George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel Huntington, 20 April 1781

Philadelphia April 20. 1781


I am directed to transmit your Excellency the enclosed Copies of Letters, viz., one from his Excellency President Reed to me, the other from Mr Fowler to President Reed, with the consequent Resolve of Congress of the 19th Instant; directing that effectual Measures be taken to make Enquiry into & correct the Abuses therein mentioned and for bringing the Offenders to condign Punishment.

This Mr Fowler is an Auditor appointed by Congress to settle public Accounts in that Quarter.

It may not be amiss to mention to your Excellency that it hath been suggested by Gentlemen of Character, that Colonel Broadhead for some reasons is disposed to obstruct, rather than to aid Colonel Clarke in his present Expedition to the westward, & prevent his Proceeding. How far the latter Suggestion, or those Facts mentioned in Mr Fowlers Letter are well founded I cannot pretend to say. A proper Enquiry is necessary to ascertain those Matters; and I am firmly perswaded your Excellency’s Prudence will direct to such Measures as that the Public may not suffer by flagrant Abuses, and at the same Time no faithful Officers may be injured by ill founded Misrepresentations, if any such there be. I have the Honor to be, with the highest Respect Your Excellency’s most obedient & most humble servant

Sam. Huntington President

P.S. I have been Honourd with your Excellency Letters of the 12th & 14th instant.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.



Pittsburgh 29 March 1781


As a public servant and a citizen of the united states whose greatest ambition is to see them prosper, I can no longer remain silent. Indeed I think I should be undeserving of the trust reposed in me were I not to be explicit. For the indolence of public servants and the enormity of public abuses becomes more and more obvious.

We are here Sir reduced to a contemptible situation and I am afraid we shall soon appear in a disgraceful one. For discipline is not only relaxed but totally neglected and private interest shamefully predominates over public oeconomy The indians and quarter masters who are equally objects of the people’s jealousy and aversion are equally indulged here from motives mean and unwarrantable. An indian trade is carried on in this department on principles hitherto unknown to even our enemies in their lost and corrupt state. Under the auspices of our Commandant his harlot purchases furs and peltries from the savages which are paid for with liquor, salt &c. from the commissaries store and sold for cash: and though this trade must be allowed to be snug, safe and profitable yet it is degrading, is unworthy of imitation and ought to be reprobated.

At the head of the quarter master’s department we have a grovelling ignorant man; but as he is servile and knowing and an adept in taking advantages in jobbing & making bargain[s] he appears to be principal confidant. While David can catch an advantageous private bargain Daniel can smile at public calamity. And while the people are complaining and almost ready to revolt, both can fatten on their distresses. These gen[tn] Sir are largely concerned in the land jobbing way. Their credit and connextions extend far and near and however unbecoming such conduct may be particularly by men who have public money to account for nothing else seems attended to. Indians have not only been countenanced but public criminals [secured] through base and interested motives. Hence Congress have been misled. With all due respect to that honorable body while they were bestowing commissions on savages the state of Pensylvania judged right by offering a bounty for their scalps.

Colonel Broadhead has not only rendered himself universally obnoxious to the people but also to many of his officers, who have refused for these twelve months past to dine or associate with him on account of his conduct, and what was then deemed only a suspicion is now rendered a fact. Nay some of his officers have charged him with sporting with public money and tho’ he has on the one hand treated them with indignity they have on the other applied for a court of enquiry but nothing is done. The officers are eager for a hearing and the commandant seems to sit silent under the reproach.

To enumerate to your excellency all the abuses & grievances here would be an endless task, I shall however endeavour to point out a few of them and their causes.

Respecting commanding officers their expences are at [present] unlimited. By the single dash of a pen a commandant can make all fly before him. Thus the public stores are made not only subservient to his will, but caterers to his passions. By which means the safety and happiness of a country depends on individuals. False and destructive policy. In the british service Sir, there are many abuses, yet nothing of this kind can arise—With respect to the quarter masters department, it is a ruinous & destructive one. For having neither check nor controul of any kind they are enabled to ship the public at pleasure and make just what sum of money they deem necessary. Our Assistant D.Q. Master Mr Duncan tho’ he can scarce write his name can employ just as many teams, artificers, labourers and workmen of all kinds as he thinks fit not for the benefit of the public, but the benefit of he that employs them, for the benefit of the very scum of America who seem to be destitute of all kind of knowledge as well as principle but that of amassing wealth. The assistant Qr Master has his forms, his assistants have theirs and for aught I know some of his waggoners, where their horses are employed in the summer season; and in the winter when agriculture is at an end and teams can do little from the shortness of the days and the depth of the roads, they are whipped into the public service, and while they are fattened and made sleek at public expence the poor continental horses are left to gnaw their hoofs & die in ditches. Public waggons, public geers and public artificers are employed for the private emolument of these men. Here your excellency may behold a public carpenter employed in mending & repairing the quarter masters waggons, for the use of which waggons he charges the public a high price—And the public blacksmiths shoeing his horses making and repairing his plough irons as well as all kind of husbandry utensils, while many of the soldiery are employed in clearing his lands. Not only his land is cleared but houses are repaired & built and he puts what price he pleases on his timber. Even an artificer (a destructive bee of the quarter master’s hive) has built a dwelling house with other conveniencies in the face of the garrison while he and his wasps were receiving high pay from the public & I believe double rations. And such hirelings as these shall even have their hirelings put on pay and rations by an assistant to a D.Q. Master and employed on their farms for weeks I believe I may say months together. So that every species of abuse and low peculation is practised that the art of man can invent. And while such public nuisances as these can not only supply themselves but their creatures & connections with every necessary and convenience, many who are entitled to attention from those gentry by resolutions of Congress are totally neglected. The abusers of public confidence, may it please Your Excellency, are linked together in a chain of iniquity. One delinquent makes many until they are encreased without end. And indeed, Sir, I have often observed in my Rubbs through life that mean abilities are often attended with craft and he that knows nothing else knows how to be cunning So that besides An Auditor of Accounts an inspector of abuses is necessary in this department.

Your excellency will readily ask how such barefaced abuses can possibly arise without the knowledge of the Commandant? How can an assistant to a D.Q. Master and his assistants employ their own teams in the face of a resolution of Congress? Is it not the duty of a commanding officer to be as careful of public property as his own? For my own part, Sir, I have ever thought so and that there cannot be a greater mark of virtue in a public servant than public oeconomy. But when a commanding officer & an assistant D.Q.M. become conjoint & connected it answers all these questions. It explains the whole & leaves nothing a mystery. The interest of the one becomes the interest of the other, and the interest of the public seems never to come under the consideration of either. With such public servants a country cannot prosper unless they are bitted [and] bridled like untamed colts.

To remove the abuses enumerated and prevent them in future I beg leave to offer to your excellency the following hints.

Relieve the commandant and discharge the quarter master. Indeed we can only act defensively in this quarter. And if a proper defensive plan was adopted, which is the only plan that can be adopted, that can either afford security or protection to the people the whole hive of wasps might be discharged and the public stores delivered to the care of capt. [Ferrel] deputy field commissary who is a gentleman and worthy of trust; and all artificers that may be found absolutely necessary for the public service to be employd by the said field commissary & to be under his directions, by which means much treasure will be saved to the public.

Officers who are entitled to horses to find their own horses as well as forage & to be paid for the latter. This is very practicable here & I make no doubt but the officers, those excepted that are connected with the quarter master, would be better satisfied than in the manner they are now supplied.

The fire wood necessary for the department to be found by contract which I am convinced I could have done here at one fourth the present expence.

Public stores and public money to be held sacred and by all means to fix an allowance for commanding Officers.

The above remedies on trial would I am convinced be found specific ones. But if it may be thought necessary that an assistant to a D.Q. Master and a swarm of his leeches are to be continued here I would beg leave to recommend such for that employment as have no farms in the neighbourhood and that his accounts should be audited on the spot: and for the benefit of the public I will with pleasure if agreeable take that trouble upon myself & report to the respective Auditors. I can assure your excellency that these gentry are so accustomed to low cunning that they are not at a loss in putting a gloss of Justice and authenticity on the face of their accounts by well arranged vouchers, solemn affidavits and I know not what else besides which must natura[lly] be admitted below and can only be detected here. I have many things in my eye which I cannot communicate to your excellency and what cannot be discovered by the most discerning & circumspect without [being] on the spot. As I conceive it to be the duty of every honest public servant to detect abuses as well as give information thereof to those who may have it in their power to correct & prevent them I have thought it mine to trouble your excellency with this letter which exhibits in unexaggerated detail of the disorders in the west and in doing so I hope I shall not be by the virtuous & patriotic deemed officious. They are of a dangerous & infectious nature & I hope a specific remedy will soon by employed.

I beg leave to assure your excellency that the public good is all that I have in view by the letter. I bear resentment [normally] to no man. But I cannot see America in some measure conquering her self and strengthening the hands of our enemies by the depravity of public servants, without indignation: And I should ill deserve the opinion which I flatter myself your excellency entertains of me were I either to be intimidated by power or restrained by any other motive from giving you this information. For as a great author observes "The enjoyment of liberty and even its support and preservation consists in every man being allowed to speak his thoughts and lay open his sentiments." Yr excellency’s most Obedient & most humble Servt

(signed) A. Fowler



In Council Philadelphia April 18. 1781


In answer to your excellency’s favour of this morning enclosing general Washington’s letter respecting fort pitt, I beg leave to inform you that proper measures were taken last fall to have meat salted at fort pitt Cattle were purchased in the adjoining counties of Virginia and salt sent up to that post, but some obstruction arose to the cattle going out of Virginia which was not got over till this spring, when twenty eight head were sent, but in a different condition than they should have been. Col. Broadhead made a representation to us about the same time and of the same nature as that to the general upon which every step in our power has been taken and we hope by this time Mr Duncan’s exertions and the money with which we supplied him have relieved not only the wants but the apprehensions of the garrison. As to flour and spirits there never has been any want. In this respect Col. Broadhead’s representation is too unqualified I must also beg leave to remark to your excellency that until the last requisition of Congress, beef was not comprized in the articles required from this state. Our whole exertion therefore was made on the other articles and when we inform your excellency that in the course of a few months six thousand and fifty four pounds fourteen shillings and one penny state money, when the purchases could be made with it nearly at a par with gold & silver, was sent to furnish the supplies of the garrison, and one thousand pounds lately we presume it will appear that this important post has not been neglected.

Whether these supplies have been furnished or applied with due oeconomy and care we cannot determine, but the Council have thought it proper to send the enclosed letter in this subject for the information of Congress. The writer is an Auditor of the public accounts and deemed a man of character and intelligence. We are sorry to add that the information of the inhabitants of that part of the country corresponds in some degree with several particulars in the letter. I am with much respect Your excellency’s Most obedient and very humble Servt

(Signed) Jos: Reed


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