James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 9 January 1781

To Thomas Jefferson

RC (Virginia State Library).

Philada. Jany 9th. 1781

Sir

The inclosed extract of a letter from General Washington No. 1 will give your Excellency a more particular account of the late embarkation from N. York than has been before obtained.1

On thursday last Congress were informed by General Potter & Col. Johnston who came expresses for the purpose that a general mutiny of the Pennsylvania line stationed near Morris Town apart from the rest of the Army had broken out on the morning of New Year’s day.2 Every effort was used by the Officers to stifle it on its first appearance but without effect. Several of them fell victims to the fury of the Mutineers.3 The next information came from Genl Wayne who wrote from Princeton whither the troops had marched in regular order on their way to Philada. as they gave out, with a determination not to lay down their arms nor return to their obedience till their grievances should be redressed. They did not suffer any of their Officers to remain with them except Genl Wayne and Coins: Steuart & Butler and these they kept under a close guard, but in every other respect treated with the utmost decorum.4 The greivences complained of were principally a detention of many in service beyond the term of enlistment & the sufferings of all from a deficient supply of Cloathing & subsistance & long arrearage of pay. Several propositions & replies on the subject of redress passed between a deputation of Sergeants on the part of the Troops & General Wayne, but without any certain tendency to a favorable issue.5 The Affair at length took a very serious aspect and as a great proportion of that line are foreigners and not a few deserters from the British Army, and as they shewed a disposition to continue at Princeton from whence a refuge with the Enemy who it was said were coming out in force to avail themselves of the situation of things, was very practicable, it was thought necessary to depute a Committee of Congress with powers to empl[o]y every expedient for putting a speedy end to it.6 The President of the State with a number of Gentlemen from this place also went up to interpose their influence.7 The inclosed copy of a Letter from the Committee No. 2 with the paper No. 3 referred to in it are the last accounts received of the matter.8 The manner in which the offers of [the] emissary of Clinton were received & treated is a very auspicious circumstance & will probably in its impression on the enemy fully balance the joy & encouragement which this event tended to give them.9

Col. Bland being one of the Committee does not join me in this

I have the honor to be with great respect & esteem Yr. Excelly’s obt. & hum. serv

James Madison Jnr.

His Excelly. The Govr. of Virginia

1Of the three inclosures in this letter, JM designates as “No. 1” the copy in his hand of the third paragraph of Washington’s dispatch of 2 January 1781 to the president of Congress, bearing upon the size and composition of the British expeditionary force commanded by Benedict Arnold (Mathews to Greene, 4 January 1781). Since JM’s inclosure is merely an accurately copied extract from a letter readily available in printed form (e.g., Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44). description ends , XXI, 51), it is not reproduced here.

2Judging from the printed journal, the news reached Congress on Wednesday, 3 January 1781. That evening Congress appointed John Sullivan, John Witherspoon, and John Mathews “to confer with the supreme executive of the State of Pennsylvania, on the subject matter of the intelligence received this day.” Two days later Samuel John Atlee (Pa.) and Theodorick Bland were added to this committee (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 20, 25). The “expresses” were James Potter (1729–1789), brigadier general of the Pennsylvania militia and soon-to-be vice-president of that state’s Supreme Executive Council, and Francis Johnston (1749–1815), colonel of Pennsylvania’s 5th Regiment, continental line, and later the sheriff of Philadelphia County.

3On 1 January, the “tranquility of winter quarters,” about which Washington wrote that day to Timothy Pickering (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44). description ends , XXI, 41), was suddenly ended by the mutiny. During the uprising, resulting in the displacement of the commissioned officers by a board of sergeants, one of the officers and one mutineer were killed and two officers were wounded (ibid., XXI, 56 n.; Harry Emerson Wildes, Anthony Wayne: Trouble Shooter of the American Revolution [New York, 1941], p. 227).

4Brigadier General Anthony Wayne (1745–1796) of the Pennsylvania line reported the mutiny to Washington on 2 January, and wrote to Congress about it six days later. Wayne’s dispatch was not read in Congress until the day after JM penned the present letter to Jefferson (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44). description ends , XXI, 56 n., 64–65; Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 41). Since no earlier message from Wayne to Congress about the mutiny has been found, JM may refer to a letter of 4 January from Major General Arthur St. Clair to the president of Congress, inclosing copies of the terms asked for by the committee of sergeants on that day, and of Wayne’s reply thereto. St. Clair’s letter, presumably with these inclosures, was laid before Congress on 6 January (NA: PCC, No. 152, IX, 439–46; Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 30). Although St. Clair wrote from Trenton, the Wayne inclosures were dated at Princeton, about ten miles away. Colonels Walter Stewart (1756–1796) and Richard Butler (1743–1791) were both of the Pennsylvania line. Stewart, sometimes called “the handsomest man in the American army,” became a Philadelphia merchant after the Revolution (Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XLVII [1923], 275). Butler, a brigadier general and United States agent for Indian affairs, met his death when St. Clair and his troops were ambushed by the Indians in the Ohio country.

5For this correspondence, see Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser., 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 2d ser., XI, 660–63, 671–72, 687–88, 696.

6Above, n. 2.

7Joseph Reed, president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, headed the group of prominent residents of Philadelphia which left that city with General Potter on 5 January to go to Princeton, where the mutineers had encamped. Most of the committee from Congress followed the next day (Carl Van Doren, Mutiny in January [New York, 1943], pp. 98–100).

8JM’s inclosure “No. 2,” with the exception of a few unimportant word omissions, is a verbatim copy of John Witherspoon’s letter from Trenton, 7 January 1781, written in the name of the committee of Congress, to “the President of Congress.” Congress received this report on 8 January (Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 32; NA: PCC, No. 152, IX, 447). It is printed in Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1921–36). description ends , V, 515–16. JM’s inclosure “No. 3” is a faithful copy of General Henry Clinton’s undated notice addressed “To the Person appointed by the Pennsylvania Troops to lead them in the present struggle for their Liberties and Rights,” offering to receive the mutineers on generous terms within the British lines. For this invitation, see Samuel Hazard, ed., The Register of Pennsylvania … (16 vols.; Philadelphia, 1828–35), II, 167; or Calendar of Virginia State Papers, II, 149–50.

9JM here refers to what Witherspoon had written in his letter mentioned in n. 8. The mutineers not only spurned the offer of General Clinton but turned over his emissary and the emissary’s guide to President Reed. These two men, John Mason and James Ogden, were hanged on 11 January (Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser., 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 2d ser., XI, 702; Journals of the Continental Congress, XIX, 82).

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