George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Wharton, Jr., 10 March 1778

From Thomas Wharton, Jr.

In Council Lancaster [Pa.] March 10th 1778


In answer to your Excellencys letter of the seventh instant I beg leave to enclose you extracts of a letter to his Excellency the President of Congress from this Council; and a representation from the Council and the General Assembly to Congress, by which you Excellency will see that attention has been given to the supplying of the army with waggons and what is the opinion of Council respecting the difficulties attending this business.1

There is not any state on this continent which has been so oppressed with continental business as this has been from the beginning of the present controversy to this hour. It’s exertions have been so zealous and unremitting that no time has been lost in enquiries after groundless charges of neglect made against it which have been generally calculated to excuse indolent or improvident officers, or to disgrace the government established in it. The amazingly difficult task which your Excellency has to perform while you are embarrassed with perpetual applications and complaints of officers who are not fully acquainted with their duty, must too forcibly convince you how near to an impossibility it is, to conduct very extensive business without the subordinate officers discharging in some sort, their duty: And it is from the example of your Excellency alone that it is believed to be possible to conduct the affairs of a large army under the difficulties which you have had to contend with; equal abilities or success in attempts of this kind are not to be expected in many instances. And this Council must acknowledge that they are not equal to the task imposed on them, if it is understood to be their duty to furnish every deputy Quarter master with four or five waggons whenever they are wanted, and to give equal attention to every other department of the state and army—This indeed seems to be expected of them: For there is at present an absolute dependance on the Council to supply the common rations of the soldiery now in this borough. An earnest desire to serve the general cause, and a Zealous attachment to its interest are the only motives which could possible induce the Council to undertake such business in any extremity.

The unparalleled patience and magnanimity with which the army under your Excellencys command, have endured the hardships attending their situation, unsupplied as they have been, thro’ an uncommonly severe winter, is an honor which posterity will consider as more illustrious, that could have been derived to them by a Victory obtained by any sudden and vigorous exertion. The latter often depends on some circumstance triffling in itself; while the former is derived from a determined perseverance thro’ the greatest difficulties which virtue and a truly patriotic spirit only can inspire. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your Excellencys Very humble servant

Tho. Wharton jun. Prest

LS, DLC:GW; Df, PHarH: Records of Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments, 1775–1790.

1The two extracts were on the same sheet of paper. The extract from the council’s letter to Henry Laurens of 7 Mar. is undated and reads: “The distress to which his Excellency General Washington has been reduced by the want of timely supplies must give pain to every heart capable of being affected by the injuries done to the brave and generous. You may be assured, Sir, that this Council have seen and lamented his situation; and have done every thing in our power to relieve him—Repeated and pressing instructions have been given to the waggon masters to use the utmost diligence in complying with the law so as to yield, as early as possible, all the assistance in their power toward a full supply of waggons. Had an earlier attention been given to this important service, by those who have had the direction of the department on which this depends, and a larger circle round the several places where the demands for waggons have been greatest and most frequent, it is probable that the late inconveniencies might have been avoided, and any sudden emergency readily supplied by the waggons near our towns: But these by repeated sudden demands, are now almost worn out, and the horses rendered incapable of the severe task of travelling thro’ the present excessive bad roads. This service falls extremely heavy on this state. It may deserve the serious attention of Congress, or the Board of War, to enquire whether some assistance from the other states, will not be absolutely necessary in the waggon service. The efforts in Pennsylvania in this way, has been very strenuous throughout the war. While the army was in the neighbouring states, great numbers of our teams were in the service; but there does not appear to be any considerable assistance from the adjoining states in the present great extremity.

“The abuses committed by the Quarter masters in procuring waggons, of which the people of this State loudly complained, induced the General Assembly to pass an Act to regulate this business for the mutual advantage of the people of the state, and of the general service.”

The extract of the council’s representation to Congress of 6 Mar., reads: “And as the Waggon service is of great importance we should be wanting in the respect which we owe to Congress if we omitted to mention, That the delay of Payment for these former services is plead by the people as an excuse for their unwillingness, and, in some instances, absolute refusal of whole townships to render further service in this way” (DLC:GW).

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