Georgia, 31st May, 1790.
Being called upon by the widow and the executors of the late Major General Nathaniel Greene, to relate such circumstances with regard to the situation of the army, and of the transactions between a certain Mr. John Banks and the General, as came within my knowledge, as second in command in the Southern District;
I think it unnecessary to go into a minute detail of every circumstance respecting those transactions, but I well recollect, that, some time after the evacuation of Charleston, which was on the 42 day of December 1782, orders were received by the General, either from Congress, or the then Financier, to contract with some person or persons, for the necessary supplies for the southern army: and that it was, with the utmost difficulty, that any person could be found to undertake the business, on the terms in the power of the General to offer: and not until the troops had experienced, almost, every possible distress, for want of provision and clothing, a short time after making the contract, from some accidents, such as capturing of one or two vessels by the enemy, that were on their way from North Carolina, with flour and other provisions—the distresses became extreme, and a general mutiny and dereliction from the service began to present—nor could this evil possibly be prevented, but by an instantaneous relief, as the army was, for a long time, at short allowance, and had then been, for forty eight hours, without any kind of sustenance whatever—Under those pressing circumstances, the contractor, (Banks) not being in funds, and without credit, General Greene became his security, to a very considerable amount, for the purpose of procuring such articles of clothing, provision and other necessaries, as were wanted for the use of the army; by which means, a calamity was avoided, that appeared to us dreadful, and order, discipline and content restored among the respective corps. Sometime after this disagreeable business was accommodated, I believe, early in the spring of 1783, as I was about to proceed to reassume the command in Georgia, and to hold a treaty with the Indians, General Greene sent for me, and put into my hands a letter from the said Banks, addressed to his Copartners in Virginia, in which, he mentions “that General Greene was to be concerned with them in trade, and not to be uneasy, but, by all means, to keep that circumstance a secret.” This letter had been intercepted, and sent to the General, the preceding evening—he appeared to be much agitated, whilst I was perusing it—upon returning it to him, I well recollect, that he asked me, what I thought of that infamous scoundrel; adding, “shall I put him to instantaneous death?—my feelings prompt me to it.” He also solemnly declared, that he never had the most distant idea of being concerned with Banks in any kind of trade, either directly or indirectly: at this moment Colonel Carrington came to Head Quarters; he either had been previously, or was then made acquainted with the contents of that letter—the General requested our opinion upon the subject: we proposed to send for, and interrogate Banks upon oath; this advice was adopted, and his deposition43 was taken before a Mr. Troop, a Notary-public, of Charleston, in which he most solemnly swears, that General Greene never was, at any time, either directly or indirectly, concerned with him in trade, or merchandize of any kind, or nature whatever, and that he was induced to write that letter, from some doubts entertained by his Copartners in Virginia, of his entering too deeply into speculation—in expectation, that they would be easy, under the idea of the support of General Greene, and that, as he had enjoined secrecy, he never expected, that what he had wrote, would come to the knowledge of the General. I think, that this was nearly the purport of Mr. Banks’s deposition, but believe that the original is to be found upon the files of Congress.
I have thus given a relation of this business, as well as I can recollect from memory—and I do solemnly swear, that the circumstances and facts herein mentioned, are true, to the best of my knowledge and belief; and I am also confident, that General Greene was drawn into the security, I have mentioned, from the situation, in which he was placed by Congress, as Commander of the southern army, at a trying crisis, when destitute of public funds; a fact, which I have the best ground to believe, from the habits of friendship, in which we lived, and the confidence, with which I was always honored by that great and good officer.
Brigadier General Wayne, being duly sworn, maketh oath, that the contents of the above narrative are true.
42. Space left blank in MS. Charleston was evacuated on December 14, 1782.
43. Banks’s deposition reads as follows:
“Whatever opinions prevail with the public, either from misconstruction or misrepresentation, operating to the prejudice of an individual, have ever been thought a sufficient apology for giving a state of facts, as an appeal to the people. I should feel less solicitude if I stood alone in this matter; but as my letter, lately opened by General [Charles] Scott in Virginia, has given grounds of suspicion to the prejudice of others, I feel an obligation to give a full history of the transactions mentioned in that letter.
“Some few weeks before the evacuation of Charleston took place, (but then hourly expected,) I was at Georgetown on business, when I was informed the governor and council of South Carolina, from the deplorable situation that the inhabitants and their negroes were in for want of clothing, and the impossibility of getting any before winter came on, but in this way, had granted permission to a number of the British merchants, with their property, to remain six months in Charleston after the evacuation. Persuaded that goods would immediately rise after this event, from the increasing demand, and that any contracts made before, to take place after the evacuation, was not counteracting either the views or wishes of the state, I determined to become a purchaser: for this purpose I obtained a flag from Colonel [Richard] Lushington, who commanded the militia at the post of Georgetown; and with this flag I went into Charleston and made some purchases, to take effect after the enemy were gone. While there, I was taken very sick, and detained much longer than I expected. After I recovered, in some measure, from my indisposition, I obtained a flag from General [Alexander] Leslie, through the interest of the British merchants, to visit some of my friends in our army, which lay between sixteen and eighteen miles from town, and to return into the garrison again, a privilege at that time granted to no others, and is the same expressed in my letter opened by General Scott.
“On my arrival at camp I was introduced to General Greene, who asked me many questions respecting the garrison, and, among other things, the practicability of purchasing clothing for the army. I told him, that it was not only practicable, but that if the goods were engaged before the eneny were gone, and before the country demands came on, they might be had on much better terms, of the same people, than they would afterwards, and offered my services in the business. The general closed with my offers, and advanced me eleven hundred guineas, and gave me a set of bills on the honourable Robert Morris, Esq. for eight thousand dollars, to secure the clothing; and those are the bills forwarded by Captain [Clough] Shelton. I procured the clothing, and have negotiated the whole business with Captain [John] Hamilton, clothier to the army.
“That I proposed a profit in this business, I readily agree; but I flatter myself, when the risk and mode of payment I am to make for the goods purchased, are compared with those I am to receive, it will be found that I have not only dealt justly, but generously with the public, in the supplies of the army.
“Before my return to Charleston, in conversation with the general, on the commerce of this country, he told me Major [Ichabod] Burnet had thoughts of leaving the army, and going into trade after the evacuation; and that if he should, as he had been long in his family, and as he felt a friendship for him, should be much obliged to me for such services as I might have it in my power to afford him. It was from this conversation, I took the liberty of hinting to my partner the probability of the general’s taking a concern with us, not considering his peculiar situation, and how dangerous a measure of this kind would prove to public confidence.
“During my stay in camp I had several conversations with Major Burnet, relative to his future plans and prospects; and finding his genius formed for business, I offered him a concern in the house I proposed to establish in Charleston after the enemy were gone, which he consented to engage in, provided his friends to the northward concurred in the measure, and approved of his leaving the army; and it was on this principle, I understood, he wished his name kept secret, until he had succeeded, and settled the matter with his friends, as well as the conditions of retiring, with the secretary at war.
“My conduct was known to the governor and council of this state; and if I had exceeded the limits of propriety, or taken an improper latitude, I should not have escaped their censure or punishment. My views were mercantile—upon just principles—and have contributed not to my own emolument alone, but also to the convenience of the inhabitants, as well as accommodation of the army.
“I am only sorry in this whole business, that I took an improper liberty with General Greene’s name, but cannot suppose that an idle surmise can affect a reputation so permanently established; especially, as I have already published to the world, under the solemnity of an oath, that he neither has, or ever had, any commercial connexion with me, of a private nature, or intimated a wish or desire of the kind; and also, that he never granted me a flag in his life, or any other privilege or indulgence, for commercial purposes; I say, when these facts are known, I flatter myself every imputation, both with respect to the general and myself, will be removed.” (Johnson, Greene description begins William Johnson, Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene, Major General of the Armies of the United States, in the War of the Revolution (Charleston, 1822). description ends , II, 379–81.)