George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 20 December 1777

From Henry Laurens

York [Pa.] 20th Decemr 1777.


The 17th Inst. I troubled Your Excellency by the hand of Messenger Jones.

Under this Cover Your Excellency will receive two Acts of Congress of Yesterday’s date respectively—one for regulating & restricting the terms of payment for past unliquidated & future supplies of provisions & other necessaries for British Prisoners.1

The other requesting Your Excellency to inform Congress the intended disposition of the Army, if it be determined to withdraw from encampment, & strongly recommending the State of New Jersey as an object demanding attention & protection—together with a Remonstrance to Congress from the Council & General Assembly of Pennsylvania, upon which is founded the first Clause of the last mentioned Act.2 to the above I shall add a Resolve of the 8th alluded to in my Letter of that date which has been ever Since lying on my Table from an opinion which I had entertained that a subsequent Resolve would have been coupled to it, but no Such, nor any relative to the Subject, has been Sent to me.3 I have the honour to be with great respect & Esteem

P.S. Just as I was about closing this packet I received one from General Parsons containing a very Interesting correspondence with Sir Willm Tryon; Congress being convened I could not with propriety detain the papers even for an attentive perusal—from a Cursory reading, I remember Sir William after justifying certain wanton acts of conflagration & of Cruelty & base Insult upon some of the friends of the American cause which had been complained of by our General, says he has “offered twenty Silver Dollars per Man” as a præmium for taking up & delivering Committee Men—an Alarm, which indicates drawing the Scene & disclosing the last Act in the horrors of Civil War.4

Sir William’s in[c]lination is however disclosed, & his petulence has furnished a Key to certain ambiguous terms contained in a late Letter to your Excellency from Sir William Howe.5

LB, DNA:PCC, item 13. The LB indicates that this letter was sent to GW at the Gulph by “[Patrick] Mcloskey.”

1Congress’s resolution of 19 Dec., the original enclosed copy of which has not been identified, reads: “That the accounts of all provisions and other necessaries which already have been, or which hereafter may be supplied by the public to prisoners in the power of these states, shall be discharged by either receiving from the British commissary of prisoners or any of his agents, provisions or other necessaries, equal in quality and kind to what have been supplied, or the amount thereof in gold and silver . . . and that all these accounts be liquidated and discharged, previous to the release of any prisoners to whom provisions or other necessaries shall have been supplied” (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 , 9:1037). GW had brought up this subject in his letter to Laurens of 14–15 December.

2The remonstrance of the council and general assembly of Pennsylvania, which was read in Congress on 17 Dec., warned of the dire consequences which would attend the cantonment of the Continental army west of the Schuylkill River (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:104–5). For Congress’s resolution of 19 Dec., the original enclosed copy of which has not been identified, see 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 , 9:1036. The dissatisfaction in Pennsylvania about the disposition of American troops is further evidenced in Joseph Reed’s letter to Thomas Wharton, Jr., of 13 Dec.: “I am sorry to inform you that a plan of this kind, by which a brigade of Continental troops was to be left with the militia on this side Schuylkill, and which, when I wrote, I thought was approved by his Excellency, has upon other advice been totally changed. General Greene, Cadwalader and myself had fixed upon this plan as the most eligible to quiet the minds of the people, and cover the country. Instead of this, the remains of [James] Potter’s brigade are taken over the river, though I earnestly requested they might be left as a protection from small parties. The Jerseys, who have all their own militia, will not be satisfied without a cover of Continental troops, and I trust my zeal in the cause will vindicate me from all suspicion of whimsical caprice and dissatisfaction when I say that the situation of the country from Delaware to Schuylkill is very distressing, and calls loudly for attention and help from some quarter. I fear the chief Whig inhabitants must fly, as there is no other cover than General Armstrong with about one thousand militia, many without arms and without a single troop of horse. This weak condition has obliged him to retire twenty-five or thirty miles back from town, so that after this day there will be a free communication. The consequences of which are not for me to dwell upon” (Reed, Joseph Reed description begins William B. Reed. Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, Military Secretary of Washington, at Cambridge; Adjutant-General of the Continental Army; Member of the Congress of the United States; and President of the Executive Council of the State of Pennsylvania. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1847. description ends , 1:354–55).

3For Congress’s resolution of 8 Dec. concerning Howe’s unsatisfactory response to GW’s letters of 14 and 23 Nov., a copy of which Laurens enclosed in this letter to GW but which has not been identified, see Laurens to GW, 8 Dec., n.2 (see also 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 , 9:1009–10).

4Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons’s letter to Laurens of 2 Dec. reads in part: “On the 18th ult. (November), General Tryon Sent about One Hundred Men under the command of Capt. [Andreas] Emmerick to burn Some Houses within about four Miles of my guards, which, under Cover of a dark Night he effected with circumstances of most savage Barbarity, Stripping the Clothing from the women & children & turning them almost naked into the Street in a most Severe Night. The Men were made Prisoners & led with Halters about their necks with no other clothes than their Shirts & Breeches in Triumph to the Enemies Lines” (DNA:PCC, item 161; see also Hall, Life and Letters of General Parsons description begins Charles S. Hall. Life and Letters of Samuel Holden Parsons: Major General in the Continental Army and Chief Judge of the Northwestern Territory, 1737-1789. Binghamton, N.Y., 1905. description ends , 128). Parsons enclosed for Laurens’s perusal Parsons’s letter to Tryon of 21 Nov., which complained about the depredations by British forces involved in the aforementioned raid near Mamaroneck, N.Y., and Tryon’s reply of 23 Nov., which reads in part: “as much as I abhor every principle of inhumanity or ungenerous conduct, I should, were I more in authority, burn every committee-man’s house within my reach, as I deem those agents the wretched instruments of the continued calamities of this country, and in order the sooner to purge this colony of them, I am willing to give twenty silver dollars for every acting committee-man who shall be delivered to the King’s troops. I guess before the end of the next campaign, they will be torn in pieces by their own country-men” (ibid., 129–30).

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