George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Officers of Five Virginia Independent Companies, 20 June 1775

To the Officers of Five Virginia Independent Companies

Philadelphia June 20. 1775


I am now about to bid adieu to the Companies under your respective commands, at least for a while—I have launched into a wide & extensive field, too boundless for my abilities, & far, very far beyond my experience—I am called by the unanimous voice of the Colonies to the command of the Continental army: an honour I did not aspire to—an honor I was sollicitous to avoid upon full conviction of my inadequacy to the importance of the service; the partiallity of the Congress however, assisted by a political motive, rendered my reasons unavailing & I shall, to morrow, set out for the camp near Boston1—I have only to beg of you therefore (before I go—especially as you did me the honor to place your Companies under my directions, and know not how soon you may be called upon in Virginia)2 for an exertion of your military skill, by no means to relax in the discipline of your Respective companies.

I am at liberty to inform you Gentlemen, That the Congress in a Committee, (which will, I dare say be agreed to when reported) have consented to a Continental currency—Ordered Two millions of Dollars to be struck & Voted 15,000 men; Which number I am Inclined to think will be augmented, as more Troops have embarked & are embarking for America, than were expected at the time of passing that Vote.3

The Arrangement of Officers in the higher departments of the army is not yet fixed, ultimately, but I beleive they will stand thus; Genl Ward, Genl Lee, Genl Putnam, & Genl Scyler—Major Genls—The Brigadier Genls are not yet proposed—Major Gates Adjutant Genl4—For other articles of Intelligence, the Gazettes will furnish you with them more precisely than I can, as the printers let no news pass by them—The Chief end of my writing to you at this time being, to Recommend a diligent attention to the disciplining of your Companies, & Seeing that they are well provided with ammunition—I shall not Enlarge as I am very much hurried with one thing and another in consequence of my appointment—I shall only add therefore that I am with sincere regard & esteem Gentlemen Your Most Obedt & Hble servant

Go: Washington

P.S. you will, I am persuaded, excuse my addressing a joint Letter to you, as I had it not in my power to write seperate ones, & could not think of departing without affording you this Testimonial of my regard. Yrs

Copy, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, Vi. The cover is addressed “To The Independant Companies of Fairfax—Prince William—Fauquier—Spotsylvania & Richmond.” Robert Hanson Harrison, who later became GW’s secretary, was a subaltern in the Fairfax Independent Company. GW’s original letter apparently was delivered to the Fairfax officers, who had copies made and sent to the other four companies (Officers of the Fairfax Independent Company to GW, 8 July 1775). The first paragraph of GW’s letter was printed in the supplement to Alexander Purdie’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), 14 July 1775.

Independent companies of gentlemen volunteers were organized in many Virginia counties during the latter part of 1774 and in early 1775. By choosing GW as field commander, these five independent companies provided for the possibility of acting together if they were called out. They never took the field, although it seemed for a while in late April that they might march to Williamsburg to resist Governor Dunmore’s seizure of the colony’s principal powder supply. Rumors also circulated of a march to Boston. The independent companies were superseded in August 1775, when the third Virginia convention established a new and more comprehensive military system to defend the colony. See Burwell Bassett to GW, 30 Aug. 1775. The Richmond Independent Company was organized in the Northern Neck county of that name, not in the town of Richmond.

1GW left Philadelphia on 23 June.

2In the version of this paragraph that appears in Purdie’s Virginia Gazette, 14 July 1775, the parentheses are better placed: one before the word “especially” and the other after the word “skill.”

3For a discussion of these resolutions, see GW to Burwell Bassett, 19 June 1775, n.1.

4On 17 June Congress made Artemas Ward (1727–1800) of Massachusetts first major general and Charles Lee (1731–1782), a British half-pay officer, second major general. Two days later Philip Schuyler (1733–1804) of New York became the third major general and Israel Putnam (1718–1790) of Connecticut, the fourth one. The eight brigadier generals for the Continental line were not chosen until 22 June. Horatio Gates (c.1728–1806), a retired British army major living in Virginia, was appointed adjutant general with the rank of brigadier general on 17 June. As a member of GW’s staff, Gates was not included among the line brigadiers (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 , 2:97, 103). Although Ward’s military skill was questioned even by some of his fellow New Englanders, it was thought necessary to appoint him second in command to GW because he had commanded the army outside Boston since the beginning of the siege and was well liked by most of the New England troops. The fact that Lee was not a native American raised dark suspicions about him in the minds of some delegates, but his considerable military experience in Europe and GW’s strong desire to be assisted by him induced Congress to make the appointment. Lee, who was in Philadelphia at this time, delayed accepting his commission until Congress on 19 June passed a resolution promising to indemnify him for any loss of his English property resulting from his service in the Continental army (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 , 2:98–99). Schuyler was “appointed Majr Genll in [New] York department to Sweeten, Add to, & keep up the spirit in that Province,” Connecticut delegate Eliphalet Dyer wrote to Joseph Trumbull on 20 June (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 , 1:521–22). The appointment of Putnam, however, did not please everyone in Connecticut, where two other officers outranked him in that colony’s establishment. See GW to Hancock, 10–11 July 1775, Document II. Letter Sent, n.20, and Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., to GW, 13 July 1775 (second letter).

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