George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Alexander McWhorter, 12 October 1778

To Alexander McWhorter

Head Qrs Fredericksburg 12th Otbr 1778


There are now under sentance of death, in the provost, a Farnsworth and Blair, convicted of being spies from the enemy, and of publishing counterfeit Continental currency.1 It is hardly to be doubted but that these unfortunate men are acquainted with many facts respecting the enemys affairs, and their intentions which we have not been able to bring them to acknowlege. Besides the humanity of affording them the benefit of your profession, it may in the conduct of a man of sense answer another valuable purpose—And While it serves to prepare them for the other world, it will naturally lead to the intelligence we want in your inquiries into the condition of their spiritual concerns. You will therefore be pleased to take the charge of this matter upon yourself, and when you have collected in the course of your attendance such information as they can give you will transmit the whole to me. I am Sir &c.

G. W——n

Df, in James McHenry’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

Alexander McWhorter (1734–1807) graduated from the College of New Jersey at Princeton in 1757, and the following year he was licensed as a Presbyterian preacher. By the beginning of the Revolutionary War, McWhorter had gained considerable prominence as minister of the Presbyterian church at Newark, New Jersey. He also was a strong supporter of the American cause, and he apparently became acquainted with GW in late June 1775, when GW stopped at Newark on his way north from Philadelphia to take command of the Continental army in Massachusetts. Forced to flee from Newark in November 1776, when British forces occupied the town and ransacked his parsonage, McWhorter attached himself to GW’s retreating army as an unofficial chaplain at large. In the summer of 1777, McWhorter became chaplain of Brig. Gen. Henry Knox’s Continental artillery brigade. He served in that capacity until sometime in the fall of 1778, when he resigned in order to return to Newark and care for his wife, who had been injured by a lightning bolt. In the spring of 1779 McWhorter moved to Charlotte, N.C., to become minister of the Presbyterian church there and president of a local academy, but he returned north after the British invaded the Charlotte area in early 1780. In April 1781 he resumed his duties as pastor of his old church in Newark, where he remained for the rest of his life.

1For the trials of David Farnsworth and John Blair, see Horatio Gates to GW, 9 Oct., and note 1 to that document, and GW to Gates, 10 October. For GW’s order for their executions, see General Orders, 23 October. They were put to death at Hartford on 3 November.

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