George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Burwell Bassett, 19 June 1775

To Burwell Bassett

Philadelphia, June 19th 1775.

Dear Sir,

I am now Imbarkd on a tempestuous Ocean from whence, perhaps, no friendly harbour is to be found. I have been called upon by the unanimous Voice of the Colonies to the Command of the Continental Army—It is an honour I by no means aspired to—It is an honour I wished to avoid, as well from an unwillingness to quit the peaceful enjoyment of my Family as from a thorough conviction of my own Incapacity & want of experience in the conduct of so momentous a concern—but the partiallity of the Congress added to some political motives, left me without a choice—May God grant therefore that my acceptance of it may be attended with some good to the common cause & without Injury (from want of knowledge) to my own reputation—I can answer but for three things, a firm belief of the justice of our Cause—close attention in the prosecution of it—and the strictest Integrety—If these cannot supply the places of Ability & Experience, the cause will suffer, & more than probable my character along with it, as reputation derives it principal support from success—but it will be remembered I hope that no desire, or insinuation of mine, placed me in this situation. I shall not be deprivd therefore of a comfort in the worst event if I retain a consciousness of having acted to the best of my judgment.

I am at liberty to tell you that the Congress in Committee (which will, I daresay, be agreed to when reported) have consented to a Continental Currency, and have ordered two Million of Dollars to be struck for payment of the Troops, and other expences arising from our defence—as also that 15,000 Men are voted as a Continental Army, which will I daresay be augmented as more Troops are Imbark’d & Imbarking for America than was expected at the time of passing that Vote.1 As to other Articles of Intelligence I must refer you to the Gazettes as the Printers pick up every thing that is stirring in that way. The other Officers in the higher departments are not yet fixed—therefore I cannot give you their names.2 I set out to morrow for Boston where I shall always be glad to hear from you;3 my best wishes attend Mrs Bassett—Mrs Dandridge4 & all our Relations and friends—In great haste, as I have many Letters to write and other business to do I remain with the sincerest regard Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt & Affecte Hble Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. I must Intreat you & Mrs Bassett, if possible, to visit at Mt Vernon as also my Wife’s other friends—I could wish you to take her down, as I have no expectations of returning till Winter & feel great uneasiness at her lonesome Situation5—I have sent my Chariot & Horses back.6

ALS, ViMtvL.

Burwell Bassett (1734–1793) was married to Martha Washington’s sister, Anna Maria Dandridge Bassett (1739–1777). The Bassetts lived at Eltham in New Kent Country, Va., where GW and Mrs. Washington visited often during the 1760s and early 1770s, usually in conjunction with their trips to Williamsburg, some twenty miles southeast of Eltham. Burwell Bassett represented his county in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1762 to 1775 and in the first four Virginia conventions between 1774 and 1776.

1During this period the Continental Congress met on most days as a committee of the whole. No official records were kept of those meetings, but the letters of some of the delegates indicate that it was probably 14 June when the committee of the whole approved a Continental army of 15,000 men (10,000 in Massachusetts and 5,000 in New York) and the following day when it voted to issue up to two million dollars in bills of credit for the defense of America (Virginia Delegate to Unknown, 14 June 1775, Edmund Pendleton to Joseph Chew, 15 June 1775, in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 1:486–87, 488–91). The currency resolution was reported to the floor of Congress on 22 June and was formally approved with little or no change (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 2:103; Instructions from the Continental Congress, 22 June 1775). The other resolution, however, did not reach the floor. Reports of the arrival of British reinforcements at Boston and the difficulty of determining the exact size of the enemy’s force apparently persuaded the delegates to empower GW to set the Continental army’s strength at an appropriate level not exceeding double that of the enemy. See the second instruction in Instructions from the Continental Congress, 22 June 1775. The injunction to keep the proceedings of Congress secret was specifically lifted with regard to its decisions on the army, the currency, and GW’s appointment as commander in chief so that the delegates could write home about these important matters. This news was not supposed to appear in the newspapers, however.

2Congress today finished the task of choosing the major generals but did not select the brigadier generals until 22 June. See GW to Officers of the Five Virginia Independent Companies, 20 June 1775, n.4.

3GW did not depart for the American camp at Cambridge until 23 June.

4Frances Jones Dandridge (1710–1785), Martha Washington’s mother, lived at Chestnut Grove in New Kent County, Va., about six miles west of Eltham.

5The Bassetts went to Mount Vernon in late August, and on 17 Oct. Mrs. Washington set out for a visit to Eltham (Burwell Bassett to GW, 30 Aug. 1775; Lund Washington to GW, 22 Oct. 1775).

6The chariot and horses apparently left Philadelphia for Mount Vernon on the morning of 16 June, for GW paid to have his horses kept in the city only through 15 June (Cash Memorandum for 3 May 1775 to 22 Dec. 1784, DLC:GW). During the next few days, he purchased five new horses costing £239 in Pennsylvania currency and a light phaeton for £55 Pennsylvania currency. These items were the first ones that he charged to the Continental Congress in his expense account (DNA: RG 56, General Records—Treasury Department).

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