George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Benedict Arnold, 25–27 September 1775

From Colonel Benedict Arnold

Fort Weston [District of Maine]
25[-27]th Septr 1775

May it please your Excellency

My last of the 19th Inst. from Newbury Port, advising of the Embarkation of the Troops I make no Doubt your Excellency received.1 The Same Day we left Newbury, and arrived safe in the River next Morning except a small Vessel which run on the Rocks, but is since off without Damage, & arrived safe. I found the Batteaus compleated, but many of them smaller than the Directions given, & very badly built.2 of Course I have been obliged to order twenty more, to bring on the Remainder of the Provisions, which will be finished in three Days. Many of the Vessels were detained in the River by running aground, & head Winds, which delayed us a Day or two. The 23d Instant I dispatched Lieut. Steel of Capt. Smith’s Company, with six Men in two birch Canoes to Chaudiere Pond, to reconnoitre, & get all the Intelligence he possibly could from the Indians, who I find are hunting there.3

The same Day I dispatched Lieut. Church & seven Men with a Surveyor & Pilot, to take the exact Courses & Distance to the Dead River so called, a Branch of the Kennebec,4 and yesterday the three Companies of Riffle-Men under the Command of Capt. Morgan, embarked with forty five Days Provissions, as an advanced party to clear the Roads over the Carrying Places. Col. Green, and Major Bigelow march to Day with the second Divission of three Companies, Major Meigs goes off to morrow with the third Division, and Col. Enos the next Day with the Remainder.5

As soon as the whole are embarked I propose taking a birch Canoe & joining the advanced Party. I have found it necessary to divide the Detachment for the Conveniency of passing the Carrying Places, at the first of which there are some Carriages to be procured I design Chaudiere Pond as a general Rendevouze, and from thence to march in a Body.

Inclosed is a Letter to Mr Coburn, from the Party sent to Quebec, by which your Excellency will see all the Intelligence I have received. I have conversed with the Party, who saw only one Indian, one Nattanis, a Native of Norridgwalk, a noted Villain, and very little Credit I am told, is to be given to his Information.6

The Indians with Higgins set out by Land, and are not yet arrived. I have engaged a Number of good Pilots, & believe by the best Information I can procure, we shall be able to perform the March in twenty Days—the Distance about 180 Miles.

I intended Col. Green should have gone on with the first Division of one Company of Riffle-Men, & two Companies of Musketeers—This was objected to by the Captains of the Riffle Companies, who insist on being commanded by no other Person than Captain Morgan & my self—This Capt. Morgan tells me was your Excellency’s Intention, but as I was not acquainted with it before I came away, I should be very glad of particular Instructions on that Head, that I may give Satisfaction to the Field Officers with me.7 There is at present the greatest Harmony among the Officers, and no Accident has happened except the Loss of one Man, supposed to be wilfully shot by a private, who is now taking his Trial by a Court Martial.8

Major Mifflin could not send money for the Batteaus, the Commissary9 has been obliged to pay for them, with one hundred Pounds I have lent him, out of the Pay received for the Month of September, and has been obliged to draw an Order in favor of the Bearer, Mr John Wood, who has engaged to deliver this to your Excellency. I have promised him his Time & Expences paid. I should be glad the Manifesto’s might be forwarded on by him, if not sent, with the last Intelligence from General Schuyler, to whom I intend sending one of the Indians as soon as they arrive. I have the Honor to be, very respectfully, Your Excellency’s most obedient humble Servant

Benedict Arnold

P.S. Since writing the foregoing I have received a Letter from Col. Reed, with the Manifesto’s,10 and the Court Martial have condemned the Man who shot the other, to be hanged, which Sentence I have approved, but have respited him untill your Excellency’s Pleasure in the Matter is known, and design sending him back in one of the Transports. Inclosed are all the Papers relative to the Matter, with his Confession at the Gallows before respited.11

The three first Divisions of my Detachment are gone forward—the last goes to morrow, when I shall join Capt. Morgan as soon as possible,12 and am with much Respect, Your Excellency’s most obedt humb. Servt

Benedt Arnold

LS, DLC:GW; ALS, sold by Parke-Bernet, catalogue 2697, item 18, 7 May 1968; copy, enclosed in GW to Hancock, 5 Oct. 1775, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC item 169; copy, NjMoHP. The ALS sold by Parke-Bernet may be a retained copy. The LS is in the writing of Eleazer Oswald, who served as Arnold’s secretary during the Quebec expedition. Arnold reached Fort Western on the Kennebec River at the site of present-day Augusta, Me., on 23 September. The dating of this letter is somewhat uncertain. Arnold’s references to the departure of Morgan’s and Greene’s divisions (see note 5) suggest that he may have written the main body of the letter on 26 Sept., but references to McCormick’s court-martial and the arrival of the Canadian addresses (see notes 8 and 10) indicate that it was written on 25 September. The postscript was apparently written on 27 Sept., the day that Meigs’s division left Fort Western. See note 12.

1Letter not found.

2Arnold arrived at the mouth of the Kennebec River on 20 Sept., and the following day he anchored at Gardiner (Gardinerston), Me., where he inspected the bateaux built by Reuben Colburn. For Arnold’s previous directions regarding the bateaux, see his letter to Colburn of 21 Aug. quoted in the source note to Instructions to Colburn, 3 Sept. 1775. The vessel that ran aground was the schooner Swallow.

3For activities of this scouting party, see John Joseph Henry’s journal in Roberts, March to Quebec description begins Kenneth Roberts, ed. March to Quebec: Journals of the Members of Arnold’s Expedition. New York, 1938. description ends , 302–46. Archibald Steele (d. 1822) of Lancaster County, Pa., was later wounded and captured in the attack on Quebec. Steele became a deputy quartermaster general in May 1777 and served until October 1781. Matthew Smith (d. 1794) raised his company of riflemen in Lancaster County during June of this year. Smith resigned his commission in November 1776, returned to the army as major of the 9th Pennsylvania Regiment the following January, and resigned again in February 1778. “Chaudiere Pond,” is Lake Megantic at the head of the Chaudière River.

4For an account of the surveying party, see John Pierce’s journal, ibid., 656–59.

5Morgan’s division left Fort Western on 25 Sept., Greene’s division left on 26 Sept., and Meigs’s division embarked on 27 September. All of the officers named here, except Enos, were captured at Quebec. Christopher Greene (1737–1781) of Warwick, R.I., a distant kinsman of Nathanael Greene, entered the army in May 1775 as major of James Mitchell Varnum’s regiment, and on 12 Sept. GW brevetted him a lieutenant colonel. See the commission in DLC:GW. Exchanged in August 1776, Greene became colonel of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment the following February and died at Croton River, N.Y., in May 1781 when De Lancey’s Tories surprised his outpost. Timothy Bigelow (1739–1790) of Worcester, Mass., was second major of Gen. Artemas Ward’s regiment before joining Arnold’s expedition. Bigelow became colonel of the 15th Massachusetts Regiment on 1 Jan. 1777 and served until the end of 1780. Return Jonathan Meigs (1740–1823) of Middletown, Conn., replaced Roger Enos (d. 1808) of Windsor, Conn., as major of Gen. Joseph Spencer’s regiment on 11 Sept. 1775, when Enos was brevetted lieutenant colonel of the regiment (see Enos’s commission in DNA: RG , Revolutionary War Pension Files). After being exchanged in January 1777, Meigs became lieutenant colonel of Col. Henry Sherburne’s additional regiment, and the following September Meigs was made colonel of the 6th Connecticut Regiment, where he remained until he retired from the army on 1 Jan. 1781. Enos embroiled himself in controversy by leaving Arnold’s detachment on the Dead River in October and returning with his men to Cambridge. See Enos to GW, 9 Nov. 1775. For Enos’s court-martial and acquittal, see General Orders, 27, 30 Nov., and 4 Dec. 1775. Enos left the Continental army in December and subsequently served as a colonel of Connecticut state troops.

6The letter dated 13 Sept. at Vassalboro, Me., was written by Remington Hobby for Dennis Getchell and Samuel Berry, local woodsmen hired by Reuben Colburn to explore the route to Quebec. Setting out on 1 Sept. with three other men, Getchell and Berry went some distance up the Dead River before turning back. “We found,” they reported, “the Carrying-Places pretty passable, the water in general Shoal, on Account of the late Dry Season; The Trees were well marked as far as we went, & the way is so direct as may be easily found” (DLC:GW). Natanis, who had a hunting cabin on the Dead River, told Getchell and Berry that he was a British spy. Arnold subsequently ordered his men to capture or kill Natanis, but at Quebec Natanis and a number of other Indians joined the Americans. Wounded and captured in the fighting, Natanis was promptly released by General Carleton. Reuben Colburn later sent to GW Getchell’s bill totaling £27.13.3 for the scouting expedition (DNA: RG 233, House Records, 22d Congress, Folder 22A—G20.1).

7Joseph Reed replied to Arnold for GW on 4 Oct.: “The General does not recollect his exempting the Rifle Companies from the Command of all Superiour Officers, & is far from intending any Such Exemption as it would naturally give Disgust to those Officers & be extremely prejudicial to the Service. He has therefore wrote himself to Capt. Morgan in such Terms as will put an end to this Claim. The Harmony which prevails among the Officers of this Detachment is extremely agreeable & it is hoped this Circumstance will not disturb it. As the Honour & Success of the Enterprize much depends on preserving a good Agreement among yourselves, his Excelly desires you to Cultivate it in every Shape” (DLC:GW). See GW to Daniel Morgan, 4 Oct. 1775.

8On the night of 23 Sept. James McCormick, angered by a quarrel, fired his gun into a house full of soldiers near Fort Western and killed Sgt. Reuben Bishop. McCormick was tried on 25 September.

9Arnold’s commissary was Col. Joseph Farnsworth.

10Joseph Reed’s letter to Arnold of 20 Sept. (DLC:GW) and the printed copies of GW’s Address to the Inhabitants of Canada, c.14 Sept., reached Arnold about three o’clock in the afternoon of 25 September.

11The court-martial sentenced McCormick on 25 Sept., and Arnold reprieved him the next day. The enclosed papers have not been identified.

12The third division under Meigs embarked on 27 September. The last division’s departure was delayed until 29 September.

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