George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Read, 2 March 1778

From George Read

Dover [Del.] March 2d 1778.

Sir,

Your Favor of the 26th of February was handed to me by Capt. Lee, who was mistaken in his Representation, that there was no Law in the State to punish the harbouring of Deserters; such a Law was enacted in February 1777 upon your Recommendation, and the Mode of recovering the Penalties therein is both easy and expeditious.1 It may be said, and I think with Justice, that those Penalties are now too small, owing in some Degree to the rapid Depreciation of the Currency of the States, and you may rely on my laying this before the General Assembly, who undoubtedly will remedy the Defect.2 What may be the Numbers of Deserters among us, or the Conduct of the People generally towards them, I will not venture to say positively, but upon the best Information I have as yet obtained, I suspect the Representation made to you is exaggerated; so far as this may extend to Capt. Lee, he is no otherwise chargeable than relying on the Information of some of the Military, that were here before him, who speak and act at Random.

Your Favors of the 18th and 22d Feby were delivered to me on the 28th by Co’l Blaine. I have ordered Copies of your inclosed Address to be made and circulated throughout the State, as we have no News-Paper printed within it.3

At the first Meeting of the General Assembly I laid before them your Favor of the 19th of January recommending the Method of Draughting as the only effectual one to compleat their Battalion, but they have not adopted it, instead thereof they increased the Bounty to the Recruit, by adding forty five Dollars, and gave a Premium of thirty five more to the Officer.4 In this I learn the Members were very unanimous—could this have been done in November last, it might have answered the End, but I think it inadequate now. The Officers since this Vote have inlisted about fifty Persons. You had just Cause to express great Concern, that the Legislature here had not taken timely and effectual Means for raising their Quota of Troops, as you knew it had been specially required by Congress in their Resolutions of the 17th of October last;5 but neither those Resolves nor any others, passed since the Battle at Brandywine, were transmitted to us ’till the 10th of February last; all that were transmitted before fell into the Hands of the Enemy with our President, which I made known to Congress in November.6

As to Cloathing I have Reason to believe we shall have a sufficiency for the beginning of the Campaign, including that taken from the wreck’d Schooner, which I mentioned to you in my last Letter, but my Intelligence from Congress, of the 12th of February, is “That they have lately purchased Cloathing to a very great Amount at Boston &c. and the Battalion will be furnished by the Clothier-General.”7 I doubt the Fact and know well that such Accounts have fatal Effects lulling the People at large, who are inclined to credit every Thing of the Sort, into Inaction; so it hath frequently happened as to the Numbers of your Army.

Your Excellency could not be supposed to know of the Interruption given by the Military to the Election of Representatives, mentioned in my last, as the Corp who occasioned it were raised and have continued under the immediate Direction of Congress; had it been otherwise, I should have explained the Conduct to you. An Election hath been ordered at this Meeting, and this is the Day for the holding it.8 I have Hopes we shall do better—Believe me, Sir, I feel for your Situation, it is a delicate one; and I well know that you have not that Support which it is our (the Middle States I mean) Duty and Interest to afford You, however, I shall use my best Endeavours in this small Department to further it, and I am with great Esteem and Respect Your most obedt Servt

Geo: Read

ALS, DLC:GW; ADf, DeHi.

1“An Act against Desertion, and harbouring Deserters, or Dealing with them in certain Cases,” which the Delaware legislature had passed on 22 Feb. 1777, made the offense of harboring “cognizable before any two Justices of the Peace of the County where the same shall be committed, and upon due Conviction thereof, by the Oath or Affirmation of one credible Witness, or upon Confession of the Party or the Knowledge of such Justices, or either of them,” with penalties levied by a sale of the offender’s goods and a portion of the proceeds paid to the informer (Del. Acts description begins Anno Millesimo Septingentesimo Septuagesimo Sexto. At a General Assembly begun at New-castle, in the Delaware State, the Twenty-eighth Day of October, Anno Domini 1776, and continued by Adjournment to the Twenty-second Day of February 1777, the following Acts were passed . . .. [Wilmington, Del., 1777]. description ends , Feb. 1777 sitting, ch. 90, pp. 345–47).

2A new bill on desertion was introduced in the assembly on 13 March, and an act was passed on 4 April (Del. Proceedings description begins Anno Millesimo Septingentesimo Septuagesimo Octavo. At a General Assembly begun at Dover, in the Delaware State, the first Day of December, Anno Domini 1777, and continued by Adjournment till the 4th of April 1778, the Following Act Was Passed . . .. [Wilmington, Del., 1778]. description ends , 372–73, 380, 385–86). It quadrupled the fines for those convicted of harboring or assisting, receiving property from, or knowing of but not reporting deserters to $80, $80, and $40, respectively, but left the fine for enticing desertion at $100. The new law also provided that if a male of military age could not pay his fine, he “shall be adjudged to serve in the Regiment belonging to this State six Months” (Del. Acts description begins Anno Millesimo Septingentesimo Septuagesimo Octavo. At a General Assembly begun at Dover, in the Delaware State, the first Day of December, Anno Domini 1777, and continued by Adjournment till the 4th of April 1778, the Following Act Was Passed . . .. [Wilmington, Del., 1778]. description ends , April 1778 sitting, 1–4).

3The favor of 18 Feb. was probably GW’s Circular to the Chief Executives of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, 19 Feb., which enclosed GW’s Proclamation on Cattle of 18 February.

4Read referred GW’s letter to the Delaware general assembly on 21 February. The bill passed on 25 Feb. offered the bounty for enlistments between 1 Feb. and 1 May. On 2 May the assembly concurred with a council resolution extending the bounty to 1 July because the deficiency, which in February was calculated to be 420 men, had not been made up (Del. House Proceedings description begins Claudia L. Bushman et al., eds. Proceedings of the Assembly of the Lower Counties on Delaware, 1770–1776, of the Constitutional Convention of 1776, and of the House of Assembly of the Delaware State, 1776–1781. Newark, Del., 1986. description ends , 363–67, 403).

5Citing the “manifest disadvantages” resulting from the deficiencies in state regiments, the Continental Congress had resolved on 17 Oct. 1777 “That it be earnestly recommended to the said states to use their utmost endeavours for immediately compleating their several quotas” (DLC:GW; 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 , 9:813).

6Read had written Henry Laurens on 25 Nov. 1777 reporting the loss of congressional records and asking for new copies (DNA:PCC, item 70). Laurens sent copies of the missing acts to Read on 30 Jan. (see Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 8:690–91), which Read received on 10 Feb. (see Read to Thomas McKean, 4–9 Mar., in Read, Life of George Read description begins William Thompson Read. Life and Correspondence of George Read: A Signer of the Declaration of Independence with Notices of Some of His Contemporaries. Philadelphia, 1870. description ends , 303–7).

7See Read to GW, 5 February. For discussion of the schooner, see William Smallwood to GW, 10 Jan., and note 3 to that document. Read’s intelligence of 12 Feb. came from Thomas McKean (see Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 9:85–87). In his message to the general assembly of 10 March, Read recommended “immediate attention” to “the future Supply of Cloathing for the Battalion belonging to the State” (Del. House Proceedings description begins Claudia L. Bushman et al., eds. Proceedings of the Assembly of the Lower Counties on Delaware, 1770–1776, of the Constitutional Convention of 1776, and of the House of Assembly of the Delaware State, 1776–1781. Newark, Del., 1986. description ends , 369).

8On the interruption to the election in Sussex County in October 1777, see Read to GW, 5 Feb. 1778, and note 1 to that document. At the election of 2 Mar. 1778, William Peery, one of the military officers instrumental in stopping the first election, was among those elected to the assembly (see Caesar Rodney to McKean, 9 Mar. 1778, in Ryden, Rodney Letters description begins George Herbert Ryden, ed. Letters to and from Caesar Rodney, 1756–1784. Philadelphia, 1933. description ends , 253).

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