George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Mease, 21 January 1778

To James Mease

Head Quarters [Valley Forge] 21st January 1778

Dear Sir

I this day recd yours of the 18th by Lieutenant Gamble who has brought down 463 Coat ready cut out. I could have wished that had not been done, as I intended to have had them made up in a new fashion which I think will save Cloth—be made up quicker and cheaper and yet be more warm and convenient to the Soldier. I desire that all the remainder of the Virginia Goods may be immediately sent on in the State which you receive them, as soon as they arrive at Lancaster. I will send you a Coat of the new fashion as soon as one can be made up, and I think it will be deemed most convenient and useful to dress the whole Army in the same manner.1

The Officer who had the charge of the Convoy of Cloathing from Boston left them at Fish kill contrary to Genl Heaths express order, he makes some trifling excuse, that the Waggons would not come any farther. I have sent up an Express with orders to have it brought immediately forward.2

I shall give directions to have some agreement made with the Taylors for their extra pay when working at their trade. Now we are fixed I am of opinion that we can have any quantity of Cloathing made up in the Regiments provided all the materials are sent with them. If the Taylors are drawn from the Army and sent to a distance, they will most certainly find means of going off, and the Service will lose so many Men. Besides we cannot at this time spare the Men from Camp.

I beg you will exert yourself in procuring Shoes, it is evident that any quantities may be got by contracting to pay for them in Hides.3 The price fixed by the General Officers is 4d. per lb. for Hides and Shoes at 10 / per pair.4 with this the Shoemakers are content, and several of the Brigadiers have made contracts accordingly. I am &c.

P.S. Lieut. Gamble returns to bring down the remainder of the Goods. He informs me that he desired you not to cut up the Cloth, as it was intended to be made up different from the usual method I cannot therefore tell why it was done.

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW’s hopes “to dress the whole Army in the same manner,” impelled in part by the pressing necessity to economize cloth, would not be realized in 1778. GW wrote Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., on 24 Jan. suggesting a coat “of the pattern of the Sailors for Jacket” in order to reduce the quantity of cloth required for each uniform, and on 29 Jan. he wrote the Continental Congress camp committee elaborating on his ideas for clothing the army and expressing the hope that some uniformity of dress would be achieved through extensive contracts with France. A large shipment of French-made uniforms, blue and brown coats faced with red, was received and distributed to the army in September 1778, but for most of the year Continental regiments remained dependent on supply from the states, resulting in a large variety of colors and patterns. Ongoing cloth shortages forced many regiments to rely on captured British uniforms, such as those seized in the British transport brig Symmetry in December 1777, which apparently clothed officers in many Maryland regiments (see Katcher, Uniforms of the Continental Army description begins Philip Katcher. Uniforms of the Continental Army. York, Pa., 1981. description ends , 86–87). Even late in the war, American troops would be notable for their variety of dress despite the regulations that Congress and the respective states had adopted by then.

2Heath wrote GW on 17 Dec. 1777 that “considerable Quantities” of lead and clothing “are now on the road, forwarding to you.” The shipment already had been delayed because of shortages of harness for teams in the convoy (see Heath to Massachusetts Council, 11 Dec. 1777, MHi: Heath Papers). See also GW’s letter to Israel Putnam of 22 January. The negligent officer has not been identified.

3Robert Hanson Harrison wrote Commissary General of Hides George Ewing “By His Excellency’s Command” on 27 Jan.: “Colo. Broadhead having procurd three Hundred pair of Shoes, you will deliver him as many Hides as he may Judge necessary to pay for them” (DLC:GW).

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