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To George Washington from the Board of War, 20 March 1780

From the Board of War

War Office [Philadelphia] March 20th 1780.


The board do themselves the honor to inclose copies of some letters which they have recd on the subject of the Supplies of the Army.1 They are exceedingly concerned that the prospects from some of them, are so unpromising. And are much alarmed for the consequences; nor can they conjecture what may be the event, unless the late regulations in the finances produce a favorable change in our Circumstances.2

At this place there are only about one hundred barrels of Flour—& four hundred barrels have lately been sent on—the board have also contracted with Genl Dickinson for 150 barrels of flour, & 2500 bushels of Indian corn to be delivered at Trenton within ten days.3

The board are unacquainted with the prospects of Col. Blaine, but imagine his dependence is chiefly on the Supplies which he expects from the States in Virtue of the late requisition of Congress.4 I have the honor to be With the highest respect Yr Excellencys Most Obed. Sert.

by ord. of the board.
Ben Stoddert Secy


1The enclosed letters initially sent to the Board of War came from Joseph Reed, president of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council, at Philadelphia (dated 11 March); from Maryland governor Thomas Sim Lee, for the state council, at Annapolis (same date); and from Henry Hollingsworth, quartermaster at Head of Elk, Md. (dated 16 March).

Reed’s letter to the board reads: “We received your favour acquainting us with your Apprehensions of another Scarcity in Camp.

“We hoped such measures would have been taken after the distress last fall as would have prevented a like Calamity. We are firmly perswaded that temporary expedients, tho they give immediate relief eventually tend to create fresh difficulties, and that Nothing now can be effectual but a system founded on a Settled Medium of Trade.

“The same spirit which has animated us hitherto will induce us to use every Means in our power to prevent the Melancholy consequences you apprehend; but it is with infinite Concern we must inform you that our abilities lessen the oftener these extraordinary exertions are made; and however painful the declaration, our duty to ourselves, and the Public obliges us to inform you that we have no reasonable Prospect of Affording any speedy relief, and that, for the following Reasons. First, that we have not Continental Money in our Treasury, having honoured the Drafts of Congress as they were presented. Secondly, The Confidence in it is so much impaired, that we have reason to fear it will not now be held in sufficient estimation to draw from the Country the necessary supply.

“We cannot think ourselves justified in Keeping you in suspence, or holding out an expectation, which we have too much reason to fear will prove delusive—and therefore while we tender our best services on this occasion, deem it best to acquaint you (however unpleasant the duty) with the real state of the Business” (DLC:GW).

Lee’s letter to the board reads: “We had the honor of receiving your letter of the 7th Instant at 6 oClock last evening the subject is of a most serious and alarming nature and you may rely upon our immediate attention to it. Every exertion shall be made on our part to extricate the Army from its present difficulties & distress. We however cannot avoid expressing our astonishment on hearing the Magazines are in such an exhausted State, after the numberless accounts received of plentiful Supplies being received at Camp, these accounts we must observe were not officially given, but they however came thro’ such a variety of Channels, we thought them entitled to some credit, especially as we had received nothing contradictory from Congress your Honorable Board or the Genl. We again beg you to be assured that we will make every effort to send forward to Camp all the flour that is or may be collected, without loss of time” (DLC:GW). To encourage county commissioners, the Maryland Council circulated an extract from the Board of War’s letter of 7 March: “We are alarmed and most feelingly distressed at the Accounts we have just received from the Commissary General of Issues, of the State of the Magazines of Provisions at Camp. Unless the Speediest Relief is afforded it is by no Means improbable that the Army will be obliged to disband the Vicinity of the Camp and indeed the whole State of [J]ersey being exhausted by its Exertions for the Supply of the Troops this winter. We have therefore most earnestly to request the Assistance of your Excellency and the Honorable Council upon this disagreeable Exigency and we beg you will cause as much Flour as possible to be forwarded that the Distress likely to fall on the Army and the dangerous Consequences which may probably attend it, may be prevented” (Md. Archives description begins Archives of Maryland. 72 vols. Baltimore, 1883–1972. description ends , 43:107; see also Circular to the New Jersey Magistrates, 7 Jan.).

Hollingsworth’s letter to the board indicated the recent arrival of “two Vessels … with 417 Barrels flour, several others are on the way with Flour Corn & Wheat, I have sent this Morning three brigades of Teams with two hundred and odd Barrels flour … so that I flatter myself there is no danger at present: Should have wrote of my prospect sooner but have been too busy executing your Orders, looking on it more useful to do than to say” (DLC:GW; see also Maryland Council to Hollingsworth, 11 March, in Md. Archives description begins Archives of Maryland. 72 vols. Baltimore, 1883–1972. description ends , 43:106).

2Congress had adopted new financial legislation on 18 March (see Philip Schuyler to GW, 12 March, and notes 3 and 4 to that document).

3The board’s contract with Philemon Dickinson, who served in the New Jersey militia as a major general, ran into payment complications, and the final purchase amounted to only 110 barrels of flour and 1,003 bushels of corn (see the Board of War to Samuel Huntington, 6 June, in DNA:PCC, item 148, and 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 , 17:500–502).

4The board is referring to congressional resolutions passed in December 1779 and February 1780 that called upon state governments to provide provisions to the army (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 , 15:1371–72, 1377–78, and 16:196–201; see also Huntington to GW, 29 Feb. 1780, and n.2 to that document).

George Morton, who assisted Ephraim Blaine, commissary general of purchases, had written Board of War secretary Benjamin Stoddert from Philadelphia on 17 March 1780: “The Return requested by the Honorable Board of Warr of the Quantity of Provisions in the Possession of the purchasing Commissaries in the Middle Department, it is not in my Power to furnish at present, shall Write a circular Letter to Col. Blaines Assistants for an Acco[ou]t of what remains on hands in their respective Districts, a General Return of which shall be transmitted you as soon as possible” (DLC: Ephraim Blaine Letterbook). Morton wrote the circular letter on the same date: “The board of War have call’d upon Col. Blaine for a Return of the provisions in the possession of his Assistants in the middle Department, to effect which I must request an immediate Return of what remains on hands in your District” (DLC: Ephraim Blaine Letterbook).

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