George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hancock, 6–21 January 1776

From John Hancock

Philada Jany 6[-21] 1776

Sir,

I have the honor of enclosing you sundry resolutions passed yesterday respecting Mr Lowell.1

The Congress are desirous to know your opinion what rank it would be proper the aids de camp of the general Officers ought to hold in the army and on this head I am directed to write to you & request yr answer.2

Just after the receipt of your letter Conolly & Cameron were brought to town. By some mismanagement, Smith one of the associates was suffered to escape from Frederic where they were confined. Orders were given to have the saddles examined, but nothing is discovered. There is reason to believe he must have found means to withdraw his papers, as we find by an account from Fredric that his saddle was mended there.3

The french gentlemen are arrived and referred to the secret committee.4

The Congress have given orders to general Schuyler immediately to secure and keep in safe and close custody Brigr general Prescot until further orders.5

Jany 16. Your letters of the 25 and 30 of December & 4th of January have been duly received and laid before Congress.6 By the enclosed resolutions you will perceive that the Congress, in providing for the defence of Canada, have directed that two batallions be formed out of the troops now serving there.7 This they did in testimony of their approbation of the services of those brave men, apprehending at the same time, that it would be agreeable both to the officers and men to have the honor of defending a country which their valour had rescued from slavery. And the Congress have a firm confidence that general Montgomery, who has a warm and just sense of their merit and services, will cheerfully embrace this opportunity of continuing and promoting the officers of that corps, and as far as in his power, of rewarding with offices and commands in those batallions such voluntiers and others, as have distinguished themselves.

The committee to whom your letters were referred brought a report on part, whereupon the Congress came to certain resolutions which you will see in the enclosed extracts. I am just to acquaint you, it is expected when the paymaster general draws any bills on me he will observe to make them payable a few days after sight Say 3 or 4. The committee have desired leave to sit again which is granted.8 When they have compleated their report and the Congress have come to a determination thereon I shall do myself the pleasure of transmitting it to you.

The money just voted is now ready and will I expect be sent forward tomorrow.9

I have the pleasure to inform you the secret Committee have purchased the salt petre and have agreed with the owners of Mills to manufacture it into powder. One of the Mills, it is expected, will make near a ton per week and another near half a ton. I hope you will soon receive the powder ordered to be purchased at New york. There were besides eight tons imported in the same vessel for the use of that Colony.10

The public papers will inform you, that Lord Dunmore has endeavoured to exercise the same barbarity against the defenceless town of Norfolk, as was exercised against Falmouth.11 By these repeated instances of inhumanity so contrary to the rules of war and so long exploded by all civilized nations, it would seem as if the rancorous ministry, despairing of their measures to conquer and enslave, had determined to glut their revenge with destruction & devastation.

For my part I shall not be surprized to hear that, in their frenzy of rage and to effect their dark purposes, they proceed under form of law to murder those prisoners, whom the tools of their vengeance have chanced to take, and whom with officious zeal they have so hastily & industriously sent to England.

As it is now apparent that our enemies mean to exert their whole force against us next summer, the Congress are taking measures for putting the middle and southern colonies in a posture of defence.12

We shall, doubtless, in this great struggle suffer much, but I trust no losses or sufferings will induce us to give over the defence of our liberty, and that cost what it may, we will persevere with unremitting vigour to maintain that inestimable jewel which we have received from our ancestors and transmit the same with unsullied lustre to our posterity.

The committee to whom your letter of the 31st of December was referred desire to be informed whether the companies stationed at Chelsea and Malden are regimented and whether, if those at Hingham Weymouth & Braintree were withdrawn, it would be necessary to replace them out of the continental Army.13

Jany 18. Since writing the above we have received a letter from Messrs P. Livingston Alsop & Lewis by which to our mortification we are informed that we were deceived in the account of powder and that there were only 462 quarter casks imported for the colony of New york, which they have in part distributed among several counties.14

Before this reaches you, I doubt not you will hear the disagreeable news from Quebec, on which I sincerely condole with you. The express arrived yesterday evening; The Congress I presume will take it up this morning.15 I have the Honor to be with the utmost Esteem, Sir Your most Obedt hume servt

John Hancock Prest

Jany 21st The foregoing was design’d to have been forwarded by Express earlier but Congress directed a Delay, for further Resolutions, for which I refer you to my other Letter by this Express.16

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 12A. The letter-book copy varies somewhat in wording from the LS.

1The letter-book copy reads “Lovell.” For James Lovell’s imprisonment in Boston, see Lovell to GW, 19 Nov., 6 Dec., and GW to Hancock, 18 Dec. 1775. In its resolutions of 5 Jan., Congress directed GW to offer Philip Skene in exchange for Lovell and his family and “to embrace the first opportunity . . . of giving some office to Mr. Lovell equal to his abilities” (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 , 4:32–33). For GW’s attempt to effect this exchange, see GW to Howe, 30 Jan., and Howe to GW, 2 Feb. 1776. The exchange occurred in November 1776, and Lovell immediately was elected to Congress.

2Congress omitted from the final version of its resolution of 5 Jan. a requirement that GW consult his general officers on this question (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 , 4:33–34). For GW’s response, see his letter to Hancock of 30 January.

3The letter-book copy reads “from the Committee of Frederic.” For an account of the capture of the Loyalist conspirator John Connolly and his companions, Alan Cameron and John Ferdinand Dalziel Smyth, near Hagerstown, Md., on 19 Nov., see Lund Washington to GW, 3 Dec. 1775, n.7. Connolly and Cameron arrived in Philadelphia on 3 January. Smyth, who escaped at Frederick, Md., on the night of 30 Dec., was recaptured in western Pennsylvania on 12 Jan. and was brought into Philadelphia a week later (see Hancock to GW, 20 Jan. 1776; see also Smyth, Tour description begins J. F. D. Smyth. A Tour in the United States of America: containing An Account of the Present Situation of that Country; The Population, Agriculture, Commerce, Customs, and Manners of the Inhabitants; Anecdotes of several Members of the Congress, and General Officers in the American Army; and Many other very singular and interesting Occurrences . . .. 2 vols. London, 1784. description ends , 2:259–69). GW’s letter to Hancock of 25 Dec. informed him that Connolly’s true instructions from Gen. Thomas Gage and Lord Dunmore were said to be hidden in the tree of Connolly’s saddle. Acting on that intelligence, the Frederick committee of safety “examined every thing so strictly,” Smyth says, “as to take our saddles to pieces, and take out the stuffing, and even rip open the soals of our boots, in vain, for the object of their search was not found, although they so frequently handled what contained it” (ibid., 254). The papers were actually “concealed in the mail pillion-sticks on which the servant carried his portmanteau, they being made hollow, for that purpose, and covered with tin plates, and then canvass glued thereon as usual” (ibid., 248). Connolly’s servant, who was not held by the Frederick committee, destroyed the pillion sticks before their contents could be discovered. A scrap of incriminating paper found in the portmanteau, however, was sufficient to force a full confession from Connolly (ibid., 254–56).

4Pierre Penet and Emmanuel de Pliarne arrived in Philadelphia on 29 Dec. and were referred to the Secret Committee the next day (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 , 3:466). For their negotiations, see Pliarne to GW, c.11 Jan. 1776.

5Hancock enclosed Congress’s resolution of 2 Jan. on this subject in a letter to Schuyler of that date (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 , 3:17; 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 , 4:16). The letter arrived too late, however. “General Prescott,” Schuyler wrote to Hancock on 22 Jan., “was already considerably advanced on his way to New Jersey when I received the Order of Congress of the 2d Inst. for putting him in close Custody” (DNA:PCC, item 153).

6The letter-book copy gives the correct dates for these letters: 25 and 31 Dec. and 4 January.

7This resolution was one of several proposed by “the Committee on General Schuyler’s letters” which Congress adopted on 8 and 9 Jan. (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 , 4:38–40, 43–45).

8Congress resolved on 16 Jan. “that the pay master general of the army at Cambridge, be empowered to draw his bills upon the president of the Congress . . . for any sums of money which may be deposited in his hands, not exceeding, in any one month, the monthly expences of the army; and that such bills, countersigned by the General or Commander in chief of the said army, be accepted and paid.” The other resolutions passed this day in response to the committee’s report permitted reenlistment of free Negroes, continued Richard Gridley as chief engineer, set the pay for chaplains and assistant engineers, and required each chaplain to serve two regiments (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 , 4:60–61). For the reason why the committee sat again, see note 13 below.

10Congress was informed on 8 Jan. that about fifty-seven tons of saltpeter had arrived in Philadelphia and about fifteen tons of gunpowder was for sale at New York (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 , 4:40). On 11 Jan. the Secret Committee contracted with Oswell Eve and George Losch of Philadelphia County to manufacture gunpowder from saltpeter (Secret Committee Minutes of Proceedings, 11 Jan. 1776, 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 , 3:82–83). For efforts to purchase gunpowder in New York, see note 14 below.

11On 1 Jan. British warships cannonaded Norfolk, and landing parties set fire to the wharves to deny cover to American riflemen who had been harassing vessels in the harbor. Most of the town was destroyed during the next two days, not by the British, but by Virginia and North Carolina troops who ran amuck in the streets, looting and burning the homes and businesses of Loyalists. See Scribner and Tarter, Revolutionary Virginia description begins William J. Van Schreeven et al., eds. Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence. A Documentary Record. 7 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1973–83. description ends , 5:13–17.

13For the controversy over the status of the independent companies stationed in the latter three towns, see the Massachusetts Council to GW, 3 Oct., and GW to the Massachusetts General Court, 29 Dec. 1775, and note 1. Samuel Adams, who was on the committee that was considering GW’s letter of 31 Dec., wrote to John Adams on 16 Jan.: “I shall endeavor to prevent a Report on this part of the Letter [regarding the independent companies], unless I shall see a prospect of Justice being done to the Colony, till I can receive from you authentick Evidence of those Companies having been actually employed by the continental officers, as I conceive they have been, in the Service of the Continent. I wish you would inform me whether the two Companies stationed at Chelsea and Maldin were paid out of the Continents Chest. I suppose they were, and if so, I cannot see Reason for any Hesitation about the payment of these. I wish also to know how many others our Colony is at the Expence of maintaining for the Defence of its Sea Coasts” (Taylor, Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977—. description ends , 3:401–3). For GW’s response to Hancock’s questions, see his letter to Hancock of 30 January. In the letter-book copy, this paragraph appears in the part of the letter dated 18 January.

14On 8 Jan. Congress ordered New York delegates Philip Livingston, John Alsop, Francis Lewis, and John Jay to purchase for the Continental army the 15 tons of gunpowder said to have been recently imported in their colony (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 , 4:40; see also note 10 above). A week later Livingston, Alsop, and Lewis reported from New York: “It appears that there is now in the Public Store 6350 lb [of gunpowder] which with what is due from the Continent to this Province, is all the Stock they have. 462 Quartr. Casks was all the Powder that was brought from Curacoa, tho’it was said that it was to the Amo. of 300 Bbls & that Several Other Vessels which Arived About the same time had Also brought Powder which was without foundation” (New York delegates to Hancock, 15 Jan. 1776, 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 , 3:97; see also Alexander McDougall to GW, 20 Jan. 1776). Philip Livingston (1716–1778) was a member of the Continental Congress from 1774 until his death in 1778. John Alsop (1724–1794) was elected to Congress in 1774 and resigned on 16 July 1776 because he did not favor independence. Francis Lewis (1713–1802) served in Congress from 1774 to 1779, when he became a commissioner on the Board of Admiralty.

15For the failure of the American attack on Quebec, see Schuyler to GW, 13 Jan. 1776. Schuyler’s letter to Hancock of 13 Jan. containing the bad news was read in Congress on 17 Jan. and was referred to a committee the next day (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 , 4:64–65).

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