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From George Washington to Samuel Huntington, 5 January 1780

To Samuel Huntington

Head Qrs Morris Town January 5th 1780


I have been honoured with Your Excellency’s Letter of the 29th Ulto and the Acts to which it refers. I hope the proposed regulation of the post office, will contribute to lessen our expences, but with all deference I would take the liberty to observe, that I think the exigency and good of the service will not admit of a general discharge of the Express Riders. Circumstances very interesting frequently arise that demand an instant communication—and to places entirely out of the tract of the post. Nor does it appear to me that it would answer to rely on the getting of occasional Expresses at the moment they are wanted, both on account of the delay that would often happen and the risk of employing improper characters. The preciousness of moments in military arrangements will often make the delay of an hour extremely injurious; nor am I clear how far this plan may be conducive to œconomy; for persons so engaged on an emergency will not fail to exact enormous rewards. These are points which strike me as worthy of consideration and which are humbly submitted. If the post was to be the common channel of conveyance, as it goes & comes at stated periods, it may be questioned whether our dispatches would not be frequently liable to be intercepted. At any rate the very alarming and delicate conjuncture in our Affairs at this time renders the dismission of the whole impracticable—and I have taken the liberty to suspend the operation of the Act so far as to direct, that such as are absolutely essential for the present be retained till farther directions from Congress.1 This I have done, not of choice, but of necessity. In any service a number of Expresses would be necessary—in ours they are more so from the multiplied difficulties that attend it. Our scanty supplies in every instance, unknown in other Armies, make it indispensible for a variety of Men under this description, to be constantly in motion to keep matters going on. If one half the present Expresses were dismissed, I should imagine this would be carrying the experiment as far as would be safe in the first instance, and we shall be better able to judge hereafter whether it may with propriety be extended any farther.2

I have the honor to inclose an Extract of a Letter of the 3d Ulto, received the 19. from Governor Greene.3 Some arrangement on the subject His Excellency mentions and to govern in similar cases is necessary. The power of granting Warrants has been commonly exercised, where there was a Military Chest, by the General Officer commanding at the post—tho the matter has never been explicitly settled that I recollect. In the present instance there is no Continental General at Rhode Island or Troops, according to the common idea of such as come under this description, except One Regiment and a small detachment of Artillery, under the command of a Continental Colonel.4 General Cornell is a State Officer, tho I believe the Troops under him are in the pay of the public. The paying of Troops, acting at a distance by warrants from me, would be attended with many inconveniencies as has often been the case—and indeed with considerable expence; as from the extravagance of the times—the travelling charges of an Officer for a day, would almost equal his monthly pay, which he would not consent to bear himself nor could it be expected.

It gives me extreme pain that I should still be holding up to Congress our Wants, on the score of provision, when I am convinced they are doing all they can for our relief; duty and necessity, however, constrain me to do it. The inclosed copies of Letters from Mr Flint, the Assistant Commissary and from Genl Irvine, who commands at present our advanced Troops, contain a just representation of our situation.5 To add to our difficulties, I very much fear that the late violent snow storm has so blocked up the Roads that it will be some days before the scanty supplies in this quarter can be brought to Camp.6 The Troops, both Officers & Men, have borne their distress with a patience scarcely to be conceived. Many of the latter have been four or five days without meat entirely and short of bread—and none but on very scanty supplies. Some for their preservation have been compelled to maraud and rob from the Inhabitants—and I have it not in my power to punish or to repres⟨s⟩ the practice. If our condition should not undergo a very speedy & considerable change for the better—it will be difficult to point out all the consequences that may ensue. About Forty of the cattle mentioned by Mr Flint got in last night. I have the Honor to be with the greatest respect Yr Excellency’s Most Obedt sevt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy (extract), DNA:PCC, item 19; copy (extract), Ct: Trumbull Papers; copy (extract fragment), N: Clinton Papers; copy (extract fragment), PHarH-Ar: Records of Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments (RG 27); Varick transcript, DLC:GW. In the dateline of the draft, the number “5” is written over the number “4.”

Congress read this letter on 11 Jan. and referred it in part to the Board of War and in part to a committee (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 16:41). On 12 Jan., Congress sent extracts, consisting of the final paragraph on provisions, to the states of Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware (see Smith, Letters of Delegates, description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends 14:337).

2At the same time this letter was being drafted, GW sought to obtain information on the minimum number of express riders required by the army. On 4 Jan., GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton wrote to Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene: “The General requests you will let him know your opinion of the number of expresses necessary to be kept in constant pay, considering the late regulation of the post office. You know the necessity of œconomy and he is persuaded will rate the number as low as possible. You will have in view the occasional employment of trusty serjeants” (Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 2:252). Greene replied to Hamilton on the same day, warning that in his view the number of riders could not be lessened “without hazarding worse consequences.” Nevertheless, he believed that if they could employ the orderly sergeants, who he thought were in general “better men than we can get for Expresses,” fifteen express riders would serve the army’s needs for emergencies and camp duty “if the posts are well regulated” (DLC:GW). Greene wrote to Congress on the subject of expresses on 8 Jan., echoing the concerns GW raises in this letter (see Greene Papers, description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends 5:249–50).

After receiving this letter, Congress authorized GW to retain as many express riders as he judged necessary (see Huntington to GW, 14 Jan., n.1).

3The extract, which Congress referred to the Board of War, probably was a copy of the second paragraph of William Greene’s letter to GW of 3 Dec. 1779. In the copy of this letter from GW to Huntington found in DNA:PCC, item 169, where GW’s reference to the enclosure is marked with an “A,” a notation reads: “Inclosure A is missing.”

4GW is referring to Col. Christopher Greene’s 1st Rhode Island regiment, which was in the state recruiting.

5See Royal Flint to GW, 3 Jan., and William Irvine to GW, 4 January. The extract from Irvine’s letter did not include the last sentence regarding the confirmation of Col. Jeremiah Olney’s intelligence report and did not include the postscript (DNA:PCC, item 152). On 12 Jan., Congress sent copies of both letters to the states of Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware (see Smith, Letters of Delegates, description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends 14:337).

6GW recorded that it began to snow at Morristown at noon on 2 Jan., snowed “without intermission” for the rest of the day and night, and then snowed again on 3 and 4 January. He recorded “very cold” temperatures and high, “stormy” winds on all three days (Diaries, description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends 3:342).

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