my own Heart, That of Congress & your Excellency is my strongest Aspiration—the first in the present Case I have, should the two Latter upon This or any other Occasion fall [to] my Share my Happiness will be complete. I have the Honor to be Dear Sir with the greatest Respect & Regard your Excellency’s most obedient Servant

Robert Howe

DLC: Papers of George Washington.


Fish Kill May 14th 1780.


I last night arrived at this place from Morris-Town, and have this day been employed in minutely enquiring into the present State of our Provisions, and the probability of obtaining farther Supplies, our situation as to the first is truly Alarming, as to the second absolutely desperate, all the Public Officers without Money, and what is yet worse without Credit, being by their frequent Breach of promises in point of Payment totally bereft of that confidence with which the People at large once Honour’d them, and which is so necessary in the present State of our Finances, for the preservation of the Army under your Command, and to add further to our Embarrassments, through the Credit of the Officers is low, very low indeed, the Credit of the present Currant Money of the Country is still much lower, though you Sir have made too many very spirited exertions already for obtaining the scanty Supplies hitherto procured to fear in the smallest degree the aspersions the Malicious might attempt throwing on your Character, should the Army from a want of Provisions either Mutiny or Disband, Yet while there be a single glimpse of hope remaining that any farther Supplies can be obtained by any Justifiable mode, I am sure you will egarly embrace it, and therefore take the liberty of making you the following proposal.

Let the Heads of the different Departments be authoris’d by you to Contract for the different Supplies they ought to procure, at the Cheapest Rates they possibly can, payable in Gold or Silver, or in the Currant Money of the Country equivalent thereto on the day of Payment, which shall not exceed the First of September next, and as a Security for such Payment being truly made pledge indiscriminately the Public property in the possession of every Officer under your Direction, whether even this Mode will have the desired effect I will not take upon me to affirm, tho’ I am in great hopes, as far as respects the different Articles in the Quarter Masters Department which this State can afford to furnish it undoubtedly will, at least in some considerable Degree, Nor can I devise any Method but this or the Bayonet by which your Army can be kept together Ten days longer.

As you will know there is not a moment to lose, permit me Sir to beg you will Write me on this Subject soon, and what ever plan you may propose shall as far as in my power be executed with Diligence, Activity and assiduity, which the urgency of our present circumstances direct, and the nature of the business will permit.

I should undoubtedly be wrong in concealing from you Sir any Sentiments with respect to an evil which must arise from adopting the above plan I have proposed, it will certainly incite the People hereafter to make no Sales but upon the same terms, and should a new paper currency be emitted, and even Depreciate, it may occasion very considerable additions in the Public expences unless the Officers entrusted with their Money’s are enabled on all occasions to make prompt Payments. I am with the utmost Respect Sir Yr Most Obt & very huml Servant

Sign’d Udny Hay


Highlands May 16th 1780


I think it proper to lay before you a letter Just reciev’d from the Deputy Quarter Master Genl of this Department, and to request that you would as immediately as possible have a meeting upon this occasion, and after considering the letter and examining Colo. Hay as to the Subject of it, and the Commissaries who are ordered to attend, as to the state of the Magazine & give me your opinion thereupon.

I lament that I can with truth assure you that circumstances are by no means aggravated by Colo. Hay, and that to paint our Situation properly no colourings can be too strong. Some Sources from which until now I expected to derive Supplies (and they were among those upon which I had the greatest Reliance) have disappointed me and to enhance the difficulties we have to Combat, I have Just recieved information from his Excellency Governor Clinton that a large Body of Militia would be almost immediately collected who by Resolves of Congress have a right to, & do depend upon us entirely for Supplies, added to this it is far from being impossible, that it may become necessary to call in the militia particularly appointed in Case of Alarm, to Embody and repair to this Post for its Defence, and those People have already in compliance with the very Spirited Laws of this Patriotic State, given freely even to the Distress of their Families, every Grain of Provision they could spare for the use of the Army, must also depend upon us for Subsistance, or be compelled by necessity to refuse us their aid—It is therefore Gentlemen I am to request your Candid and explicit opinion, whether the Circumstances set forth, the necessity of our Situation, and the imminent Danger attendent upon a moments delay will warrant our Adopting the measures proposed, Happy however shall I be, if any other adequate Method should Suggest themselves to you, which be assured I shall be as much obliged to your for communicating as ready to pursue.

You Gentlemen need not be told, that the Command of this Department did not devolve until very late in the Season upon me that from the moment I took it my unabating Efforts have been used to prevent the Distresses with which we are now threaten’d and tho many of the Methods I have pursued, can not have come to your knowledge, Yet certain I am, that even those you are acquainted with would amply Justify me from the least shadow of neglect, had none but those been Adopted. But when added to this I assure you that besides the pointed and reiterated Public Orders which have been Issued to Quarter Masters, Commissaries and every other executive Staff officer of the Army Private and repeated letters have been written, not only to them but to the Civil Authority of different States communicating the Alarming Situation we were in, and soliciting in the most Energetic terms their Aid & exertions. That Circular letters have also been written to Magistrates, and other Characters of Influence and officers sent to confer with them in Person, that Personal application might give force to the literary, that all my Private Credit has been pledged to Individuals to obtain there assistance and that I have also Solicited & obtained the influence of my Private Friends, who have been and now are advancing their own Money, and Straining their Credit to the utmost to serve the Army. I remain confident that I shall not only be held blameless but stand applaud’d by you, by the Army, by my Country and by my own Heart. I am Gentlemen with the Greatest Res[pect] Yr Most Obt Servant

Sign’d Robt Howe

True Copy of a letter to the Brigadier Genl of this Department.


West Point May 16th 1780


We have recieved your confidential letter of this date, with a Copy of one from Colo. Hay communicating to us the disagreeable State of your Command, with respect to the present and expected Supplies, with a proposal from Colo. Hay to remedy the present Scarcity which if continued will inevitably end in the most exquisite distress, if not the Total loss of the Troops under your Command.

We have examined into the present State of Provision here, have been informed by you what are already Purchased and by Colo. Hay, of the impossibility of Transporting them to this Post without some effectual Measures are taken, that the People at Large can depend on, and considering of what great importance it is to the United States that this Post should be held safe can, and do, with the utmost confidence advise you to pursue the proposed Plan for Supplying the Left Wing of the Army under your Command with Provisions. By empowering the Heads of the different Departments to Contract for the diffirant Supplies they ought to procure at the cheapest Rates they possibly can, Payable in Silver & Gold or in the Current Money of the Country equivalent thereto, on the day of Payment, which you shall prefer as you think best, and as a security for such Payment being truly made pledge indiscriminately the Public property in the possession of every Officer under your direction.

We are fully sensible of your exertions for the Publick good, and have seen with pleasure, that you have left nothing undone that could have the least Tendancy towards procuring a full & ample Supply, beyond what could, or Even ought to be expected from you in such a complication of difficulties as you have had to Combat with. But also sensible of the present great and almost unparelled sufferings of the Troops under your immediate Direction & imminent Danger to the general Cause, should this very important post be lost, think that not only Congress, but the World at large will Justify you in pursuing the Plan proposed. We have the Honor to be with the greatest Esteem your Most Obt Servants

Sign’d Enoch Poor

John Paterson


Highlands May 17th 1780


The unexpected disappointments met with from every Quarter, from which I expected Supplies are likely to be attended with the worst consequences, & call upon us to repeat and redouble our Exertions.

The occasion of the disappointments, it is said by all to be the want of Money in the Purchasing Departments, which the Purchasers say has not only put it out of their power to make sufficient Contracts, but has also presented their sending up the small stock of Supplies they have been able to procure. I am therefore compelled in order to relieve the pressing necessities of the Army in this Department, to fall upon a measure extraordinary perhaps in its nature but rendered by that necessity unavoidable.

You will therefore endeavour to contract for those supplies necessary for the Support of this Department upon the following Terms Viz; you will Purchase the Supplies at the Cheapest price possible for hard money, to be paid by the first of October next, and if it can not be paid in that Species of Coin at the time appointed, You may engage that those of whom you purchase shall be Paid in Paper Money in the proportion it bears to Gold & Silver at the time of payment, so that the Parties of whom you Pay shall not suffer in the least by any Depreciation which may happen in the intermediate time. And you may assure the Parties that rather than any falure in point of payment should happen that the Publick property shall be sold to pay them—upon these Conditions I should imagine Purchases can be made, and you may assure yourself that not one moment is to be lost.

You can not but be acquainted what quantity of Supplies have been usually required of you to Support the Army in this Department for three or Four Months, you will proportion your purchases accordingly enough is absolutely requisite, and you will be cautious not to run into excess. The strictist Oeconomy in these purchases & attention to obtain them on the best Terms as Injoined upon, and expected of you, and upon your immediate Exertions every thing depends—The Same Terms may be agreed to in order to obtain Teams to bring up the Provision on hand & to forward any that in future can be procured. I am Sir Yr Most Obt Sert

Sign’d Robt Howe

A Copy of [the] Circular letter to the Commissaries of Provision Forage & Quarter Masters.


Highlands May 18th 1780

Dr Sir,

I am sorry I am again obliged to apply to your Excellency upon a Subject anxious to myself, as I am certain it must be to you. But the iminent Danger there is of the Armies almost immediately being reduced to a Starving condition compels me to trouble you and your Respectable State by soliciting you & their instant assistance and intervention to prevent consequences which may be so fatal to this Post; so highly injurious to the Common Cause, & which without that intervention & Aid are but too likely to take place—I think the occasion so important that I have directed the Deputy Quarter Master Genl of this Department (tho’ I can but illy spare him) to wait upon your Excellency in person with this letter, and who being perfectly well acquainted with our Situation, can give you and the Assembly the most minute Detail of it, and therefore renders it unnecessary to pain either you them, or myself by a particular description of it here—This however I may add that he can not well Exaggerate or aggravate matters for to paint them properly no Colourings can be too strong. I am Sir With the greatest Respect Yr Excellency’ Most Obt Sert

Sign d Robt Howe


Highlands May 18th 1780


Having laid your letter before the General Officers under my Command who were present, they have in the strongest Terms recommended to me to carry into execution the Plan proposed therein—You will therefore without delay Transmit or hand to the several Commissaries the letters I now send you and that no Method may be omitted which can insure success. You will immediately proceed thro’ this State and that of Connecticut and if possible have an interview with every Commissary: Of them you are to obtain the most exact information, what Supplies they have in hand, what they have Contracted for, in whose hands, and at what places lodged, when it can be brought up, what Methods have been, are, or may be taken to effect this, and what further Supplies can be had, of which you are to give me particular & Instant information.

You will deliver my letter to His Excellency Governor Trumbul in Person, and having referrd him to you for particulars, you will in the most explicit manner State to him, or if necessary to the assembly of his State the Situation we are in and the necessity there is for their immediate assistance, and intervention to relieve us from those distresses which may be (if not presented) attended with the worst consequences. Knowing the Influence of Colo. Jeremiah Wadsworth, & how ready he has been and will be to exert it to the utmost to serve the Army & his Country, I have again written to him by you soliciting his Publick and Private Efforts in our favour. He is perfectly acquainted with the resources of Connecticut, and will I am certain not only take measures himself to assist us but will give every Aid in his power to call them forth, to him therefore, and with him I would have you Comm[and] and apply—You will also speak to every Magistrate, or Private Character of weight that you can conveniently see, requesting their legal Authority, and Personal influence in obtaining and bringing up the necessary Supplies.

Having experienced your cautions with great satisfaction to myself and Benefit to Service, I have the fullest confidence in your present Effort, & as you know exactly the Situation & necessity of our Affairs you will I doubt not by every Method both ordinary & extraordinary endeavour to relieve us.

Tho’ I have mentioned only the States of Connecticut and New York, Yet I by no Means wish to confine your operations to them but would have you to extend them whenever necessity points out that you ought to do so. I am Sir with great Respect Yr Most Obt Servant

Sign’d Robt Howe


Highlands May 18th 1780


As it may perhaps be necessary to communicate my letter of Instructions of this day to Particular Persons, I did not choose to throw out any Sentiments or lay you under restrictions which might weaken the Energy of your exertions or lesson the influence they ought to have upon others, Should it be necessary to carry into extent the Plan proposed But as you know that tho’ pressed upon by necessity I have adopted the Measure with the greatest Reluctance, and consequently only mean to have it and merely as a dernier resort—Should therefore our Supplies by means of the Efforts I have already been making, or by any other be obtained (tho’ I do not expect it) in such Quantities as will be Adequate to our purposes you will avoid falling upon the measure or only use in Degree to obtain those Supplies, which can no other way be had—The applications I have made to the State of Connecticut give me reason to think that they will assist the Commissaries & Quarter Masters of their State with Money and by every other means in their Power, this may lessen in Degree the necessity of the Adoption of the Method we are upon, and you will conduc[t] yourself Accordingly still holding in mind that the Pla[n] of operation Adopted is the result of absolute necessity and is no farther to be executed than that necessity makes requisite. I am Sir with Respect Yr Most Obt Sert

Sign’d Robt Howe

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