George Washington Papers

Circular to Eleven States, 31 January–1 February 1777

Circular to Eleven States

Head Quarters Morris Town
Jany 31st[-1 February] 1777


The great Countenance & protection shewn & given to Deserters, by persons in the different Neighbourhoods from whence they originally came, has made that Vice so prevalent in the Army that unless some very effectual means are fallen upon to prevent it,1 our new Army will scarcely be rais’d before it will again dwindle & waste away from that cause alone.

I know of no remedy so effectual as for the different States immediately to pass Laws, laying a very severe penalty upon those who harbour or fail to give information against Deserters, knowing them to be such, & strictly enjoining all Justices of the Peace & officers of the Militia to keep a Watchful Eye over, & apprehend all such persons, as shall return from the Army without a Discharge.

In order that this most Salutary measure may be carried Speedily into execution, I have not only desir’d Congress to recommend it to the different States,2 but have myself wrote circular Letters to them all, pressing their compliance with my request, Desertion must cease of course when the Deserters find they have no Shelter.3 I am Gentn Yr mo: Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, to New Hampshire convention, in John Fitzgerald’s writing, Nh-Ar; L[S], to Nicholas Cooke, R-Ar; LS (mutilated), to the New York convention, N: New York Provincial Congress Revolutionary Papers; LB, to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., Ct: Trumbull Papers; LS, to unidentified addressee, sold by Stan V. Henkel, catalog no. 194, item 282, 26 Oct. 1926; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW’s signature has been torn off the letter sent to Governor Cooke. A printed copy of the letter addressed to the New York convention in the 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 , 2:367, is dated 1 Feb.; the letter was read by the New York committee of safety on 8 February. The draft is addressed to eleven of the thirteen states excluding the two southernmost states, South Carolina and Georgia. For the actions taken by four of the states in response to this circular, see the Pennsylvania General Assembly to GW, 5 Feb., Nicholas Cooke to GW, 18 Feb., Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., to GW, 24 Feb., and John McKinly to GW, 28 February.

1The other letters read “measures” instead of “means.”

3The other letters, except for the one in R-Ar, read “offenders” instead of “deserters.”

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