George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the New York Committee of Safety, 6 May 1776

To the New York Committee of Safety

New York May 6. 1776


I beg leave to refer to your examination Joseph Blanchard & Peter Puillon who were yesterday apprehended, the former on suspicion of carrying on a correspondence with persons on board the King Ships, the Latter of having supplied them with some provision in violation of & contrary to the regulations which have been adopted for preventing such practices. There are witnesses against both which are ordered to waite on you, and also some papers found in possession of Mr Blanchard, which though previous to your resolves in point of date, Indicate an Intimacy between him and Col. Fanning, the Secretary, to whom I am told he has wrote since their publication & his Knowledge of them.1 I am Gentn with great esteem Yr Most H. Servt.

Go: Washington

P.S. Capn Gibbs will deliver the papers.2

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, NjP: De Coppet Collection.

1Although the committee of safety could not muster a quorum on this date, the members who were present proceeded to examine Blanchard at 4 p.m. because the witnesses against him—Col. William Prescott, Capt. Samuel Darby (Derby), and Lt. Joshua Brown, all of the 7th Continental Regiment— had to return to their post on Long Island. Capt. Caleb Gibbs, who had arrested Blanchard on GW’s orders, also testified. The proceedings are in N.Y. Prov. Congress Journals description begins Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety, and Council of Safety of the State of New-York, 1775–1776–1777. 2 vols. Albany, 1842. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends , 1:431–32, and Blanchard’s statement in his defense dated 7 May is printed in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 4th ser., 5:1229–31. Blanchard freely admitted corresponding with Col. Edmund Fanning (1737–1818), private secretary to New York’s royal governor William Tryon, but protested that their letters concerned only minor personal business matters. “Not one word of news, or anything about politicks, was ever hinted either from him to me, or me to him, in any letter that passed between us,” Blanchard said in his statement. “I defy even envy itself to say that I ever said or did anything disapproving of the measures now pursuing by the Continent to free America from the oppression designed her by Great Britain; but always thought, and often said, that the American opposition was just, and I heartily wished it success.” That declaration apparently satisfied the committee of safety, for no action against Blanchard is recorded in its journals. Edmund Fanning raised a Loyalist corps called the Associated Refugees of the King’s American Regiment of Foot at New York in December 1776 and served as its colonel throughout the remainder of the war.

Peter Puillon of Staten Island was examined by the committee of safety on 8 May when a quorum was present and was found innocent of the charge against him. The proclamation prohibiting intercourse with the British warships, the committee of safety learned, was not published on Staten Island until 2 or 3 May, and Puillon, “from his remote situation, was entirely unacquainted with any regulations on that subject” on 4 May when he left his house on Staten Island in a small boat to pay a debt that he owed a person on Long Island and to sell some provisions valued at about £3 at the New York market. Although Puillon stayed as close to shore and as far from the warship Asia “as he could be with safety at that time of the tide,” the Asia fired on him and forced him to surrender his provisions. Puillon, the committee of safety concluded, “would have been culpable for the risk he run with the said provisions, if he had known of, or had an opportunity to have known of, the regulations adopted with respect to the said ships,” but under the circumstances he could not be judged guilty of any wrongdoing (N.Y. Prov. Congress Journals description begins Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety, and Council of Safety of the State of New-York, 1775–1776–1777. 2 vols. Albany, 1842. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends , 1:432–33). For Puillon’s apprehension, see James Chambers to GW, 5 May 1776.

2Caleb Gibbs (c.1750–1818) of Marblehead, Mass., was adjutant of Col. John Glover’s 14th Continental Regiment before becoming commander of GW’s guard with the rank of captain on 12 Mar. 1776. In addition to his other duties Gibbs supervised GW’s headquarters household in New York, taking the place of Ebenezer Austin who served as GW’s household steward at Cambridge. During the spring and early summer of 1776 Gibbs periodically gave large sums of money to GW’s current housekeeper, Mary Smith, who paid the household bills, but beginning in June 1776 when Elizabeth Thompson succeeded Mrs. Smith as housekeeper, Gibbs began paying the household accounts himself and continued doing so until November 1780 (see “Majr Gibbs’s Rect Book,” 13 May 1776–15 Nov. 1780, and “Mrs. Smith’s & Majr Gibbs’s Accounts,” 1776–1780, DLC:GW, 5th ser., vols. 27 and 29). Gibbs’s sense of humor and love of singing made him a popular member of GW’s military family, as a Virginia lady discovered when she visited the Morristown headquarters during the spring of 1777. “Capt Gibbs of the Genls Guard,” Martha Daingerfield Bland wrote to her sister-in-law Frances Bland Randolph on 12 May 1777, is “a good natured Yankee who makes a thousand Blunders in the Yankee stile and keeps the Dinner table in constant Laugh” (N.J. Hist. Soc., Proceedings description begins Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Boston, 1859–. description ends , n.s., 51:150). Although Congress promoted Gibbs to major on 29 July 1778, he like many other young officers was anxious to achieve greater military distinction than headquarters service offered. Gibbs relinquished command of GW’s guard at the end of 1780 to become major of the 2d Massachusetts Regiment, and at Yorktown in October 1781 he was wounded in the ankle during the attack on British redoubt number 10. Recovering from that injury, Gibbs remained in the Continental army until June 1784, serving during the last months as major of Col. Henry Jackson’s 1st American Regiment. For a fuller account of Gibbs’s services and character, see Howard H. Wehmann, “To Major Gibbs with Much Esteem,” Prologue, 4 (1972), 227–32.

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