George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Gordon, 15 April 1778

From William Gordon

Jamaica Plain [Mass.] Apr. 15. 1778

My dear Sir

When you have perused the enclosed, pray you to put it under cover & forward it to Genl Gates.1 Should not Genl Burgoyne have practised bribery & corruption, he might propose the question from what he had seen heard & observed while at Cambridge: but the question reminded me of what was wrote you the 12th of Jany. Some things I have heard since have tended to corroborate my suspicion. I have been assured, that Fort Stanwix was within an ace of being lost for want of powder—that a part of Col. Weston’s regiment was in the Fort—that repeated application was made at Albany for ammunition, but none sent—that Col. Weston’s Lieut. Col. being down, determind upon having it, went & saw to its being put into the boats & accompanied it up the Mohawk river, but was too late to get in every boat, the last falling into the hand of the enemy—that upon the Lieut. Colonel’s getting into the Ferry he told the commander before several of the garrison, that it was reported below that the Fort was to be given up, that he would defend it while the garrison would stand by him, & that if he (the commander) went into any measures to deliver it up he would immediately put him under an arrest. However there was not any thing in the conduct of the commander that ever shewed an inclination of surrendering it.2 But it is said, that an Oneida friendly Indian with the enemy, before Ty was taken,3 gave another Oneida friendly Indian the opportunity of hearing the enemy officers declare when together in consultation, that Ty & Stanwix were to be given up. I remember that I left Ty Oct. 5. 1776, got to Albany the monday following,4 at the desire of Genl Gates mentioned on the tuesday morning that he was expecting the powder &c.—recd for answer that it was going to be sent off that very day, but for several days after the engagements on the Lake, the last of which was on the 13th,5 he had not more than two ton, from whence I infer that he had not recd &c. The mention of these things I think may be of service, as your Excellency being commander in chief is concern’d in the whole plan of operations offensive & defensive.

I wish you may not suffer for want of the re-inforcements. Very unhappily, our General Court instead of applying themselves the last winter to the business of providing for the opening of the Campaign, were employed in framing a constitution. They have now been sitting a fortnight, but I do not learn that any thing effective has been done.6 Possibly several may be afraid of going into vigorous measures lest it should endanger th⟨e⟩ir approaching election. Tis vexatious & melancholy to see how strangely & absurdly men act. However infinite Wis⟨dom may br⟩ing good out of their foolishness. The scheme of a change being laid before the publick ere it was ripened, tended to prevent it, & the voice of the people was so against it, that no one would dare to own that there was any such design. it was denied by some that I am morally certain were seeking it. Had not Col. Marshall’s absence from Boston prevented my conversing with him, I should have omitted some particulars which I informd you had been wrote respecting the camp, as I afterwards learnt from him that they were not truths;7 however it might be as well that your Excellency should know what had been circulated.

I most heartily pray that You may be preserved & succeeded this campaign to the utmost of your wishes. Mrs Gordon joins in sincere respects to Self & Lady, with my dear Sir, your Excellencys most affectionate friend & humble servant

William Gordon


1The enclosure, probably a report of a 1 April conversation between Gordon and Gen. John Burgoyne, has not been identified. GW forwarded the enclosure to Gates with his letter of 2 May.

2James Mellen was lieutenant colonel of Col. James Wesson’s Massachusetts regiment. Col. Peter Gansevoort was in command at Fort Stanwix, which he called Fort Schuyler, during the British siege of August 1777. In a letter to Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler of 3 July 1777, Gansevoort warned, “should we be invested, we will require a considerable supply of ammunition, which, together with a proper supply of Provisions, I beg your honor will order this way with as much dispatch as possible,” and he reinforced the request with additional letters on 4 and 6 July (DNA:PCC, item 63).

3Gordon is referring to the American loss of Fort Ticonderoga on 5 June 1777.

4The following Monday was 7 Oct. 1776.

5Gordon is referring to the defeat of the American fleet at Valcour Island on 11 Oct. 1776 and the subsequent British attack on the retreating fleet north of Crown Point, N.Y., on 13 Oct. 1776.

6On 5 May 1777 the Massachusetts general assembly had voted to give the men elected to the next legislature “full powers in one body with the Council” to form a new constitution (Mass. Constitution description begins A Constitution and Form of Government for the State of Massachusetts-Bay. Agreed upon by the Convention of said State, February 28, 1778, to be laid before the several Towns and Plantations in said State, for their Approbation or Disapprobation. Boston, 1778. description ends , 3–4). A committee appointed in June 1777 “to draw up a form of Government” reported in December 1777, and the legislators, who began discussing the report in January 1778, approved the new constitution on 28 Feb. 1778. Not long after, on 13 Mar. 1778 the general assembly was prorogued until 1 April. Gordon opposed and wrote against the new constitution, which was defeated in voting at town meetings (see Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 23 June and 22 Dec. 1777, 23 Mar. 1778; “Mass. Council Journal,” description begins In Journals, Minutes, and Proceedings, State of Massachusetts Bay, 1775–1780. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records.) description ends Aug. 1777–Oct. 1778 sess., 361–62; Cushing, Transition from Provincial to Commonwealth Government in Massachusetts description begins Harry A. Cushing. History of the Transition from Provincial to Commonwealth Government in Massachusetts. New York, 1896. description ends , 207–26).

7Gordon is referring to information contained in his letter of 25 February.

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