George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 25–26 April 1776

To John Hancock

Newyork 25th[–26] April 1776


I received by Last evenings post, a Letter from Joshua Wentworth Esqr. of Portsmouth, who I had appointed Agent for our Little fleet, in that Province, it is dated the 15th Instant, an extract from which, I have the honor of transcribeing for your perusal.1

“The 3d Instant Commodore Manly brought in the Brigte Elizabeth, One of the 3d Division, which Saild from Nantasket, with a valuable Cargo of English Goods, & a few hogsheads of Rum & Suggar,2 by a Mr Jackson who, was passenger, part freighter and a very tory—Suppose the Cargo worth twenty thousand pounds Stg. those goods are the greater part owned by the Late Inhabitants of Boston, & by Some that were Inhabitants, when the troops Left it[,] the residue by this Mr Jackson, & others of the Same Cast—the Complicate State of this prize, required my immediate Setting off for Boston, expecting I might find some directions, for my government there[.] when I waited on General Ward, who was obligeing enough to give me his opinion (but not able to direct haveing receiv’d no instruction to the point) that the vessel & Cargo must be Libelld, and a dividend to the Captors woud follow, of all Such goods, as might be Legaly claimed by the friends to America, & those that was the property, of them Inimical, might be decreed forfeited—upon further Inquirey I was informed, a Resolve pass’d in Congress, that all vessels & Goods, retaken previous to a Condemnation by a Brittish Court of Admiralty, were Liable to a partial decree (by every Colony Judge) to the Captors not more than one third nor less than one fourth—the present prize falls under this Resolve; and any other that may be property of our Internal enemies Liable to a full Confiscation may be necessary for my Government, therefore Shall be much obliged by your full direction of this Capture & a Copy of the Continental resolves thereon3—this Brigte is ownd by a Mr Richard Hart, of this town, taken on her return from the west indies Last October and Carried into Boston, not Condemnd,4 the Rum on board are Seventeen hhds and four of Sugar, not removed out of her from the time of Capture, the other Cargo was in general Stolen by virtue of General Howes proclomation (which undoubtedly you have Seen) apointing one Crean Brush Superintendant, who by the way, was taken in the prize & is now Confind in the Massachusets Colony, with Mr Jackson and Sundry others, by order of the General Court, to whom General Ward deliverd them.5

“there were a Serjeant & twelve privates of the 4th or Kings own Regiment taken prisoners on board, with the others makeing Sixty three Souls among whom are four negroes (two men & two women) which I have Confind in Goal here, Concluding they may be esteemd a part of the prize.6

“there appeard from the pilage of this Cargo (by many of the passengers) the property was in him who Coud Secret the most—for when examening the chests & beding of the prisoners, I found great quantity of goods that they had Collected while on board which were taken out of warehouses, without packing & hove promiscuously on board the vessel, even the Sailors had provided for their disposal at pleasure⟨,⟩ in fact, the destruction of property (under Cover of General Howes proclomation) is unparaleld. I thought it my duty to be critical in examening for Cash which renderd it necessary to insist on a Close Scrutiny, & found about one hundred pounds Sterlg vizt £36.18.7 on Mr Jackson & £62.16 on a Mr Keighley, Likewise £159.1.9 of Mr Jackson in five Setts of exchange, which I now have in possession, Considering that a man So inimical to his Country, ought to be disposessd of any interest, whereby he Coud be benefitted, added to which they are navy bills, except £60, the draft of Governor Wentworth[;] on this point Shoud be obliged by your opinion and direction.7

“I am now dischargeing the Cargo, as it is in a perishing Situation, and when Selected, & the regular Course, persued thorough the Admiralty, Shall advertize agreeable to His Excellencys Instructions to General Ward, who was obligeing eno’ to give me an abstract8—the General Court of this Province finding a difficulty in makeing a Code of Laws, for the admiralty Court, did not Complete that institution their Last Session, when they adjourned to June which elapse of time will not admit my facilitateing the disposal of the prizes under my Care, So early as I coud wish for the Safety of part of the Interest of the Susannas Cargo, vizt the porter which I fear may be Spoild by Laying So Long it not haveing equal body, to that Commonly imported for Sale, which induces me to desire your direction for a disposal of that article, either at private or public Sale.[”]9

that Sir is an exact copy of part of Mr Wentworths Letter to Mr Moylan, I now request you will please to direct me, in what manner I shall instruct the Agent respecting this Complicated Cargo, & whether he may be impowerd to dispose of the porter, or any other articles on board the prizes in his Care, which the delay of establishing the Court of Admiralty, may make Liable to perish.10

I have not yet heard that there has been any trial of the prizes Carried into Massachusets bay this procrastination is attended with very bad Consequences. Some of the vessels I had fitted out are now laid up, the Crews being disatisfied, that they Cannot get their prize money. I have tired the Congress upon this Subject, but the importance of it, makes me again mention that if a Summary way of proceeding is not resolvd on, it will be impossible to get our vessels mannd. I must allso mention to you Sir, that Captain Manly & his Crew, are desireous to Know when they may expect, their part of the value of the Ordnance Stores, taken Last fall, they are anxious to Know what the amount may be as the Inventory of that Cargo is in the hands of Congress I woud humbly Submitt it to them, whether a valuation thereof Shoud not be made, & the Captors Dividend be remitted them as Soon as possible, it will give them Spirit, & encourage them to be alert in Looking out for other prizes.11

Several Officers belonging to the Regiments raised in these middle Colonies, inform me that their men (notwithstanding their agreement) begin to murmur at the distinction of pay made between them and the Regiments from the Eastward—I woud be glad that the Congress woud attend to this in time, Lest it may get to Such a pitch as will make it difficult to Suppress, they argue that they perform the Same duty, undergo the Same fatigue, & receive five dollars when the eastern Regiments receive Six & two thirds dollars month—for my own part I wish they were all upon the Same footing, for if the Brittish Army will not face this way, it will be necessary to detatch a great part of our troops; in that Case I woud, for many reasons, be Sorry there Should be any distinctions of Regiments, that are all in pay of the United Colonies,12 the defficiency of Arms, (in the Newyork Regiments especially), is very great, if I am rightly informd there are Scarce as many in Colonel Ritzimas Regiment as will arm one Company, Can the Congress remedy this evil? if they Can, there shou’d not a moment be lost in effecting it, as our Strength at present is, in reality, on paper only—Shou’d we think of dischargeing those men who are without Arms, the remedy woud be worse than the desease, for by vigourous exertions I hope arms may be procured, and I well Know that the raising men is exceeding difficult, especialy to be engaged dureing the Continuance of the war, which is the footing on which Colonel Ritzimas Regiment is engaged.13

April the 26th—I had wrote thus far, before I was honourd with your favor of the 23d Instant—In obedience to the Order therein Containd, I have directed Six Regiments more for Canada, which will embark as Soon as vessels & other necessarys Can be provided, these Regiments will be Commanded by General Sullivan, I shall give him Instructions to join the forces, in that Country under General Thomas as Soon [as] possible.14

With respect to Sending more troops to that Country, I am realy at a Loss what to advise, as it is impossible at present to Know the designs of the enemy—Should they Send the whole force under General Howe up the River St Laurence to relieve Quebec & recover Canada, the troops gone & now going will be insufficient to Stop their progress; and Shou’d they think proper to Send that, or an equal force this way from Great Britain, for the purpose of possesing this City, & Secureing the navigation of Hudsons River the troops Left here will not be Sufficient to oppose them, & yet for any thing we Know—I think it not improbable they may attempt both, both being of the greatest importance to them, if they have men.

I Coud wish indeed that the Army in Canada shoud be more powerfully reinforced, at the Same time I am Conscious, that the trusting this important post (which is now become the Grand Magazine of America) to the handful of men remaining here is running too great a risque—the Secureing this post & Hudsons River, is to us allso, of So great Importance, that I cannot at present advise the Sending any more troops from hence; on the Contrary, the General Officers now here whom I thought it my duty to consult, think it absolutely necessary to encrease the Army at this place, with at Least ten thousand men, especialy when it is Considerd that from this place only, the Army in Canada must draw its Supplies, of Ammunition, provisions, and most probably of men—that all reinforcements Can be Sent from hence much easier, than from any other place. By the inclos’d Return you will See the State of the Army here, and that the number of effective men is far Short, of what the Congress must have expected.15

I have found it necessary to order Colonel Daytons Regiment from New Jersey to march as one of the Six to Canada—wherefore I must reccommend it to Congress to order two Companies, of one of the Regiments Still in Pensilvania to march to Cape May, which Can be done much Sooner, for had this destination, of that Regiment not taken place, it woud have been very inconvenient to have detachd two Companies from it to that place, as the march woud, (according to Lord Sterlings & other accounts) have been at Least two hunderd miles from Amboy, & they must have passd within twenty miles of Philadelphia, there being no practicable road along the Sea Coast of New Jersey for their baggage to have passed,16 Doctor Potts who is bearer hereof, was I understand, appointed Director of the Hospital, for these middle Colonies, but the Army being removed, with the General Hospital from the eastward, does in Course Supersede him, he is inclind to go to Canada, where he may be very usefull, if a person is not allready appointed for that Department, I woud humbly beg Leave to ask the Congress, whether in all these appointments, it woud not be best, to have but one Chief, to whom all the others Shoud be Subordinate17—I have the honour to be Sir Your Most Ob. H: St

Go: Washington

LS, in Stephen Moylan’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, DLC: Hancock Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 29 April (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 , 4:316).

1Wentworth’s letter of 15 April is addressed to GW’s aide-de-camp Stephen Moylan. The ALS is in DLC:GW.

2For an account of Commodore John Manley’s capture of the brigantine Elizabeth, see Winthrop Sargent to GW, 7 April 1776, n.1.

3Congress resolved on 5 Dec. 1775 “that, in cases of recaptures, the recaptors ought to have and retain, in lieu of salvage, one-eighth part of the true value of the vessel and cargo, or either of them, if the same have or hath been in possession of the enemy twenty-four hours; one-fifth part, if more than twenty-four, and less than forty-eight hours; one-third part, if more than forty-eight and less than ninety-six hours; and one half, if more than ninety-six hours, unless the vessel shall, after the capture, have been legally condemned as prize by some court of admiralty, in which case the re-captors ought to have the whole” (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 , 3:407).

4The British sloop George captured the Elizabeth in October 1775 as the brigantine was returning to Portsmouth, N.H., from Montserrat with a cargo of rum and sugar. Rather than being condemned and sold, the Elizabeth was left at Boston and delivered to the fleet. Richard Hart (c.1744–1820) was a merchant in Portsmouth.

5For Howe’s proclamation of 10 Mar., see GW to Hancock, 4 April 1776, n.6. For an account of the treatment of these prisoners, see John Grizzage Frazer to GW, 14 April 1776, n.4.

6The four blacks were Adam owned by John Rowe, Scip owned by Harrison Gray, Belinder owned by Benjamin Austin, and Brada owned by a widow Kitpath (Freeman’s Journal, or New-Hampshire Gazette [Portsmouth, N.H.], 6 July 1776).

7Edward Keighley (Keightley) was released on bond after eighteen weeks of imprisonment at Cambridge, and in April 1777 he was allowed to go to Halifax where he took up residence. For a detailed accounting of William Jackson’s bills and cash, see his claim of 8 Aug. 1776, in Clark and Morgan, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 12 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964–. description ends , 6:113–14.

9For an account of the capture of the ship Susannah on 6 Mar., see GW to Hancock, 7–9 Mar. 1776, n.22.

10After reading this letter on 29 April, Congress referred it to a committee of five members (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 , 4:316), but no response to GW’s inquiries concerning Wentworth was forthcoming. Nor did Moylan make any immediate reply to the agent (see GW to Wentworth, 15 June, and Wentworth to GW, 2 July 1776). Wentworth’s efforts to dispose of the two prizes and their cargoes continued to be blocked until the New Hampshire general assembly created maritime courts for the colony in its June session. Wentworth libeled the Susannah on 11 July and the Elizabeth on the following day (Clark and Morgan, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 12 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964–. description ends , 5:1024–25, 1033–34). The Susannah was subsequently condemned at a trial and sold at public auction, but the vessel brought only £350, “being very old and rotten, her Cargo porter and Sour grout, mostly spoiled” (John Langdon to Hancock, 6 Nov. 1776, ibid., 7:58–59). When the Elizabeth was tried in August, the court ruled that the vessel and cargo must be returned to the owners who claimed them, in effect denying the captors any share in the prize. Wentworth appealed the verdict to Congress, and on 14 Oct. 1776 Congress reversed the decision, ruling that the owners could reclaim their property only after paying one-twelfth of its value to the captors (Verdict and Decree in the Case of the Prize Brigantine Elizabeth, 21 Aug. 1776, ibid., 6:246–48; 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 , 5:751, 835, 6:870–73; see also Wentworth to GW, 26 Aug. 1776).

11GW is referring to the British ordnance vessel Nancy, which John Manley captured on 28 Nov. 1775 (see GW to Schuyler, 28–30 Nov. 1775, n.3). Congress resolved on 17 June to send the inventory of ordnance stores to GW and to request him “to appoint a person on the part of the colonies, to join one on the part of Captain Manley and his crew . . . to value the same” (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 , 4:343–44, 5:454). GW appointed Henry Bromfield of Boston to act for the United Colonies, and Manley selected William Davis also of Boston to represent him and his men. The appraisal submitted in August was £20,530.18.1 (see GW to Bromfield and Manley, 24 June, Bromfield to GW, 13 Aug., Artemas Ward to GW, 15 Aug., and GW to Hancock, 23 Aug. 1776).

12For Congress’s action to rectify this inequality in pay, see Hancock to GW, 10 June, and General Orders, 16 June 1776.

13For Congress’s response to the similar plea regarding arms that GW made to Congress a few days earlier, see GW to Hancock, 22 April 1776, n.1.

15In his return of 23 April, Horatio Gates reported that the army at New York contained a total of 10,192 rank and file, of whom 8,301 were present and fit for duty. There were 596 commissioned officers, 78 staff officers, and 881 noncommissioned officers. To complete the regiments in and near the city, 35 noncommissioned officers and 2,966 privates were needed (DNA:PCC, item 169; see also Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 4th ser., 5:1070). This return included the six regiments destined for Canada, which according to a return made on 28 Aug. contained 3,372 rank and file, of whom 3,091 were present and fit for duty (ibid., 1153–54).

16For Congress’s resolutions regarding the detachment for Cape May, see Hancock to GW, 17 April 1776, n.1.

17Jonathan Potts (1745–1781) of Reading, Pa., had recently applied to Congress to be appointed director of the hospital for the middle department. Some of the delegates, he said, encouraged him “to hope for such apointment as soon as it should be found necessary to form such an E[s]tablishment” (Potts’s petition to Congress, 29 April 1776, DNA:PCC, item 78). The arrival of Director General John Morgan in New York, however, seemed to make a director for the middle colonies unnecessary, and Potts shifted his aspirations to becoming director of the hospital to be established in Canada. On 6 June 1776 Congress resolved that Potts “be employed as a physician and surgeon in the Canada department, or at Lake George, . . . but, that this appointment shall not supersede Dr. [Samuel] Stringer,” director of the hospital for the northern department (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 , 4:344, 5:424; see also Hancock to GW, 7 June, and GW to Hancock, 9 June 1776). Potts went to Fort George in late June, and although he considered himself independent of Stringer, the retreat of the army from Canada obliged him to work as Stringer’s subordinate at Fort George for several months. Potts replaced Stringer as hospital director for the northern department in January 1777, and in February 1778 he became director of the hospital for the middle department. Potts resigned from the army in October 1780 and died a year later.

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