George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 20 December 1777

To Major General William Heath

Head Qrs Valley Forge, Decr 20th 1777

Dr Sir

I yesterday Evening received your Favor of the 7th Inst., and am happy to find the first account of the arrival of the Ship with Artillery &c. fully confirmed.1 This Event is fortunate & interesting, as it not only manifests the strong attachment of France to our Cause, but also makes us respectable in point of Artillery. I doubt not of your attention to secure the Stores, and wish your care of them. The Board of War, it is probable, will give particular directions about them.

The state of the Commissary’s department has given me more concern of late, than any thing else. Unless matters in that line are speedily taken up & put in a better train, the most alarming consequences are to be apprehended. Congress are already informed upon the subject, Yet I shall transmit ’em that part of your Letter, which relates to it.2 Your conduct in delivering the Salt to Mr Colt, so far from being censurable, gives you a claim in my Opinion to the public thanks. Surely Nothing can be more essential than laying up Supplies of provision for the Army, and if the present moment is not seized for the purpose, I do not see how it will be possible to subsist it. The Work has been already too long neglected—Should it be still deferred, the prospect before us will be painful & disagreable. As far as your situation and circumstances will admit, I beg you to give Mr Colt every spur in your power to prosecute the business. My last advices from Congress on this subject were, that they had written to the State of Connecticut respecting it.3

The Board of War have received some report, that a Genl Hamilton of Genl Burgoyn’s Army is desirous of being exchanged and serving in America.4 This they have not had from any proper authority; However, I request that you will inquire into the matter, and if it is so, the measure will be readily come into on our part, and may be carried into effect for the release of Brigadr Genl Thompson. At the same time, I would observe, if this is Genl Hamilton’s wish, it will be necessary for General Burgoyne to inform me of it, that application may be made to Genl Howe upon the subject. Indeed it might not be improper for Genl Burgoyne to inclose me a line from himself to General Howe. I would have you introduce the matter as a report you had heard, but not as coming from me, nor in nature of an application. If this Exchange should take place, perhaps it may be the means of bringing on Others & of releiving many of our Officers from their present unhappy condition.

This Letter goes by Express to Genl Burgoyne. Congress will not consider or give any Answer to any propositions or requests he may make for altering or dispensing with any Terms in the Convention of Saratoga, Unless he makes them directly to themselves.5 I am Dr Sir with esteem & regard Yr Most Obedt servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1The “first account” is a reference to Heath’s letter to GW of 4 December.

3GW may be referring to Congress’s resolution of 17 Dec. authorizing and requesting the Connecticut council of safety “to use their utmost endeavours to lay up all the supplies of salted provisions they are able, and employ proper persons therefor, and co-operate with Mr. Colt therein” (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 , 9:1033). The resolution was enclosed in Henry Laurens’s letter to Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., of 23 Dec. (DNA:PCC, item 13; see also Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:184–85).

4The Board of War informed GW of British brigadier general James Inglis Hamilton’s desire to be exchanged in its letter to GW of 14 Dec., which has not been found. For further discussion of this subject, see GW to the Board of War, 22 December. James Inglis Hamilton (d. 1803), who apparently had served in the British army since the 1750s, was commissioned a lieutenant colonel on 25 May 1772, and he joined the 21st Regiment of Foot effective 11 Mar. 1774. His regiment arrived in Canada in May 1776, and on 5 Nov. 1776 he was given local rank as a brigadier general in America. Having been captured with Gen. John Burgoyne at Saratoga in October 1777, Hamilton was exchanged on 3 Sept. 1781, and he was promoted on that date to colonel in the British army. During the 1790s Hamilton was colonel first of the 15th Regiment and then of the 21st Regiment. He became a lieutenant general on 26 Jan. 1797 and a general on 29 April 1802.

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