George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Livingston, 9 April 1778

From William Livingston

Princeton [N.J.] 9th April 1778

Dear Sir

Since I had the honour of writing to your Excellency on the 4th instant,1 I received a Petition from several respectable Inhabitants of some of the lower Counties in this State, a Copy of which I inclose you.2 As it is impossible for me, considering the State of our Militia, to afford them any effectual relief, I thought it proper to make your Excellency acquainted with their unhappy Condition, that if possible you might order them such additional Troops as might induce the well-affected to repair to, which would be a mean of collecting a larger body of Militia than is likely to be raised any other way. If however your Excellency should think the measure improper, I shall not hesitate a moment to ascribe it to the impracticability of carrying it into execution consistant with your own Situation. At all events I thought it my duty to lay the State of those counties before you, which I believe is described in its true colours, and without any exaggeration.

I also transmit to your Excellency Collo. Mawhoods Summons to Collo. Hands, with the answer of the latter,3 and a number of Prisoners agreable to the inclosed List.4

I had a conference with Collo. Moyland on the Subject of some of the light horse being sent to recruit in the Counties below. The Collo. seems to think them unfit for service. Indeed I believe most of them incapable of any considerable duty. But I also think they would fare so much better in those parts as would be a full equivalent for their additional fatigue, not to say that I doubt much whether the Service they would be obliged to do with the same fare, would injure them more than their being on full gallop whenever they are mounted here. The Men are enough to ruin all the horses in the Country; and unless they are severely punished for their unmerciful ⟨mutilated⟩ of those generous Animals, I question whether the horse will be in better case a month hence than they are at present. I am with great Respect your Excellency’s most humble Servt

Wil: Livingston

P.S. Bankson went from hence to head Quarters the 29 of March, the very day I employ’d a man to watch him.5

The Prisoners above mentioned will set off today.


1Only an extract of Livingston’s letter of 4 April, made by Tench Tilghman for transmission to Elias Boudinot, has been found. For that text, see GW to Livingston, 11 April, n.2.

2The petition, dated 28 Mar. at Roadstown in Cumberland County, N.J., was signed by twelve civil officers and eleven military officers. They complained “That a large Detachment of the British Army a few weeks ago made an Invasion into the lower Counties of this State on Delaware, & plundered a few of the Inhabitants. That at present a larger Detachment are invading them a second time. That the Enemy in this second Incursion, have, as we have been credibly informed, by the express Orders of Coll Mawhood the commanding Officer, bayonetted & butchered in the most inhuman manner a Number of the Militia, who have unfortunately fallen into their hands. That Coll Mawhood immediately after the Massacre, in open Letters sent to both Officers and Privates by a Flag had the Effrontery to insult us with a demand, that we should lay down our Arms, & if not, threatened to burn destroy & lay the whole Country waste & more especially the Property of a Number of our most distinguished men, whom he named. That he has since actually put his Threat into Execution in one Instance by burning one of the finest dwelling houses in Salem County & all the other Buildings on the same Farm, the Property of Coll Benjamin Holme. That Plunder, Rapine & Devastation in the most fertile and populous Part of these Counties widely mark their Footsteps wherever they go. That they are spreading Disaffection, they are using every possible means to corrupt the minds of the People, they are publicly vending their Goods to People, who within their Lines have so little Virtue as to purchase from them.

“That we are in no State of defence. That we are so exposed by reason of our Situation, that some of our Officers civil & Military have moved out of these Counties for Safety. That our Militia during the last Winter have been so fatigued out by repeated Calls & continued Service, & disaffection is now so widely diffused, that very few can be called out, in some places none—That we have no Troops of light horse regularly embodied, there is a Scarcity of small Arms among us & no Feild Peices. That in these two Incursions we have very sensibly felt the Want of Feild-Pieces & Artillerymen That the number of us Assembled is so small, that though we should use the greatest Conduct & Bravery, we could only provoke, not injure our Enemy.

“That the Extent of our Country is so great, that our small Number of Men fatigued out, indifferently armed & without Field-Pieces, cannot defend it. That, as Delaware runs all along these Counties, we are liable to be attacked in numberless Places.

“That the Acquisition of these Counties would be of great Advantage to the Enemy. That they could nearly maintain their whole Army a Campaign by the Plunder, Forage & Assistance they could draw from them. That although the United States might not need them, yet it might perhaps be advisable to defend them to prevent the Advantage the Enemy might receive from them. That our Riches & former Virtue make us a Prey to an Enemy, whose tender Mercies are Cruelties.

“That in short our Situation is beyond discription deplorable. That the Powers civil & Military are daily relaxing & disaffection prevailing. That we can neither stay at our Houses, go out nor come in with Safety. That we can neither plough, plant sow, reap nor gather. That we are fast falling into Poverty, Distress and into the hands of our Enemy. That unless there can be sent to our Relief & Assistance a sufficient body of standing Troops, we must be under the disagreeable Necessity of leaving the Country to the Enemy & removing ourselves & families to distant places for Safety. That although the present Detachment may be fled & gone, before the Relief reaches us, yet a Body of Troops are necessary for our Protection as long as the Enemy possess Philadelphia. And that these are the Sentiments not only of us the Subscribers, but of all the rest of the Officers civil & Military & other the good Subjects of this State in these Counties.

“Your humble Petitioners having set forth these few hints, containing not the Half of their Distress & Misery, do humbly pray your Excellency to take the Premisses into Consideration & to give your humble Petitioners such Relief therein, as to your Excellency shall seem meet” (DLC:GW).

3British colonel Charles Mawhood, “induced by motives of Humanity,” had proposed from his headquarters at Salem, N.J., on 21 Mar., “to the Militia at Quintins Bridge & the neighbourhood as well Officers as private men to lay down their Arms & depart each man to his own home. On that condition he solemnly promisses to reimbark his Troops without delay doing no farther damage to the Country & he will cause his Commissaries to pay for the Cattle Hay & Corn that have been taken in Sterling money.

“If on the contrary the Militia should be so far deluded & blind to their true Interest & Happiness he will put the Arms which he has brought with him into the hands of the Inhabitants well affected called Tories & will attack all such of the Militia as remain in Arms, burn & destroy their houses & other Property & reduce them, their unfortunate Wives & Children to Beggary & Distress, & to convince them that these are not vain threats he has subjoined a list of the names of such as will be the first Objects to feel the Vengeance of the british nation” (DLC:GW).

Col. Elijah Hand replied the next day, from his headquarters at the bridge: “I have been favoured with what you say humanity has induced you to propose. It would have given me much Pleasure to have found that humanity had been the line of conduct to your Troops since you have come to Salem. Not only denying Quarters, but butchering our Men who surrendered themselves Prisoners in the Skirmish at Quintins Bridge last Thursday & bayonetting yesterday morning at Hancocks Bridge in the most cruel manner in cold Blood men who were taken by surprize in a Situation; in which they neither could nor did attempt to make any Resistance & some of whom were not fighting men are instances too shocking for me to relate & I hope for you to hear—The brave are ever generous & humane—After expressing your Sentiments of Humanity you proceed to make a request which I think you would despise us if we comply’d with. Your proposal—that we should lay down our Arms we absolutely reject, we have taken them up to maintain Rights which are dearer to us than our lives & will not lay them down ’till either Success has crowned our Cause with Victory, or like many Ancient Worthies contending for Liberty we meet with an honourable death, you mention that if we reject your Proposal you will put Arms into the hands of the Tories against us, We have no Objection to the Measure for it would be a very good one to fill our Arsenals with Arms—Your threats to wantonly destroy & burn our houses & other Property and reduce our Wives & Children to beggary & distress is a Sentiment which my humanity almost forbids me only to recite & induces me to imagine that I am reading the cruel Order of a barbarous Atila & not of a Gentleman brave generous & polished with a genteel European Education—To wantonly destroy will injure your Cause more than ours—It will encrease your Enemies and our Army—To destine to destruction the Property of our most distinguished men, as you have done in your Proposals is in my Opinion unworthy a generous foe & more like a rancorous feud between two contending Barons than a War carried on by one of the greatest Powers on Earth against a People nobly struggling for Liberty—A line of Honour would mark out that these men should share the fate of their Country—If your Arms should be crowned with Victory, which God forbid they & their Property will be entirely at the Disposal of your Sovereign. The loss of their Property while their Persons are out of your Power will only make them desperate & as I said before encrease your foes & our Army & retalliation upon Tories & their Property is not entirely out of our Power, Be assured that these are the Sentiments & determined resolution not of myself only but of all the Officers & Men under me” (DLC:GW). Elijah Hand (1730–1790), of Downe Township, had served on the Cumberland County committee created in December 1774 to enforce the articles of association. He was acting as a captain of militia by May 1775, was commissioned a lieutenant colonel of the 1st Battalion of Cumberland County militia on 4 Feb. 1777, and was promoted to colonel on 6 June 1777.

4The list of prisoners has not been identified, but for the names of thirty-four men that the New Jersey council of safety on 6 and 7 April agreed to send under guard to GW’s headquarters, see N.J. Council of Safety Minutes description begins Minutes of the Council of Safety of the State of New Jersey. Jersey City, 1872. description ends , 223–25.

5For the case of Jacob Bankson, see GW to Livingston, 25 Mar., and note 1 to that document.

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