Court of Inquiry
[Winchester, c.4–8 May 1758]
The Reasons given by Capt. Robt McKenzie and Ensign Woodford for acquainting Capt. Thomas Waggener that they would not Rank with Lieut. Peter Steenbergen of the Virginia Regiment under the Command of George Washington Esqr. In Presence of
Ensign Woodford assigns the following Reasons for Refusing to Rank with Lieutenant Steenbergen.1
1st That Lieutenant Steenbergen had in his hands a Sum of Money belonging to one Sullivan, who was indebted on Bond to Andrew Byerly. Upon Byerly’s applying to Mr Steenbergen for the money he Refus’d to pay it unless he would make him an acknoledgement of forty shillings, which he accordingly was obliged to do before he could get the Money out of Mr Steenbergens hands, which occasion’d a Report to be spred among the Country People much to the disadvantage of the Officers in General.
2d That he has keep’t a Suttleing Shop ever since he commanded at Powers’s Mill, and deliver’d Rum in small quantitys at the Rate of 10/ pr Gallon.2
3d That he has acted as a Deputy Commissary under the Contractor,3 which has interfier’d with his Duty as an Officer, and subjected him to many Insults from the Country People, inconsistant with the Character of an Officer.
4th When he was taxed with these Actions as being below the Dignity of an Officer, he made answer that he made more money by so doing than by his Commission, & that he would take the first opportunity of throwing it up, and make application to be a Commissary.
Capt. McKenzie’s Reason for not Ranking with Lieut. Steenbergen, owing to the above Accounts given to him by Capt. Waggener Ensign Woodford &c. and being a Witness to some particulars not mention’d.
The Gentlemen appointed have duly attended to the Weight of the above Reasons; and considered the Tenor of Lieut. Steenbergen’s behaviour since he has been in the Regiment. & Are of oppinion that the Officers of the Corp have sufficient Reason to deney Ranking with him.4
DS, DLC:GW. The court of inquiry was held after its presiding officer, Adam Stephen, returned to Winchester on 3 May and probably before the chief witness, Ens. William Woodford, left Winchester for Fort Hopewell no later than 9 May. See Thomas Waggener to GW, 10 May. GW docketed this document as “Charges against and Enquiry into the conduct of Lieutt Steenbergen 1758.”
1. William Woodford (1734–1780) was a captain in the Caroline County militia when he became an ensign in the Virginia Regiment in the summer of 1757. Peter Steenbergen, a lieutenant in the Virginia Regiment since September 1755, answered Woodford’s and Capt. Robert McKenzie’s charges in a statement he made sometime after he came down to Winchester no earlier than 10 May (see note 4). For further developments in the Steenbergen affair, see Woodford to GW, 17 May, Thomas Waggener to GW, 20 May, and GW to John Blair, 28 May 1758.
3. William Ramsay was the contractor to provide supplies for the Virginia troops in Frederick and Hampshire counties.
4. In a document headed “Answer on the Charge[s] Laid Against me” (DLC:GW), Steenbergen made his defense. Although Steenbergen’s mastery of written English was imperfect, the sense of what he was saying for the most part is clear:
“1st That I Was in debt to Sullivan I can’t deny, and upon Beyerly’s [Andrew Byerly] hearing of it [he] made Application to me saying he [Sullivan] own’d him [Byerly] £15 and if I would pay him [Byerly] 12 Cash for it He would Give it to me, but Mr Beyerly said that Giving up 40/ Would be Sufficient to Lose upon Wch I paid him the cash, far from my refusing to pay it or my propossal
“2th That I Supply’d the Men With cloaths and Liquor was Known from the Beginning of my coming on the Branch and Capn Waggener Was the person that told me that it Was not Worth While for What few men I had to have a Settler and advised me to buy the rum Wch Capt. [Henry] Woodward had remaining belonging to Sullivan in order to Supply the Men, and persuaded me to Spear a Cagg [spare a keg] of 10 gallon Wch I had bought of Mr Woodrow [Alexander Wodrow] to Doctr Johnston [Robert Johnston] Which I had brought up for my Own use, & Accordingly did. I Could not think any harm in it Since I have known my Supperior officers to do So.
“3th My acting as a duputy Commissary (as it may be Called) Was by the desire of My accusser Mr Mackenzie [Capt. Robert McKenzie] telling Me that I Should lay him under a great obligation if I Would Serve Mr [William] Ramsay, Saying he Looked upon me the fittest person for it, I told him any thing in My power I Would Assist Mr R——y in altho. a Stranger to Me.
“Short after that I recd a Letter from Mr R——y on 8 that Acct, Whome I promess’d I Would and Accordingly did, as to the Country people insulting me, I gived it out of their power, as my Serjt recd it brought me the ⟨illegible⟩ and I gived my receipts for the Same on Mr Ramsay.
“4th I don’t deny that I should have said that I Should have Said [sic] I could Make More Money by so doing if I Was to follow it up, then by my Commission. Likewise that I Would give up My Commission but Limitted ⟨illegible⟩ time, and Since I heard of this campain I altred my Mind.”