George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Essex County Committee of Safety, 14 May 1776

From the Essex County Committee of Safety

Newark 14th May 1776


The Committee hearing there where Some Deserters from the Continental Army, in the Neighbourhood of Capt. Townly, of the Elizabeth Town Militia, Ord’red him to send a file of Musqueteers to apprehend them, and Deliver them safe to there Respective Officers He accordingly sent one of his Serjeants with a guard who took up two of them and Deliver’d them to Major Dehart at New York; The Serjeant has just made a Complaint to the Committee, that he was abus’d by Major Dehart according to the Deposition herewith Sent your Excellency; The Committee are Very Sorry proper Encouragement is not given to men that apprehend Deserters, if they are not treated in a different manner it will be very difficult to get our militia out any more for this purpose, and Deserters will be Lost, The Serjeant Says a great Deal more then is Contained in the Deposition, and hope for the future Major Dehart will be more Carefull.1 Am with the greatest Respect Your Excellencys most Obedient and very Humble Servt

Wm Burnet
Chairman County Committee Essex

LS, in William Burnet’s writing, DLC:GW.

William Burnet, Sr. (1730–1791), a prominent physician and political leader in Newark, became chairman of the Essex County committee of safety in 1775. During the spring of 1776 he established a hospital in Newark at his own expense, and with his son William Burnet, Jr., who was also a physician, he began caring for Continental patients. When GW decided to evacuate New York in September 1776, director general John Morgan asked Burnet to assist in providing greatly expanded hospital facilities for the numerous sick and wounded soldiers being sent to New Jersey and appointed him a senior surgeon in the army’s general hospital. Burnet was rewarded for his exertions in that crisis by being named on 11 April 1777 physician and surgeon general in the eastern department, but when the army’s hospital department was reorganized in the fall of 1780, he was bitterly disappointed at being demoted to a common physician and surgeon. Elected a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress in November of that year, Burnet took his seat on 11 Dec., and on 28 Feb. 1781 he sought to have himself appointed to the recently vacated office of chief physician and surgeon general of the army. When James Craik was promoted to that position on 3 Mar., Burnet replaced Craik as one of the department’s three chief hospital physicians and surgeons. Resigning his seat in Congress, Burnet returned to the army where he served to the end of the war (Burnet to Samuel Huntington, 28 Feb. 1781, 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 , 16:752–54; 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 , 19:203, 226, 230, 233, 321).

1Sgt. Henry Brown simply states in his deposition of this date that on 12 May he delivered two deserters to Maj. William De Hart of the 1st New Jersey Regiment and that De Hart refused to give him “a Certificate of his having recd said Deserters or any Payment for his [Brown’s] Service & Expences therefor” (DLC:GW). Charles Townley (1751–1802) of Elizabeth was a captain in the Essex County militia.

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