George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel John Nicolson, 12 June 1776

From Colonel John Nicolson

12 June 1776. Requests that GW order an inquiry to be made into his conduct during the recent retreat from Quebec. “Your memorialist is conscious that in the whole of his conduct on that Occasion he faithfully complied with the orders of his Superior officer which was given in Consequence of a council of war, and that in Every case he has endavoured to discharge his duty as a good officer as far as in him lay—Yet a report has lately been raised and industriously propagated by some ill minded persons (for Reasons best known to themselves) as well as through the army as Country That your memorialist has upon the above Occasion not only been Guilty of disobedience of orders but of Cowardice; whereby your memorialists Reputation (which is Dearer to him then life) is greatly injured and his usefulness as an officer much impaired.”

ADS, DLC:GW. Although this petition has no dateline, it is docketed “June 12. 1776.”

John Nicolson (Nicholson) was commissioned a captain in Col. James Clinton’s 3d New York Regiment in June 1775 and served in the Canadian campaign during the ensuing fall and winter. After Montreal was occupied in November, many of the regiment’s officers returned home, and Nicolson was promoted to lieutenant colonel. On 8 Mar. 1776 the Continental Congress named Nicolson major of Col. Cornelius D. Wynkoop’s new 4th New York Regiment, but when the enlistments of the old New York regiments in Canada expired on 15 April 1776, generals Arnold and Wooster appointed Nicolson colonel of a regiment to be raised from the troops of those regiments (see Schuyler to GW, 17 June 1776). Hampered in his recruiting efforts by the retreat from Quebec, Nicolson had only about a hundred men in his regiment by 27 May (Commissioners to Canada to Hancock, that date, 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 , 4:80–85). He was in New York at this time seeking recruits to fill out his regiment. This petition was written after GW, on whom Nicolson called for instructions, questioned his fitness to command a regiment based on information from Samuel Chase (see GW to Chase and to Schuyler, both 13 June 1776). GW referred Nicolson’s request for an inquiry into his conduct to Schuyler on 15 July (see GW’s second letter to Schuyler of that date). If such an inquiry was made, Nicolson was apparently cleared of any serious wrongdoing, for he served with his regiment in the Mohawk Valley from August to November 1776, when the regiment’s enlistments expired. Nicolson left the army at that time but returned in October 1777 to serve for several months on the Hudson River under Gen. Israel Putnam.

Index Entries