John Jay Papers

From John Jay to Alexander McDougall, 23 March 1776

To Alexander McDougall

Philadelphia March 23, 1776

Dear Collonel

When the Clerk of the Congress gave me the printed Papers which I enclosed you, he told me they contained the Navy Establishment. Whatever Deficiencies there may be in them as to that Matter will I hope be supplied by the Extract now enclosed.

As to continental Colors, the Congress have made no order as yet respecting them, and I believe the Captains of their armed Vessels have in that particular been directed by their own Fancies and Inclinations. I remember to have seen a Flag designed for one of them on which was extremely well painted a Rattle Snake rearing his Crest and shaking his Rattles, with this Motto “Dont tread on me” But whether this Device was generally adopted by the Fleet, I am not able to say—I rather think it was not.1

The Inlet you allude to certainly deserves Attention, and the Hints you gave me respecting it have not been forgotten—Something of that Kind is now under Consideration. A Distinction however will always be made between continental & provincial objects, and how far this may affect that Matter is ^as yet^ uncertain2

I am by no means without my Apprehensions of Danger from that Licentiousness which in your Situation is not uncommon Nothing will contribute more to its Suppression than a vigourous Exertion of the Powers vested in your Convention & Committee of Safety, at least till more regular Forms can be introduced. The Tenderness shewn to some wild People on Account of their supposed Attachment to the Cause has been of Disservice. Their eccentric Behaviour, has by passing unreproved gained Countenance, and lessened your Authority and diminished that Dignity so essential to give weight and Respect your ordinances—Some of your own People are daily (if not employed) yet, instigated to calumniate and abuse the whole Province and misrepresent all their actions and Intentions. One in particular has had the Impudence to intimate to certain Persons that your Regiments3 last Campaign were not half full and that Van Schaacks Regmt.4 had more officers than Privates—others insinuate5 that you have all along supplied the Men of War with whatever they pleased to have, and thro’ them, our Enemies at Boston. By Tales like these they pay their Court to People who have more ostensible Consequence than real Honesty, and more Cunning than Wisdom.

I am happy to find that our intermedling in the Affair of the Test is agreable to You—For Gods Sake resist all such attempts for the future—

Your own Discernment has pointed out to you the Principle of Ld. Sterlings Advancement—Had the Age of a Collls. Commission been the a proper Rule, it would have determined in Favor of some Coll. at Cambridge, many of whose commissions were prior to in Date to any in New York—The Spirit you betray on this occasion becomes a Soldier

The inclosed Copy of a Resolve of Congress will I hope settle all Doubts relative to Rank, which may arise from your new Commission. The Consequence you drew from that Circumstance was more ingenious than solid, for I can assure you that the Congress were not disposed to do any thing wrong or uncivil—And I can also add that your not having joined your Regimt. last Summer has been explained to their Satisfaction as far as I am able to judge. With Respect to this however as well as some other Matters I shall defer particulars till we meet. In a Word with some Men in these as in other Times, a man must either be their Tool and be despised, or act a firm disinterested Part and be abused—The latter has in one or two matters been your Fate as well as that of many other good Men—The Attack was insidious not open or effectual—6 Adieu. I am dear Sir your Friend

John Jay

Coll. McDougall

ALS, NHi: McDougall (EJ: 743). Endorsed. Enclosures: “The Pay of the officers & Men . . .” for the navy, AD in JJ’s hand, NHi (EJ: 12969); resolution of Congress, 22 Mar. 1776, AD in JJ’s hand, certified by Charles Thomson, NHi (EJ: 13139); JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1904–37) description ends , 4: 226; JPC description begins Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety and Council of Safety of the State of New-York (2 vols.; Albany, N.Y., 1842) description ends , 2: 412. The resolution of Congress provided that the rank of Continental officers who had earlier commissions in the service would be determined by the date of their first commissions, not by their most recent appointments. DftS, NNC (EJ: 6932).

1Colonel Christopher Gadsden (1723–1805), a delegate to the Continental Congress from South Carolina and a member of the Marine Committee, presented this flag to Congress on 8 Feb. 1776. It reputedly was flown on the flagship Alfred as the personal standard of Commodore Esek Hopkins (1718–1802) commander of the Continental navy. Alverda S. Beck, ed., The Correspondence of Esek Hopkins, Commander-in-Chief of the United States Navy (Providence, R.I., 1933), 9, 12–13.

2For McDougall’s concern over the defense of Egg Harbor, see above, McDougall to JJ, 20 Mar. 1776 (first letter). Not until June 1776 did a committee of the Continental Congress recommend that the harbor be patrolled by two vessels at Continental expense. JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1904–37) description ends , 5: 476.

3“Batalions” in draft.

4Colonel Goose Van Schaick (1736–89) commanded the 2nd New York Regiment in 1775.

5“Report” in draft.

6In the draft JJ continued with this passage, which was deleted before the ALS was copied: “If you should happen to see Mr. Sears, be so kind as to remind him of the Bond he gave Congress and that his not having taken it up by settling his Account has been talked of.” Captain Isaac Sears had forwarded 7,000 barrels of flour to Cambridge at the request of Commissary General Joseph Trumbull, but Trumbull was unable to pay Sears. On 19 Oct. 1775 Congress resolved that Sears be paid $30,000 “on account of the above flour, he giving bond to account for the same with Mr. Trumbull.” JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1904–37) description ends , 3: 299–300.

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