George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 31 August 1775

To John Hancock

[Camp at Cambridge August 31. 1775]


The inclosed Letter came under s⟨uch⟩ a Direction, & Circumstances as led me to supp⟨ose⟩ it contained some interesting Advices, either respecting a Supply of Powder; or the Cloathing lately taken at Philadelphia: I therefore took the Liberty of breaking the Seal; for which I hope the Service & my Motives will apoligize.1

As the filling up the Place of vacant Brigadier General, will probably be of the first Business of the Honourable Congress:2 I flatter myself it will not be deemed assuming to mention the Names of two Gentlemen whose former Services, Rank, & Age may be thought worthy of Attention on this Occasion. Of the one I can speak from my own Knowledge, of the other only from Character. The former is Col. John Armstrong of Pennsylvania. He served during the last War in most of the Campaigns to the Southward, was honoured with the Command of the Pennsylvania Forces, and his general military Conduct, & Spirit much approved by all who served with him beside which, his Character was distinguished by an Enterprize against the Indians, which he plann’d with great Judgment, & executed with equal Courage, & Success. It was not till lately that I had Reason to beleive he would en⟨ter⟩ again on publick Service, & it is now wholly unsolicited & unknown on his Part.3 The other Gentleman is Col. Fry of Massachusetts Bay. He entered into the Service as early as 1745, & rose thro’ the different military Ranks in the succeeding Wars, to that of Colonel, untill last June, when he was appointed a Major General by the Congress of this Province. From these Circumstances together with the favourable Report made to me of him I presume he sustained the Character of a good Officer—Tho’ I do not find it distinguished by any peculiar Service.4

Either of these Gentlemen, or any other whom the Honourable Congress shall please to favour with this Appointment, will be received by me with the utmost Deference & Respect.

The late Adjournment having made it impractiable to know the Pleasure of the Congress as to the Appointment of Brigade Majors beyond the Number of three, which they were pleased to leave to me: And the Service not admitting of farther Delay, I have continued the other three, which I hope their Honours will not disapprove. These latter were recommended by the respective Corps to which they belong as the properest Persons for these Offices, untill farther Direction, & have discharged the Duty ever since. They are the Majors Box, Scammel & Samuel Brewer.5

Last Saturday Night, we took Possession of a Hill considerably advanced beyond our former Lines—which brought on a very heavy Cannonade from Bunkers Hill; & afterwards a Bombardment which has been since kept up with little Spirit on their Part, or Damage on ours. The Work having been continued ever since, is now so advanced, & the Men so well covered as leave us under no Apprehensions of much farther Loss. In this Affair we had killed one Adjutant, one Volunteer & 2 privates.6 The Scarcity of Ammunition, does not admit of our availing ourselves of the Situation as we otherwise might do: But this Evil I hope will soon be remedied, as I have been informed of the Arrival of a large Quantity at New York; some at New London, & more hourly expected at different Places.7 I need not add to what I have already said on this Subject; our late Supply was very seasonable, but far short of our Necessities.

The late Adjournment of the Hon: Congress having been made before my Letter of the 4th Instt was received, I must now beg Leave to recall their Attention to those Parts of it which respect the Provision for the Winter, the Reduction of the Troops, the double Commissions under different Establishments & Col. Gridlys Appointment of Major General. In all which I hope to be honoured with their Commands as soon as possible.8

The Advocate General has sent me a Memorial respecting his Service, which I have the Honour to inclose (No. 1).9 And from the Variety & Multiplicity of Duty in a new Army as well as his regular Service, & Attendance I am induced to recommend him to the farther Notice of the Honorable Congress.

The Treatment of our Officers Prisoners at Boston induced me to write to General Gage on that Subject, his Answer, & my Reply I have the Honour to lay before the Congress in the Inclosures—No. 2. 3. 4.10 Since which I have heard nothing from him. I remain with the greatest Respect & Regard, Sir, Your most obedt & very Hbble Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Joseph Reed’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, NHi: Joseph Reed Papers; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, NjMoHP; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The LS has no dateline, but the letter-book copy is dated “Camp at Cambridge August 31. 1775.” The LS is endorsed “Read before congress 13. Septr” (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 , 2:246). Parts of words in the mutilated portions of the LS are supplied within angle brackets from the draft.

1This document has not been identified.

2Seth Pomeroy’s failure to accept his commission as a brigadier general from the Continental Congress left GW without a general officer to command one of the two brigades at Cambridge. See General Orders, 22 July 1775, n.5. Congress tried to fill the vacancy on 21 Sept., but the delegates became embroiled in a dispute over whether to appoint another New Englander, Joseph Frye, or John Armstrong of Pennsylvania. The two men tied in the voting, and the decision was postponed for some time (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 , 3:257). Frye was finally commissioned a brigadier general on 10 Jan. 1776 (ibid., 4:47), and on 16 Feb. GW appointed him to command the vacant brigade at Cambridge (General Orders, 17 Feb. 1776).

3John Armstrong (1717–1795) of Carlisle, Pa., first made a name for himself in 1756 by destroying the Indian town of Kittanning with a force of 300 Pennsylvanians. Two years later he commanded the colony’s troops in the Forbes campaign, during which he and GW became well acquainted. Congress did not make Armstrong a brigadier general until 1 Mar. 1776 when he was sent to South Carolina. He participated in the siege of Charleston in June 1776, and during the following winter GW used him to rally militia and recruits in central Pennsylvania. Upon resigning his Continental commission in April 1777, Armstrong became a brigadier general in the Pennsylvania militia and fought throughout the ensuing campaign around Philadelphia. He was promoted to major general of militia in January 1778, and in November of that year he was elected to the Continental Congress, where he served until 1780.

4Joseph Frye (1712–1794) of Fryesburg, District of Maine, began his military career in 1745 as a Massachusetts ensign in the Louisburg expedition, and during the next two years he served with a provincial regiment on the colony’s eastern frontier, rising to the rank of captain. In 1754 Frye was a major on the Kennebec expedition, and the following year he held the same rank on an expedition to Nova Scotia. Commissioned a colonel in 1756, Frye raised a Massachusetts regiment, and in August 1757 he and his men were among those who surrendered to the French at Fort William Henry. He escaped captivity, and from 1759 to 1760 he commanded a fort in Nova Scotia. The Massachusetts provincial congress made Frye a major general in the colony’s forces on 21 June 1775 (Mass. Prov. Congress Journals description begins William Lincoln, ed. The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of Safety. Boston, 1838. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends , 370, 378). During the Continental Congress’s long delay in appointing Frye a brigadier general in the Continental service (see note 2), the Massachusetts General Court named him commander of the colony’s forces at Falmouth in the District of Maine (Samuel Freeman to GW, 17 Nov. 1775). Frye held that position from 11 Nov. 1775 to 16 Feb. 1776, when he was appointed a brigade commander by GW. Frye’s Continental service lasted only a few weeks. Citing the infirm state of his health, he submitted his resignation from the army on 18 Mar., and on 23 April Congress accepted it. For GW’s criticism of Frye’s resignation, see GW to Joseph Reed, 7 Mar. and 1 April 1776.

5For the appointments of the brigade majors, see General Orders, 15, 17, and 30 Aug. 1775.

6Plowed Hill was occupied on the night of 26 August. See GW to Richard Henry Lee, 29 Aug. 1775, n.6.

7The most recently arrived gunpowder was landed at Norwich, not New York or New London. See GW to Peter Van Brugh Livingston, 30 Aug.; Nicholas Cooke to GW, 31 Aug.; and the New York Committee of Safety to GW, 9 Sept. 1775.

8Congress read GW’s letters of 4 Aug. and this date on 13 Sept., the first official day of business after the recess (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 , 2:246).

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