George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Captain Caleb Gibbs, 1 May 1777

To Captain Caleb Gibbs

Morris Town May [1]1 1777.

Dear Gibbs,

A Letter from Mr Fitzgerald, written to you a few days ago, would inform you that we have no longer any expectation of the Person recommended by Doctr Cochran as a Steward; and, that it was necessary for you to exert yourself in obtaining one.2 If you could get a Man who had been employed in that capacity, or as a Butler in a Gentlemans Family & who could be well recommended & by such as may be depended upon for his honesty—Sobriety—& care, he would answer the purpose much better than a mere greenhorn; who in the first place would be ignorant of his duty, & in the next (which would be a consequence of the other) be diffident, & suffer himself to be imposed upon by our Servents; who stand so much in need of being checked for their extravagance, and roguery, in making away with Liquors, & other Articles laid in for the use of the Family.

I dare say you are better acquainted with our Wants than I am, but I shall mention two, which seem to be pretty severely felt at present—namely, Loaf Sugar and Tea. If I was to add Wine, I believe I should not much err. and whilst you are in the humour of getting, I wish you would procure for me two pr of Brown thread Stockings for Boots.3

What did you pay Mrs Thompson a Month, and where is she? Mrs Washington wishes I had mention’d my Intentions of parting with the old Woman, before her, as she is much in want of a Housekeeper—How do you think she would suit? as her conduct from the beginning has been more under your immediate Inspection, & notice, than any ⟨mutilated⟩ of the Family, you can ans⟨wer mutilated⟩ question with more precission and certainty than any of them & Mrs Washington would be glad of your opinion of the matter.4

I had like to have forgot one thing wanted, and that is, cloth to make my Servant Will, as also the Hostler, Cloaths—get Russia Drill enough, if you can, to make each of them two Waistcoats, and two pair of Breeches—the Coats may be made of a light colourd cloth of any kind, lined with red Shalloon—a bit of red Cloth for capes, or Collars to them. Buttons & every kind of trimming must be sent, as nothing of the kind is to be had here, where it is necessary the Cloaths must ⟨be⟩ made on Acct of their Measu⟨mutilated⟩.5

If your health admits of it, I could wish you to return as soon as you can execute the several matters and things requird of you, as I am now calling in Men to form a Guard of, and your presence I believe pretty much wanted in other respects. I am Dr Sir Yr Affecte

Go: Washington

ALS, NjMoHP. The manuscript is mutilated slightly in its folds. GW addressed the cover: “To Captn Gibbs. at present in Philadelphia.”

The rare glimpse of some of the people and activities at GW’s headquarters provided by this letter is supplemented by the letter that Martha Daingerfield Bland, wife of Col. Theodorick Bland, wrote her sister-in-law Frances Bland Randolph on 12 May 1777 from Morristown. Mrs. Bland, who had joined her husband at Morristown in early April after being inoculated for smallpox in Philadelphia, writes: “Now let me speak of our Noble and Agreable Commander (for he commands both Sexes) one by his Excellent Skill in Military Matters the other by his ability politeness and attention we visit them twice or three times a week by particular invitation—Ev’ry day frequently from inclination—he is generally busy in the forenoon—but from dinner till night he is free for all company his Worthy Lady seems to be in perfect felicity while she is by the side of her Old Man as she calls him, we often make partys on Horse Back the Genl his lady Miss Livingstone & his Aid de Camps who are Colo Fitz Gerald and agreable broad shouldered Irishman—Colo Johnson Brother of Mrs Malone who is exceedingly witty at everybody’s expense but cant allow other people to be so at his own, tho they often take the liberty. Colo Hamilton a sensable Genteel polite young fellow a West indian—Colo Meade—Colo Tillman a modest worthy man who from his attachment to the Genl vollenterly lives in his family and acts in any capacity that is uppermost without fee or reward—Colo Harrison Brother of Billy Harrison that kept store in Petersburg & as much like him as possible a worthy man—Capt Gibbs of the Genls Guard a good natured Yankee who makes a thousand Blunders in the Yankee stile and keeps the Dinner table in constant Laugh—These are the Genls family all polite sociable gentlemen who make the day pass with a great deal of satisfaction to the Visitors—but I had forgot my subject almost, that is our riding party Generly—at which time General Washington throws of the Hero—and takes on the chatty agreable companion—he can be down right impudent sometimes—such impudence, Fanny, as you and I like” (N.J. Hist. Soc. Proceedings description begins Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society. 84 vols. Newark, N.J., 1845–1966. description ends , 51:250–53).

1Although GW left the day of the month blank in the dateline on the manuscript, Gibbs docketed the cover: “Letter from His Excelly General Washington. dated Morristown May. 1d 1777. Answerd. 4 May.” Gibbs wrote the “1” over a “3” that he first had written as the date of GW’s letter. Gibbs’s reply to GW of 4 May has not been found.

2This letter has not been identified. Gibbs on 7 May paid £2.5 cash to Patrick Maguire “to bear his Expence to Headquarters—as Steward” (household account book, 11 April 1776–21 Nov. 1780, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 28). Maguire was employed as steward until 6 Mar. 1778 (see receipt from Maguire, that date, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 29).

3Gibbs on 8 May purchased from Carpenter Wharton of Philadelphia a cask containing 252 pounds of loaf sugar, two casks of white biscuit, 20 pounds of green tea, 12 pounds of pepper, 24 bottles of mustard, 1/2 bushel of almonds, 9 quarts of shell barks (hickory nuts), 2 bottles of lime juice, and 324 pounds of bacon at a total cost of £178.15.7 1/2 (see Wharton’s invoice, that date, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 29). On 9 May Gibbs bought a barrel containing 29 gallons of “Old Spirit” for £53.4 from John Mease, and on 10 May he bought a pipe of Madeira wine for £151.12.6 from Samuel Purviance (see Mease’s and Purviance’s invoices for those dates, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 29). Gibbs on 1 May paid £3 for “2 Pair thread Hose for His Excellency” (household account book, 11 April 1776–21 Nov. 1780, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 28).

4On 23 April Gibbs paid Elizabeth Thompson £37.10 “for her services as housekeeper to His Excellency General from 9th of July 1776 To the 23d April 1777 at the rate of 50£ New York money ⅌ Year” (household account book, 11 April 1776–21 Nov. 1780, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 28). Mrs. Thompson, who was now about seventy-three years old, continued working as GW’s housekeeper until December 1781 (see Elizabeth Thompson to GW, 10 Oct. 1783, DLC:GW).

5Gibbs bought clothing for GW’s servants from the Philadelphia firm of Mease & Caldwell, whose invoice of 5 May lists the following items: 3 1/2 yards of drab broadcloth, 3 yards of red durant, 2 1/4 yards of French linen, 4 pairs of drilling breeches, and 4 vests, costing a total of £15.6.5 (DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 29). On 4 May Gibbs paid £1.18.6, for “Buttons &c.” for the servants, and on 27 May, after his return to Morristown, Gibbs paid a tailor £2.5 “for Mendg the Genls Cloaths & Making Servants Coats, Mendg, &c.” (household account book, 11 April 1776–21 Nov. 1780, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 28).

William (Will, Billy) Lee, a mulatto slave whom GW had bought in 1768 from the widow of Col. John Lee of Westmoreland County, Va., accompanied GW as his personal servant throughout the Revolutionary War. Lee broke his kneepan in 1785 while surveying with GW, and he was crippled for life in 1788 when he broke his other kneepan (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:125, 5:281). GW freed Lee in his will and gave him an annuity of £30 and the right to remain at Mount Vernon if he wished. GW’s hostler at this time was a servant named John, who was paid £2 on 8 June 1777 for eight months’ work in that capacity (see household account book, 11 April 1776–21 Nov. 1780, DLC:GW, ser. 5, vol. 28).

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