George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Robert Howe, 27 January 1781

Ringwood 27th Jany 1781


In obedience to your Excellency’s commands I arrived at this place yesterday evening and found that the Mutineers were returning to their huts. Col. Dayton had offered them pardon for their offences provided they immediatly would put themselves under the Command of their officers and would behave in future consistent with that Subordination so essential to Military discipline. To this they Seemingly acceeded but Soon demonstrated by their Conduct that they were actuated by motives exceedingly distinct from those they had professed, for tho’ in Some respects they would Suffer a few particular officers to have influence over them, yet it was by no means the Case in general, and what they did do, appeared rather like following advice than obeying command. arrived at their huts they condescended once to parade when ordered, but were no sooner dismissed than Several officers were insulted, and, One had a bayonet put to his breast, and upon the man’s being Knocked down for his insolence a musket was fired, which being their alarm signal & most of them paraded in arms. In short their whole behaviour was Such as cried aloud for chastisement and made it evident that they had only returned to their huts as a place more Convenient for themselves where they meant to negotiate with the Committee appointed (previous to their mutiny) to inquire into their grievances and to which they thought to have dictated their own terms. having long been convinced that in Cases of insurgency no medium lay either for Civil or Military bodies between dignity and Servility but Coertion, and that no other method could be possibly fallen upon without the deepest wound to Service, I instantly determined to adopt it. we marched from Ringwood about midnight, and having by the assistance of Colonels Shrieve & Barber made myself acquainted with the Situation of their encampment I thought it proper to occupy four different positions about it. Lt Col. Commr Sprout with one party and a piece of artillery was ordered to take post on their left. Lt Col. Miller with another party and two pieces on their right; Major Oliver with his men in front of their encampment; Major Throop with his in the rear of it. Major Morris, who with the New hampshire detachment had been ordered to Pompton by the way of Kings ferry and was arrived, was directed to post himself upon the Charlottenburg road about half a mile above the first bridge. thus was every avenue Secured, and in this position the Mutineers found us when daylight appeared. Col. Barber of the Jersey line was Sent to them with orders immediatly to parade without arms and to march to the ground pointed out for them. Some Seemed willing to Comply, but others exclaimed: What! No conditions. then if we are to die, it is as well to die where we are as any where else. Some hesitation happening among them Co. Sprout was directed to advance and only five minutes given the mutineers to Comply with the orders which had been Sent them. this had its effect, and they, to a man, marched without arms to the ground appointed for them. the jersey officers gave a list of those they thought the most atrocious offenders, upon which I desired them to Select three, (one of each regiment) which was accordingly done. A Field Court Martial was presently held and they received Sentence of death by the unanimous decree of the Court. two of them were excuted on the Spot, the third I have reprieved because the officers inform me that they were guided in their naming him more by his having been the Commanding officer of the party than from any Circumstances of aggravation in his own Conduct, and because it appeared in evidence that tho he had been compelled to take the Command he had endeavoured to prevail upon the men to return to their duty. these reasons, Sir, induced me to Spare him, which I am persuaded your Excellency will approve. I thought it would have a good effect to appoint the executioners from among those most active in the mutiny. After the execution the officers were ordered to parade the men regimentally to divide them into platoons, each officer to take his platoon—in this Situation they were directed to make & made proper concessions in the face of the troops to their officers, and to promise by future good Conduct to attone for past offences. I then Spoke to them by platoons representing to them in the Strongest terms I was Capable of the heinousness of their guilt as well as the folly of it, in the outrage they had offered to that civil authority to which they owed obedience and which it was their incumbent duty to Support and maintain. they shewed the fullest sense of their guilt and Such Strong marks of Contrition that I think I may venture to pledge my Self for their future good conduct.

I take pleasure in expressing, Sir, the warmest approbation of the Conduct of the detatchments of every line detailed for this command the rapid march made by each of the Several routs they took in very inclement weather, through a depth of Snow and upon an occasion which from the nature of it nothing but a Sense of duty and love of their Country could render pleasing are very meritorious instances of their patriotism as well as of their Zeal for Service. I have the honour to be with the greatest respect Sir Your Excellency’s Most obedient and Most humble servant,

Robert Howe

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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