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To George Washington from Samuel Huntington, 27 November 1779

From Samuel Huntington

Philadelphia Novemr 27th 1779


Since the receipt of your Excellency’s favours of the 3d & 5th instant acknowledg’d in my letter of the 13th I am honour’d with yours of the 14th 18th & 20th instant.

Your Excellency will receive herewith enclos’d a Letter from Doctr J. Morgan of the 22d instant together with an Act of Congress of the 24th instant ordering the aforementioned Letter from Doctor Morgan to be transmitted to the Commander in Chief.1 I have the honour to be with the greatest respect your Excy’s humble Servt

Saml Huntington President

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 14.

1The enclosed letter from John Morgan to Huntington, written at Philadelphia on 22 Nov., reads: “In my letter of July 19th last, after having impeached Dr Shippen junr of Malpractices and Misconduct in Office, I demanded his Suspension, as the constant practice of other Nations, and of our own Army, and as a Necessary Rule of War. I shewed on sufficient Evidence, that Attempts were made to bribe and corrupt Witnesses, to put it out of my power to appear against him. In September following, finding him still in Office, (unsuspended) I undertook a Journey to Camp, where he then was, with an Intention, amongst other Matters, to charge him, in person, with Crimes in Office, and to confront him before Witnesses. He knew of my Coming, and withdrew to Philadelphia. On my return to the City, I solicited Congress to pass the necessary Resolves to compell Witnesses to attend a Court Martial, or to fall on some Measure to give Evidence on facts a due force, and prayed that the Charges of the Trial might be at the expence of the united States.

“Congress was pleased to resolve that in Cases not Capital, Depositions may be given in Evidence, provided the Prosecution and Person accused are present at taking the same; but no Provision is made to recieve Depositions as Evidence, if the adverse party has reasonable Notice of the time and place, and shall neglect to attend; nor is any Mention made of defraying the expences of Witnesses summoned to attend the Trial, altho’ in a former similar Case, a Vote passed for that purpose. And I beg leave further to observe that no sooner had the above resolve of the 16th Instant passed the House than Dr Shippen again with-drew himself from the City, so as to render every Attempt to serve him with Notice for taking the Depositions of Evidences abortive. I am sorry that the Resolves of Congress for that purpose have been so easily & immediately evaded.

“I formerly attempted to remove any Objections to putting Doctr Shippen under an Arrest, from leaving the Department without an Head. Doctr [William] Brown was then present, on whom if I am rightly informed, the Care of the Hospitals would naturally devolve, during Dr Shippens Suspension & Trial, I now understand on Dr Shippens going to Camp, the former will go to Virginia to spend the Winter, which will deprive me of one Material Evidence, and may be given as a Reason by Dr Shippens Friends, why he ought not to be tried in the mean time. Whilst he is continued in the exercise of his Office, other Evidences, may, in like Manner, be removed, and thus one Excuse after another be perpetually assigned, why he shall not be compelled to prepare for his Trial, or attend to the taking Evidences necessary for the same, and delays framed in an endless Circle.

“If it be urged as a Reason against his being dealed with on this occasion, as it has been usual to treat General and other Officers, because there is no one of the Same rank to supply his place, and his Services may be wanted, I beg leave to remark that in a former Instance, no such Reason was assigned or allowed of, altho’ the Objections were infinitely stronger, and there were at that time no Deputies, and Assista⟨nt⟩ Director Generals, and Deputy Assistants, nor no Physicians and Surgeons General to supply the place, and who are so numerous on the present Establishment. Should there now be a reduction of those Officers, as is said to be in Contemplation, other Evidences which I can now call upon may be removed, and the Reasons strengthened why Dr Shippen should not be suspended or brought to Acct Again. Should a Trial be now ordered, the Examination of his Books and Accompts may be a necessary Measure to detect frauds. He may plead the Want of Liesure for Settling his Books. Did not Congress order two Years ago, that he should immediately settle his Accompts Has he ever done it, or will it be done, or will Evidences be examined to convict him of Guilt, till he is suspended; or must these Matters be left, till his Trial is appointed to increase of Expence & Difficulties, so that the whole winter ensuing may be consumed in fresh Delays.

“I have already informed Congress that my Charges against Dr Shippen were no trivial Complaints. No Man in Dr Shippens place can be charged with blacker Crimes, or that more concern the dig[nity] and Honour of the united States to take immediate Cognizance of them, and to pursue such Steps that Justice may not be eluded through a delay of Trial, or Neglect to secure and establish the Evidences necessary to prove the facts. It is incumbent on me, therefore, to inform Congress that since I first called upon this honourable house for Justice upon the accused, some persons who then offered to testify to the Truth of facts, necessary to prove particular parts of his Criminality have since gone off from the Continent: others have, and some are about to remove to such a distance, that Objections may be made to the expence of summoning them to attend, whose testimony could be taken without difficulty was Dr Shippen suspended, so that he could be called upon immediately to attend at the taking of the Evidence.

“Perhaps it became me, on my former Application, to specify some of those Charges which I undertake to prove against him, to induce Congress to suspend him, or to oblige him to attend and prepare for his Trial. I shall now do it.

“I now charge Dr Shippen, amongst other things, with behaving in a scandalous manner, unbecoming an Officer, & a Gentleman; with fraud; with dealing in hospital Stores on his own Acct selling Wine and Sugar to Huxters and Tavernkeepers, whilst the Sick and wounded suffered miserably for want of them—and of due Care in Dr Shippen to attend and provide for them, and they dyed in great Numbers, under Circumstances disgraceful to the united States and shocking to humanity—I charge him with having refused to pay Debts, contracted by the Hospital Commissary and Forage Master for the Use of the Sick, tho’ he did not dispute the Justice of their Accompts, till it cost the Creditors the whole amount, or great part of the Money to recover the same, and till it fell far below the Value, to the rapid Increase of Prices for Hospital Stores, & Depreciation of the Money, whilst great Sums, (probably belonging to the public) which he may call his Money, was vested in Merchandizes, which he sold on his own Acct and for his own Emolument. And I charge him with employing public Waggons in transportin⟨g⟩ those Stores from place to place. When I acquaint You, that a Number of People to whom these facts are known, are distressed by them, and dissatisfied at every Appearance of the delay of Justice, and are ready to prove those facts, whenever Dr Shippen is ordered to attend their Examination, I cannot suppose that this honourable house, which has till now been unacquanted with the Matter will hesitate to put a Stop to his Career, till he has undergone his Trial and is acquitted.

“His Excellency General Washington informed me, when at Camp, that had he known the Campaign would have passed even as it did, the Trial might have taken place before now, without injury to the Service. And I am thoroughly convinced that if Congress will but signify its pleasure that Dr Shippen be suspended, the Reasons for deferring it before being now removed, His Excellency will give immediate Orders for that purpose. He was pleased to assure me that it did not lay with him but with Congress to give the necessary orders for rendering the testimony of Witnesses out of the Army binding. Should Congress think proper to appoint a Committee to examine into the Nature & Number of Evidences, I am ready to attend it.

“I press only for Measures calculated to promote the Wellfare and Interest of the united States, to remove every Bar to a fair & open Trial; to deprive even the Prosecutor himself of all Means of Excuse, should he fail in what he has undertaken from no other Motive than public Justice and the Service of these States.

“I have so long and so fatally experienced the Arts of Dr Shippen to baffle and elude Justice, that I cannot but be anxiously watchful when naked, defenceless & unsupported but by the uprightness of my Motives, I find myself a Prosecutor, opposed to such a Man, holding in his hands the means at once to bribe and seduce Witnesses, & that some of those under his Influence have actually proceeded to bribe & seduce—I daily see so many difficulties arising from the influence of Office, that if he is not shortly suspended, and if I fail in making good any of my Charges, I shall in conscience believe that my failure is only to be imputed to the Obstructions that are in the Way of a speedy Trial, to his remaining so long unsuspended after Accusations are brought against him, and to his continuing to hold in his hands the Charms & Terrors of Office, contrary to the usual Customs of War. I speak freely from a Sense of Duty If Dr Shippens Trial should be long deferred; Evidences be removed, and no effectual Method be fallen upon to secure their Testim⟨ony⟩ & Dr Shippen not be convicted, I may stand acquitted to my Conscience of the Charge made by Congress to me public in May last, that this honble house was not convinced there had been as much diligence used, in detecting & reforming Abuses, as in committing & Complaining of them. But I submit to the Wisdom & uprightness of Congress” (DLC:GW; see also Huntington to GW, 19 Nov., n.2).

The enclosed copy of the order that Congress adopted on 24 Nov. indicated its decision to send Morgan’s letter to GW after “Doctor Shippen” was “first furnished with a copy thereof” (DLC:GW; see also JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 15:1302–3).

For Morgan’s previous efforts to instigate a court-martial of William Shippen, Jr., see GW to Morgan, 24 June, and n.1 to that document; John Jay to GW, 20 July, and n.4; Morgan to GW, same date, and n.1 to that document; the first Council of General Officers, 26 July; and GW to Jay, 29 July (second letter). GW responded to the renewed charges against Shippen in letters to Huntington of 4 Dec. and to Morgan of 17 December. Morgan replied to GW on 27 December.

For GW’s eventual decision to arrest Shippen, see his letter to Morgan, 5 Jan. 1780 (misdated 1779; DLC:GW). Shippen’s court-martial, which resulted in his acquittal, began on 14 March and lasted until 27 June. Without approving or disapproving the verdict, GW transmitted the proceedings to Congress when he wrote Huntington on 15 July (DNA:PCC, item 152). Congress subsequently ordered Shippen’s release from arrest on 18 Aug. without approving the court-martial’s determination (see JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 17:744–46).

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