Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from William S. Smith, 5 March 1800

From William S. Smith

Union Brigade [Scotch Plains, New Jersey] March 5th. 1800

Major General Hamilton


I have the Honor to acknowledge the receipt of two letters of the 21st.1 and two of the 25th. ulto.2 I have taken measures to obtain correct information, of the disturbances which took place at Elizabeth Town, between Capt. Courtlandt & Lt. Livingston, with some people at a public House. The account in the news paper3 is grossly exagerated as appears to me, from the statements I have already obtained. I shall be able however in a few Days to present you with a candid statement of the whole transaction.

In ansr. to The one letter of the 25th. on the subject of Hospitals I find no House, can be procured here, for a Hospital and whether the Brigade remains here or not, a building of the kind will be necessary, upon the supposition, that some Troops will or ought to be constantly kept, here when we do move, we shall be forced to leave, many Sick & Convalessents behind, under the Command of a Capt. or Major. The plan I had contemplated,4 was a house of 90 feet by 20. with posts of 12 feet so as to give the Ground floor rooms of 7 feet & the upper rooms about 4 feet 6, allowing 6 inches for the beams and upper floor. this house will admit of three divissions giving rooms of 30 by 20, above and below—2 for each Regt.—which with small kitchens will not exceed £300.

I have done myself the honor of making communications to you on the subject of Capt Kirklands affair,5 and am surprised the letter has not reached you.—6 It is about an equal chance or other against him, what with his personal indisposition and mental perplexities, that his debts will be paid, with a muffled drum & Rosline Castle7 in a few months, it would be humane to let him die as easy as possible—he may however get over it—but I must confess I have some doubts. I am content that the morris-Town, question should rest. I have been totally silent upon it—and shall remain so—but you may be assured a considerable proportion of the people, have “hay on their horns”—and that I think it extreamly imprudent that we should be permitted to remain longer without Cartridge—there is a revolution taking place here in the religious societies. A minister by the name of Austin8 who you doubtless have heared of, is blowing the trumpet in Sion—calls it his Jubelle Trump and proposes, as he says to establish, the new Jerusalem, he is a man of talents, and address, & mixes a degree of Enthusiasm in his Sermons & conversation, well calculated ad captendum Vulgus. His influence is very extensive, and encreasing daily. I have on political principles, been very civil and attentive to him, I have in conversation with him mixed a little of my civil and military enthusiasm, with his religious, and think I can command him. I believe it would be of great service to embrace him, by inviting him to perform divine service for our troops, either temporary or permanent as a Chaplain. I can make him preach fœdral Sermons and sing hymns of Union, and use him effectually to quiet a spirit of insurrection, which is groaning in morris—and only waits opportunity or some ostensible cause, to break forth—but of this from the light you have, you are better competent to judge of than myself. Your other Letter of the 25th on wood and its consumption—my calculation when I consented that Mr. Dayton should make a Contract for 300 cord to be extended optional to 6009—was—that the public allowance exclusive of contingencies, from the 10th. of July, to the first of April would demand an issue or 422 Cords & 66 feet, agreable to War-office allowance, there would then be in reserve 177 Cord & 62 feet, for summer purposes, should the contract be fulfilled to its extent—& I do not now believe it will ever be got for less, than 26/.—the store keepers have been in the habit of giving 24/—& still do, and it is really worth it to bring it past the stores to Camp. You may rest assured the regulations of the war-office, shall in no manner be deviated from, unless at moments of the most pressing necessity they have not yet occured & I hope they will not. I have been obliged to indulge the Guards in storms and very cold weather but the troops have been kept to the regular issue.

I have the Honor to be with the greatest respect

Sir,  Your most Obedt.   Humble Servt.

W. S. Smith Lt. Colo. of ye 12

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Only one of these letters has been found, and it is listed in the appendix to this volume. In this letter H wrote: “I perceive by the public prints that a disturbance of an unpleasant tendency has taken place between two Officers [of] your regiment and the inhabitants of Elizabeth Town.”

2Only one of these letters has been found, and it is listed in the appendix to this volume. In this letter H regretted that Elias B. Dayton, Army contractor in New Jersey, was “unable to procure more favorable terms” for obtaining wood for the cantonment and disagreed with Smith’s view that the allowances of wood for fuel were inadequate.

3The following account appeared in the [Elizabeth Town] New-Jersey Journal on February 18, 1800: “Never was this town more agitated than it was last Saturday. A fracas took place between two domestics at the inn of Richard Lyon, where were some citizens and three officers of Col. Smith’s regiment, two of whom interfering, brought on a convulsion which was likely to have had very serious consequences. They drew their swords, and put the lives of some inhabitants in the most imminent peril, particularly that of Mr. Lyon, whom they attacked in a most unjustifiable manner, both out of doors and in his own house. They then retired, about six o’clock, to the house of Joseph Lyon, where a concourse of people, heated with indignation, collected, and were clamorous for immediate satisfaction. Had not the civil authority interfered, we believe, from the irritation of the people, they would have been immolated on the spot. A warrant however being granted, and Capt. [Philip] Van Cortlandt and Lieut. [Robert Le Roy] Livingston bound in a recognizance to answer at the next Borough Court, the people dispersed without further mischief being committed. We shall suspend any further remark of the above until the trial, when we will give a circumstantial detail of the whole as shall appear substantiated by evidence.”

On March 11, 1800, the same paper reported: “During the sitting of the Borough Court, last week, in this town, before the Mayor, Recorder, and Aldermen, the Grand Jury found several bills of indictment for riots and assaults, &c. But as the Court was upon the point of adjournment when they were prevented, the trials were put off until next term. Bills were found against Captain Van Cortlandt and Lieutenant Livingston.

“The bruises Mr. Richard Lyon received in the late fracas, as mentioned in this paper, were so well plaistered with dollars by Messrs. Van Cortlandt and Livingston, that, we hear all further proceedings on that account are stopped.”

4In a letter dated February 17, 1800, which is listed in the appendix to this volume, Smith had proposed to H that a hospital be built which “is detached from our Cantonment, & has the benefit of an elivated airy situation.”

5In September, 1799, George W. Kirkland of New York, a captain in the Twelfth Regiment of Infantry, was arrested in Canajoharie, New York, on the charge that he had not lived up to a contract involving the sale of a house to Chauncey Gridley. Kirkland then avoided imprisonment when soldiers under his command rescued him. The charges against Kirkland were enclosed in H to Smith, January 30, 1800, which is listed in the appendix to this volume.

6In this letter, which is dated February 17, 1800, and which is listed in the appendix to this volume, Smith stated that Kirkland had been urged by his friends to escape and therefore should be excused for what took place. He also stated: “Considering the very bad state of his [Kirkland’s] health, injured by his assiduities and attention as an officer,… I have not thought proper, fully to communicate the contents of your letter to him—humanity forbids it.…”

7“Roslin Castle. A Song” was printed and sold in Philadelphia in 1779 by Benjamin Towne (The [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Evening-Post, June 15, 1779).

9Smith sent this information to H in a letter which is dated February 20, 1800, and which is listed in the appendix to this volume. H had written to Dayton on February 18, 1800, in a letter which is also listed in the appendix to this volume, directing Dayton to procure “wood not exceeding Three hundred cords as Colonel Smith shall judge necessary.”

Index Entries