George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel George Gibson, 17 February 1778

From Colonel George Gibson

Lancaster [Pa.]
17th February 1778

May it please Your Excelly

I have the Honor to transmit herewith the proceedings of a Genl Court Martial by order of Generl Wayne for the tryal of Lieutt Dickinson which I hope will meet Your Excellys approbation, The proceedings of a General Court martial for the Trial of Lieutt McMichael were deliver’d by the Judge Advocate to the Marquis de la fayette to be by him transmitted to Your Excellency—I have been told they were not deliver’d to Your Excelly having been mislaid as there was no records kept of the proceedings of the Court, Will Your Excelly Please to direct whether the Court order’d by Genl Wayne must proceed to a new Tryal or whether he Shou’d be tryed by the Court orderd by Your Excelly1—Sebastian Graff Esqr. the Assistant Commissary of Purchases, deliver’d me the Inclosed,2 & at the same time informed me that there are many Officers in the Staff department Inhabitants of this place who draw large Quantities of Beef in a manner that I conceive to be very injurious, I think it therefore my duty to represent the matter to Your Excellency, These Gentlemen have not drawn any Beef during the Summer & Fall & as some of them hold 3 or more posts the number of rations due them was very considerable, so much so that I am told it took one or more Stall fed Oxen to pay up the back rations, due to one only I have taken the Liberty to forbid the Issueing Commissary to Issue more than one ration diem to any Commission’d or Staff Officer, & to pay up no more back rations in beef or Pork until Your Excellys pleasure shall be known on this Head—I have also prevented them from Stopping a part of a drove of Swine that went thro’ this place for Camp, as I was certain they were much more wanted there Than here, If I have done wrong I throw myself on Your Excellys mercy begging leave to assure Your Excy I had nothing in view but the Service of my country—In my last I mention’d to your Excelly that the Hospitals were in good order,3 I am sorry to inform Your Excy that there is still a great field for improvemt.

The Barracks in this Town are converted into hospitals the patients are very much crowded, oweing to a number of the Prisoners of Warr & a part of the Corps commanded by Lieut. Colo. Smith being quarter’d in the Barracks. The patients suffer for want of Cloathing & the Convalescents for want of Clean Sweet rooms to be put into, in lieu of wch they are kept in the appartments with the Sick, which frequently occasions relapses that are for the most part fatal, the men when discharged as fit for duty are by no means fit for the Fatigues of a winter Campaign being in want of Cloathing, of which there is sufficient here. but I apprehend the Clothier General does not think himself Authorized to pay any attention to my order. The Guards which require 36 men dayly are furnished from the men discharged from the Hospitl the duty is rather Severe on the poor fellows who are almost naked, I thought it necessary to mention these circumstances to Your Excelly, as it Keeps a number of men employed at this place whose services may be perhaps wanted some place else & the Militia might be employ’d for the purpose of Guards—I must beg Your Excellys pardon for the liberty I take, & hope Your Excy will please to give me Your directions respecting the regulating the Hospital & procuring Cloathing for the Troops, & I flatter myself I shall merit Your Excys approbation by my attention to & executing with punctuality the Orders You may please to Honor me with—I have observed some fine horses since I have been here, that wou’d make excellent Light horse they are chiefly owned by Germans of the Menyonist sect, who set very little store by the Continentl Curry, I cou’d wish to see them properly disposed off as I am certain they woud if it cou’d be done wth privacy cary every horse to Mr Howe—The principal with two others concerned in the Murder of Lieut. Hammond are taken & secured in the Goal of this County. & the civil Majestrates are exerting themselves to bring the other offenders to Justice,4 I cannot conclude without mentioning to Your Excelly that the Gentlemen of the Faculty are very attentive to their duty. I have the Honor to be wth Truth Your Excellencys Obedt Servant

Geo: Gibson


2The enclosed letter from Sebastian Graff to George Gibson, dated 13 Feb. from Lancaster, reads: “I thinck it my Duty to inform you of my Situation in regard of purchasing Beef for the rations delivered out in this Place—in my different Circuits & Rides through this County I find a great Scarcity of Beef Cattle, that I’m unable for the Present to furnish the demands made on me—owing to the great demands that has been made for a Considerable Time from the Army as well as the Troop who have marchd through this Place from Time to Time—likewise the different Hospitals in this County and the Troops Quarterd here have required great Quantities, besides, a number of Officers who are inhabitants of this place have of late Drawn large Quantities of Beef.

“To enable the C. of Issues of this Place to Deliver the demands made on him I thinck it would be necessary for you to Order a Quantity of Beef as much as may be necessary for the Present, which has been Purchas’d by Thos Edwards of Leabanon & Cornelius Cox of Paxton A. Commissarys of P., to this Place without the least Delay—I Shall at the Same Time do all that lays in my Power to Collect all the Beef Cattle that can be found in my District” (DLC:GW).

3Gibson is referring to his letter to GW of 10 February.

4Benjamin Hammond was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment in September 1776 and was promoted to first lieutenant in April 1777. In November 1777 he served as regimental quartermaster, and shortly before his murder the Pennsylvania supreme executive council designated him a recruiting officer for his regiment (see Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:249). The Pennsylvania supreme executive council wrote to the magistrates of Lancaster and Chester counties on 14 Feb.: “Council has this Day receivd information that an affray has happend at the Sign of the Compass on the Great Road Leading to Philad. between Some Officers in the Continental service & others, Inhabitants of this state, in which one person, Lieut. Hammon, has been unhappily killd & several others dangerously wounded—Wm Atlee Esq. one of the Judges of the supreme Court writes to you by this messenger to request your particular attention to this unhappy Quarrel to take the proper depositions and order an inquest on the body of the unfortunate Man in order that those who have been concerned may be brought to Justice—I hope no resistance will be made to this enquiry, or to such lawful steps as the nature of the case requires—if there should you are to call upon the Lieutenant or sublieutenants of the County to furnish you with a sufficient Guard of the Militia to keep the peace & enable you to proceed on the business with safety” (PHarH: Records of Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments, 1775–1790).

On 24 Mar., Thomas Wharton, Jr., signed a proclamation giving the results of the inquest. It was printed in the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Lancaster) on 1 April: “Whereas a certain Benjamin Hammon was lately most cruelly and barbarously murdered in the County of Chester, in this Common-Wealth. And Whereas by an inquisition taken on the body of the said Benjamin Hammon, and by depositions taken before sundry Justices of the said Common Wealth, there is great reason to believe that a certain Henry Skyles, late of the County of Lancaster, in the said Common Wealth, Yeoman, did feloniously kill and murder the said Benjamin Hammon; and that Thomas Boyd, James Willson, John Hastings, and Charles Caldwell, of the said County of Lancaster, Yeomen, together with others who have surrendered themselves, were feloniously present, comforting, abetting and aiding the said Henry Skyles to do and commit the said murder. And Whereas it is at all times, but more especially in the present situation of our affairs, of the utmost consequence to the peace of the Common Wealth, that the perpetrators of such atrocious offences should be brought to condign and exemplary punishment; and the endeavours hitherto used for apprehending and securing the said offenders have proved ineffectual.

“We Have Therefore thought fit to issue this Proclamation, hereby offering and promising a reward of Two Hundred Dollars to be paid out of the Public Treasury of this Common Wealth to such person or persons who shall apprehend the said Henry Skyles, and deliver him into the custody of the Keeper of the Goal of either of the Counties of Lancaster, Berks or York, in this Common Wealth: And also hereby offering and promising a like reward of Two Hundred Dollars for each and every of them the said Thomas Boyd, James Wilson, John Hastings, and Charles Caldwell, to be paid as aforesaid, to such person or persons who shall apprehend and secure them, or any of them, in either or any of the gaols aforesaid. And We Do Hereby strictly charge and command all Judges, Justices, Sheriffs, Constables, and other officers, and all other the citizens of this Common Wealth, to make diligent search and pursuit after the said Henry Skyles, Thomas Boyd, James Wilson, John Hastings, and Charles Caldwell, and to use their utmost endeavours to apprehend and secure them, that they may be proceeded against according to Law.”

Christopher Marshall wrote in his diary on 20 April that “The prisoners tried last Seventh day and night, viz. Col. and Capt. Boyd, James Wilson, Archibald Henderson and Charles Caldwell, for the murder of Capt. Hammond at Capt. Wallace’s the Seventeenth of February last, after a long trial, were acquitted, and Skyles and Hastings were run away; so not to be had this time” (Duane, Marshall’s Diary description begins William Duane, ed. Extracts from the Diary of Christopher Marshall, Kept in Philadelphia and Lancaster, during the American Revolution, 1774–1781. 1877. Reprint. New York, 1969. description ends , 177). Further proclamations on 13 May and 3 June reported that Skyles had fled to Philadelphia, and on 14 April 1779 he was attainted of high treason and his property confiscated (Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser [Lancaster], 13 May, 3 June 1778, Pennsylvania Gazette [Philadelphia], 14 April 1779). For other letters about Hammond’s death, see Wharton to GW, this date and 2 Mar., and GW to Wharton, 23 February.

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