George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 24 January 1776

To John Hancock

Cambridge 24th January 1776


The Commissary General being at length returned from a long & painfull Illness, I have it in my power to comply with the requisition of Congress, in forwarding an Estimate of the expence attending his Office—as also that of the Quarter-Master General—You will please to observe, that the Commissary, by his account of the matter, has entered into no special agreement with any of the persons he has found occasion to employ, (as those to whose Names sums are annexed are of their own fixing) but left It to Congress to Ascertain their Wages: I shall say nothing therefore on this Head, farther than relates to the proposition of Mr Miller, to be allowed ⅛ for his trouble, & the delivery1 of the other ⅞ of provisions, which to me appears exorbitant in the extreme, however conformable It may be to custom & usage. I therefore think that reasonable stipends had better be fixed upon. Both the Quarter Master & Commissary Generals assure me, that they do not employ a single person uselessly, & as I have too good an opinion of them, to think they would deceive me, I beleive them.2

I shall take the liberty in this place of recommending the expediency, indeed, the absolute necessity of appointing fit & proper persons to Settle the accounts of this Army—to do it with precision, requires time, care & attention—the longer It is left undone, the more Intricate they will be—the more liable to error, & difficult to explain & rectify—As also the persons in whose hands they are, if disposed to take undue advantages, will be less subject to detection. I have been as attentive as the nature of my Office would admit of, in Granting Warrants for money on the paymaster, but It would be absolutely impossible for me to go into an examination of all the Accounts Incident to this Army, & the Vouchers appertaining to them, without devoting so large a portion of my time to the business, as might not only prove injurious, but fatal to It in other respects—this ought in my humble opinion, to be the particular business of a Select Committee of Congress, or one appointed by them—which once in three months at furthest should make a Settlement with the Officers in the different departments.3

Having met with no encouragement from the Governments of Massachusetts & New Hampshire from my application for Arms, & expecting no better from Connecticut & Rhode Island, I have, as the last expedient, sent one or two Officers from each Regiment into the Country with money, to trye If they can buy—in what manner they Succeed, Congress shall be Informed, as soon as they return.4

Congress in my last, would discover my motives for strengthning these Lines with the Militia5—But whether, as the weather turns out exceedingly mild (insomuch as to promise nothing favourable from Ice) & no appearance6 of Powder, I shall be able to Attempt any thing decisive, Time only can determine—no man upon Earth wishes more ardently to destroy the Nest in Boston, than I do—no person would be willing to goe greater lengths than I shall to accomplish It, If it shall be thought advisable—But If we have neither Powder to Bombard with, nor Ice to pass on, we shall be in no better situation than we have been in all the year—we shall be worse, because their works are stronger.

I have Accounts from Boston, which I think may be relied on, that General Clinton with about four or five hundred men, hath left that place, within these four days—Whether this is part of the Detachment which was making up, as mentioned in my Letter of the 4 Inst., & then at Nantasket, or not, is not in my power to say—If It is designed for New York, or Long Island, as some think, throwing a body of Troops there, may prove a fortunate circumstance—If they goe farther South agreable to the Conjectures of others, I hope there will be men to receive them—Notwithstanding the positive assertions of the four Captains from Portsmouth, noticed in my Letter of the 14, I am now convinced from several corroborating circumstances—the Accounts of Deserters, & of a Lieut. Hill, of Lord Peircy’s Regiment, who left Ireland the 5 of November, & was taken by a privateer from Newbury Port, that the 17 & 55 Regmts are arrived at Boston, & Other Troops at Hallifax agreable to the information of Hutchinson, & others—Lieut. Hill says that the Transports of two Regiments only were forced into Milford Haven.7

Congress will think me a little remiss I fear, when I inform them that I have done nothing yet towards raising the Battalion of marines, but I hope to stand exculpated from blame, when they hear the reason—which was, that already having 26 Incomplete Regiments, I thought It would be adding to an expence already great8 in Officers, to set two entire Corps of Officers on foot, when perhaps we should not add Ten men a week by It, to our present numbers—In this opinion the General Officers here concurred, which Induced me to Suspend the matter a little longer.9 Our Inlistments for the two last weeks, have not amounted to 1000 men & are diminishing—the Regiment for Canada It is thought will soon be filled, as the men are to choose all but their Feild Officers, which are appointed by the Court.

On Sunday Evening, Thirteen of the Coghnawaga Indians arrived here on a visit; I shall take care that they be so entertained during their stay,10 that they may return Impressd with sentiments of Friendship for us, and also of our great strength —One of them is Colonel Louis, who Honoured me with a visit once before.11 I have the Honor to be with much respect & esteem Sir Your most H. Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, NjMoHP; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 9 Feb. (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 , 4:123).

1The letter-book copy reads “the safe delivery.”

2GW enclosed “a List of Persons employ’d in the Commissary General’s Department in the Continental Army—20th January 1776,” in Joseph Trumbull’s writing, and “a List of Clerks & Assistants in the Department of The Quarter Master General at Cambridge. Januy 1776,” in Thomas Mifflin’s writing (both in DNA:PCC, item 152). This information had been requested by the committee of conference on 23 Oct. (see item 20 for that date in Proceedings of the Committee of Conference, 18–24 Oct. 1775, Document II, Minutes of the Conference). Mifflin’s list includes the names and in some cases the wages of the persons whom he employed at Cambridge, Roxbury, and Winter and Prospect hills. Trumbull’s list gives the names, wages, and ration allowances of the persons working for his department at Cambridge, Roxbury, Prospect Hill, and Medford. “Besides the above Person’s employ’d as above,” Trumbull wrote at the end of the list, “I employ diverse Persons, as Magazine Keepers about 20 Miles back from Camp who are Owners of the Stores they Improve—I also employ Gentlemen in New York, Newbury Port, Providence &c. &c.—who purchase Flour, Rum &c. &c.—The Commissions to be allow’d them are unsettled—The Prices [wages] annex’d in the aforegoing List, are such as the Persons employed, & their Friends propose for them, I have never agreed with any one Person, for certain Pay, but that they should have & receive such Pay, as the Congress shall see fit, to establish for them. The Issuing Store keeper’s as Mr Millers Letter given in here with, proposes as a propper Pay for them, the savings on the ⅛ commonly allowed for Leakage & Wastage—This mode of Pay may make them very careful & Saving.” In an undated letter written about 20 January, Charles Miller, the issuing storekeeper at Cambridge, wrote to Trumbull: “It has always been the Custom to allow the Commissary ⅛ for Wantage [shortage] and leakage, and a small sallary so that with what Savings he could make out of the ⅛ Allowance, he made a tolerable pay to himself—However I shall set down content with being obliged to deliver ⅞ of all the Provision &c.—And what may remain after Wantage and Leakage, is deducted, for my Pay—There are many Reasons which might be offer’d, for paying the Commissaries in the above mention’d Way, of which no doubt your know—As you were pleased to inform me those Matters were to be laid before General Washington, I write with due submission to his & your Judgment in the Matter” (DLC:GW).

3The letter-book copy reads “make a full Settlement.” Congress considered appointing a committee to settle the accounts (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 , 4:155) but delayed taking any action on the matter (see Hancock to GW, 6, 11 Mar. 1776).

6The letter-book copy reads “and there is no Appearance.”

7For the capture of Lt. Benjamin Hill, see Jonathan Jackson to GW, 16 Jan., and the Massachusetts Council to GW, 20 Jan. 1776. For the intelligence from Mr. Hutchinson of Boston and the movements of the British regiments from Ireland, see GW to Hancock, 4 Jan. 1776, and note 3 of that document.

8The letter-book copy reads “too great.”

9For Congress’s previous directions on the raising of marines, see Hancock to GW, 10 Nov., 8 Dec., and GW to Hancock, 19, 28 Nov., 18 Dec. 1776.

10The letter-book copy reads “I shall take care to entertain them in such a manner during their stay.” The previous Sunday was 21 January.

11For the previous visit of this Caughnawaga chief, see GW to Hancock, 4–5 Aug. 1775, and note 32.

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