George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Colonel Israel Shreve, 6 April 1778

To Colonel Israel Shreve

Head Quarters Valley Forge 6th April 1778


I am favd with yours of the 3d instant inclosing the proceedings of a Court Martial held upon William Seeds and Thomas Carter.1 As no Officer under the Rank of a Brigadier commanding in a separate State has a power of appointing a Court for the trial of capital Offences I am obliged to disapprove the sentences as inflicted by a Court illegially constituted. But that the prisoner Seeds may not escape I have inclosed you a power to constitute another Court which may consist of the same members if they are at hand2—By the Resolve of Congress we are not empowered to try persons, inhabitants of the States, if taken more than thirty Miles from the Head Quarters of the Army.3 You must therefore deliver Carter to the Civil authority.

I hope Major Howell may be able to effect something against the Tories at Billingsport, who may probably be surprised by a vigilant Officer.

If Cattle or provisions of any kind can be collected in any parts of the Country within the Enemy’s reach it ought by all means to be done. Some of the Commissaries should attend and give Receipts for what is taken. I am Sir Your most obt Servt

Go: Washington

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

1Shreve’s letter has not been found. William Seeds (Seed), a corporal in Capt. James Holmes’s company of the 4th New Jersey Regiment, was retried for desertion, convicted, and executed on 23 April (see Shreve to GW, 10 April, and note 5, and 3 May). Samuel, not Thomas, Carter was also retired on a charge of deserting from Col. Bodo Otto’s 1st Regiment of Gloucester County, N.J., militia and joining the enemy in arms. He too was sentenced to death, but GW referred his fate to William Livingston in a letter of 15 April. The relevant portion of Livingston’s reply to GW of 27 April is not included in the surviving extract, leaving Carter’s fate unknown.

2The enclosure, dated 6 April and signed by GW, is with the LS at TxHU.

3GW is referring to the powers granted him by a congressional resolution of 8 Oct. 1777 and extended on 30 Dec. 1777 (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 , 9:784, 1068).

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