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To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 21 October 1799

From Alexander Hamilton

New-York Oct. 21st 1799


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt two days since of your letter of the 15th instant, at which time I also received one from Col: Parker, informing me of the selection of ground which he had made.1

You will see by the enclosed letter to him the impression which his communication has made on my mind. I trust that it must be erroneous, since my supposition does not agree with the spirit of his instructions either from you or my self, nor with the manner in which you seem, by some expressions in your letter, to understand that he has executed them. But as it is possible the mode of execution may not have been sufficiently explained to you, I cannot intirely dismiss my apprehensions.

If the plan of Barracks has in fact been substituted, I must once more intreat your interposition. You will judge whether there is yet time to rectify the mistake and procure a more suitable position. Or whether making an arrangement at the place which has been fixed upon for the 8th Regiment only, it will not be best to vary the destination of the others sending the 9th to the Barracks at Frederick town in Maryland where I am very lately inform’d there are buildings sufficient for a Regiment, belonging to the State, which I presume may be borrowed, and the 10th at Carlisle in Pennsylvania where I am assured there exist buildings the property of the United States which will accommodate a Regiment.

Both these Regiments have been directed to march for their destination, the Ninth by way of Frederick-town, and the tenth to Yorktown there to receive further orders.2

Permit me to ask that you will be pleased to give these further Orders, according to your determination to which every thing is respectfully submitted.

Knowing that it is not agreeable to your general plan to take charge, at present, of military operations I am bound to apologise for the trouble I give you. But my unexpected and late agency in the affair and the advanced state of the Season leave me no alterative. With perfect respect I have the honour to be Sir Yr obdt Servt

A. Hamilton

LS, DLC:GW; ADf, DLC: Hamilton Papers; copy, DLC: Hamilton Papers.

1In his letter to Thomas Parker of 21 Oct., Hamilton wrote: “Your letter of the 10 instant, by reason of my absence at Trenton, was not received till the 19th. Its contents are somewhat embarrassing. A leading feature of the plan for Winter Quarters which in conformity with arrangements with the Department of War was indicated by my instructions to you is that Timber for hutting and wood for fuel should be found on the premisses. The additional instruction to you from the Commander in Chief appears to me to contemplate the same thing; and yet your letter informs me that the spot fixed upon does not offer this advantage and that with the advice of Mr. Lear you had employed Mr. Mackie to procure the necessary articles for building. It would seem from this as if in your arrangement the idea of hutts had been exchanged for that of barracks. This under all the circumstances of the case would be too extensive—and being contrary to my authority from the Secretary of War cannot be ratified. Perhaps nothing more is intended than to procure rough Timber fit for hutts from some spot not distant which would not materially enhance the expence. If so—the business may proceed” (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 23:542–43).

The paragraph in Parker’s letter to Hamilton of 10 Oct. that led to what both GW and Parker assured Hamilton was the mistaken notion that Parker intended to build barracks instead of huts at Harpers Ferry reads: “The Ground [for the encampments] that I have described to you Belongs to the public But as there is a Scarcity of materials for Huting; that no time may be lost I have with the advice of Mr Lear employed Mr Mackie the Superintendant of the public works at Harpers [Ferry]; Immediately to procure the necessary Articles for Building” (DLC:Hamilton Papers). What Parker wrote to GW the day before, on 9 Oct., makes his meaning clear: “As Timber for the purpose of making Slabs is verry Scarce in the neighbourhood I have Requested Mr Mackie . . . to procure from The neighbouring saw mills as many Slabs as he Can for the purpose of Covering our Huts.”

On 30 Oct. Parker wrote Hamilton: “I Cannot Recollect any expression in my letter which I conceived Coud induce you to Suppose that I meant to Build Barracks instead of Hutts I think I Informed you that As there was not a Sufficiency of Timber on the public ground for Huting or Covering the whole of the Troops I had employed Mr Mackie to procure by Purchase materials (meaning Rough Logs & Board or plank) for that purpose” (DLC: Hamilton Papers). See GW’s assurance to Hamilton on 26 Oct. that Hamilton had misunderstood Parker’s meaning.

2For the decision eventually reached for providing winter quarters for the 9th and 10th regiments of the New Army, see Thomas Parker to GW, 24 Oct., n.1. “Yorktown” is York, Pennsylvania.

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