George Washington Papers

General Orders, 8 November 1776

General Orders

Head-Quarters, White-Plains, Nov: 8th 1776

Parole: Philadelphia.Countersign: Portsmouth.

The Court Martial of which Genl McDougall is President, to sit immediately for the trial of Major Austin in Arrest, upon Charge of “Burning the houses at White-Plains, contrary to General orders.”1

Col. Graham and Capt: Gerrish, tried by a Court-Martial whereof Genl McDougall was President, for “Misbehaviour upon the approach of the enemy”—are acquitted.2

Capt. Poole of Col. Cary’s Regt and Genl Fellows’s Brigade, tried by the same Court Martial, and convicted of “Shamefully abandoning his post”—ordered to be cashiered.3

The General approves each of the above sentences; orders the former to join their regiments, and the latter to depart the Army immediately.

Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Although the court-martial found Jonathan Williams Austin guilty of this charge by 12 Nov., it apparently thought that some extenuating circumstance was involved, because it sentenced him to be reprimanded only. That punishment, in Gen. Charles Lee’s opinion, was much too lenient for the alleged offense, and he ordered another court-martial to try Austin on the new charge of “wanton barbarous conduct” toward civilians at White Plains. For that charge and the proceedings of Austin’s second trial, see Lee to GW, 12 Nov., and note 3.

2Col. Morris Graham’s trial occurred 2–4 Nov., and Capt. Jacob Gerrish (c.1739–1817) of Col. Moses Little’s 12th Continental Regiment was tried on 4 November. Graham, whose regiment of New York militia levies was posted on Chatterton’s Hill during the Battle of White Plains on 28 Oct., was accused by Adj. Gen. Joseph Reed of retreating more than once that day without firing at the advancing enemy. At the trial several of Graham’s men testified that during the battle Graham repeatedly urged them to stand and fight and they heard Col. David Forman order Graham to retreat from a stone fence where the regiment had been stationed. Reed told the court that “he posted Colo. Grahams Regt at two different places” on the hill, and Forman testified that “Colo. Graham Retreated from one post where he was placed without any orders from him, but after he [Forman] saw great Confusion among the men, he thinks he told Colo. Graham he might Retreat.” The court concluded “from the General Stream of the Evidence that while some of Colo. Grahams Officers were urging him to Retreat, he was active in Stimulating his Officers & men to do their Duty, and did not Retreat without Orders” (Graham’s court-martial proceedings, 2–4 Nov., DLC:GW).

Captain Gerrish was accused by Col. Edward Hand of “leaving his post on the Approach of a party of the Enemy’s light horse” on 1 November. At the trial two of Hand’s officers said that Gerrish on that date withdrew his guard detachment from an advanced position in front of the American lines to one less far forward. Gen. John Nixon exonerated Gerrish by testifying that “he orderd Capt. Gerrish to move his Guard from where he had first taken post, in order, the better to divide the Ground, between Capt. Gerrish, and the other Guards” (Gerrish’s court-martial proceedings, 4 Nov., DLC:GW). A native of Newbury, Mass., Gerrish was commissioned a captain in Colonel Little’s Massachusetts regiment in May 1775 and continued to hold that rank in Little’s 12th Continental Regiment during 1776. Gerrish gave up his Continental commission at the end of 1776, and from 1777 to 1778 he served as a colonel in the Massachusetts militia.

3Jacob Poole (Pool; 1740–1834), who had served as a first lieutenant in Col. Asa Whitcomb’s Massachusetts regiment during 1775, became a captain in Col. Simeon Carey’s regiment of Massachusetts militia levies during the summer of 1776. Poole’s trial began on 31 Oct., and after a two-day adjournment, it was concluded on 3 November. The post that Poole was convicted of abandoning was at Tuckahoe, about six miles southwest of White Plains, where he had been stationed with a guard detachment on 25 Oct. to watch the motions of Howe’s army, which that day marched north from New Rochelle to an encampment about four miles south of White Plains. Some of the most damning testimony against Poole came from a Lieutenant Clark, who said that “he knew of no orders that Capt. Poole had respecting the time he was to Continue on Guard where he was posted, only that they took two days provision. . . . Capt. Poole told him that if he thought he should not be blamed, he would march the Guard off to Camp, & said in Case he should be blamed⟨,⟩ they Could come back to their post again. . . . they marched to Camp and Came to the Brigade parade Just at Night, but he knew of no orders he Sd Capt. Poole had for marching off his Guard” (court-martial proceedings, 30 Oct.-3 Nov., DLC:GW).

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