George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Joseph Reed, 9 February 1779

To Joseph Reed

Head Quarters Middle Brook 9th Feby 1779


I have the honor of your Excellency’s favr of the 5th instant inclosing sundry Resolves of the Executive Council respecting the Conduct of Major General Arnold during his command in the City of Philada:1 previous to the Rect of your letter, General Arnold, who had arrived at Head Quarters the day before, had shewn me a letter from the Council to him accompanied by a Copy of the same Resolves, in which they advise him that a Copy was also laid before Congress2—This releived me from some doubts which arose in my mind respecting the line of conduct which the Council might expect me to pursue. For as the matter is before Congress, that Honble Body will no doubt decide upon the measures proper to be taken in the Affair.

I should have replied to yours of the 19h January respecting Colo. Atlees claim to rank before I left Philada had I not understood by a paper which was afterwards put into my hands, that the Delegates of Pennsylvania were instructed by the Council to represent the matter to Congress.3

I have a high opinion of Colo: Atlees merit and abilities as an Officer, but I do not see how he can be at this time promoted to the Rank of Brigadier. As the State have only two Brigades in the Feild they of course will only require two Brigadiers. They already have one—General Wayne—supposing General Hand to be out of the question—to supply the place of the other, Colonels Magaw and Irvin being senior officer have both superior pretensions to Colonel Atlee—If in the captivity of Colo. Magaw it is thought necessary to fill the place with another, Colo. Irwin will by right of seniority be the person. I have the honor to be &.

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

1Reed’s letter to GW of 5 Feb. has not been found. The Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council’s three resolutions of 3 Feb. regarding Arnold’s conduct were published in the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 9 February. The first resolution declared that his conduct had been “in many respects oppressive to the faithful subjects of this State, unworthy of his rank and station, highly discouraging to those who have manifested their attachment to the liberties and interests of America, and disrespectful to the Supreme Executive Authority of the State.” The second resolution said that “nothing but the most urgent and pressing necessity can justify or induce this Board to call forth any waggons or militia, or otherwise subject the good people of this State, to the power of the said General Arnold within the State, should he resume it upon his return.” The third resolution ordered the state’s attorney general to prosecute Arnold “for such illegal and oppressive conduct as is cognizable in the Courts of Law.” The council then listed eight particular allegations against Arnold, including closing stores and shops on his first arrival in the city, “imposing menial offices” on militiamen called out on active duty, interfering improperly in a naval prize dispute, using public wagons for private purposes, and improperly issuing passes to cross enemy lines.

In a letter to the public of 8 Feb., Arnold’s aide-de-camp Maj. Matthew Clarkson questioned why the council had not applied to GW for redress of their complaints during his stay in Philadelphia. Clarkson also requested the public “to suspend their judgement, and not to entertain prejudices against a man, who has so often fought and bled in their defence, and whose bravery, and generosity, have been so often felt, and acknowledged, even by our enemies. It is not difficult, though a very disagreeable task to refute every charge brought against this gentleman by the Council, on what they in justification of their proceedings say is alledged, and believed” (Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser, 9 Feb.). For Arnold’s subsequent court-martial on four of the council’s more serious charges, and his conviction on two of them after many months of delay, resulting in a public reprimand by GW, see General Orders, 20 April 1779 and 6 April 1780.

2Arnold had left Philadelphia early on the morning of 3 Feb., before the Pennsylvania council passed its resolutions of that date regarding his conduct. A copy of those resolutions were delivered to Arnold at Bristol, Pa., the following day by an express rider sent for that purpose by the council (see Arnold to the public, 19 Feb., in the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser [Philadelphia], 23 Feb.).

3The paper almost certainly was an undated document headed “State of the General Officers of Pennsylvania” from the Pennsylvania council to the state’s delegates in Congress, apparently sent on 20 Jan. (DLC:GW). There are also two copies of this document in DNA:PCC, item 69, vol. 1. All three documents contain council resolutions recommending the promotions of Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne to major general and colonels Robert Magaw and William Irvine to brigadier general, objecting to Edward Hand’s previous promotion to brigadier general over Magaw and Irvine, and supporting Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair’s claim of seniority in rank over Arnold. The copy in DNA:PCC on ff. 571–73 contains no mention of Samuel John Atlee, but the copy on ff. 579–82 includes the following resolution: “That in consequence of General [William] Thompson and Colonel Magaws captivity, and being thereby incapable of actual service, Colonel Samuel J. Atlee be recommended as a Brigadier of this state, he having entered into the Continental service on the fifteenth July 1776 and thereby becoming the senior Colonel from the state upon the promotion of the Colonels Magaw and Irwin” (see also the council’s covering letter to the Pennsylvania delegates of 20 Jan., signed by Reed, DNA:PCC, item 69, 1:575–78). The council’s letter was referred by Congress on 26 Jan. to the committee that had been appointed on 29 Dec. 1778 “to enquire into the state of the Pensylvania troops, and report whether an additional brigadier is wanting for the troops of that State” (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 , 12:1260; 13:117). Atlee, who had been elected a Pennsylvania delegate to Congress in November 1778, was a member of that committee. On 11 May 1779 the committee recommended to Congress the appointments of another major general and two more brigadier generals from Pennsylvania, but Congress chose to fill only one of the brigadier general positions, promoting Irvine to that rank the following day (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 , 14:574–78, 580).

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