George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Brigadier General William Maxwell, 16 February 1779

To Brigadier General William Maxwell

Head Quarters [Middlebrook] Feby 16th 1779


I have received your favour of yesterday—Your observations on the necessity of the Deputy Commissary of prisoners residing on the spott are just—I was not before fully apprised of Mr Adam’s situation. There certainly can be no propriety in any officers staying at his own home, for private conveniences, seven or eight miles from the place where his duty calls him while public business is suffering for want of his presence—I shall therefore desire Mr Beatty to direct his deputy to reside for the future at Elizabeth Town—and I shall give particular instructions that the several irregularities you complain of may be remedied.1

I should be happy to indulge your request of being present at Plukemin—on the 18th—But I do not think it can be done with propriety, especially under the present appearances of a movement among the enemy, which your letter concurring with the intelligence received from Capt. Stokes—indicates—The enemy may think our attention too much engaged in the exhibition of that day, and may be encouraged to some enterprise on that account—I must therefore beg you will remain at your post, and have a look out more vigilant than ordinary upon the occasion—You will for that purpose give notice2 to all your guards and parties along the sound—and enjoin them to be particularly alert.3 I am Sir Your most Obedt servant.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Maxwell’s letter to GW of 15 Feb. has not been found. For John Adam’s service as deputy commissary of prisoners at Elizabeth, N.J., see GW to Maxwell, 13 Feb., and n.2 to that document.

2Hamilton inadvertently wrote “notive” on the draft manuscript.

3The celebration of the first anniversary of the signing of the treaty of commerce and alliance with France on 6 Feb. 1778 had been delayed to 18 Feb. 1779 because GW had not returned to Middlebrook from Philadelphia until 5 February. Brig. Gen. Henry Knox, who was in charge of the festivities, wrote on 28 Feb. from Pluckemin, N.J., to his brother William in Boston: “We had at the [artillery] Park on the 18th A most genteel entertainment given by self & officers—everybody allow⟨ed⟩ it to be the first of the kind ever exhibited in this state at least We had above seventy Ladies—all of the first ton in the State—We danced all night—between 3 & 400 Gentlemen—An Elegant room—The Illuminating fire Works &c. were more than pretty.

“If I should see no good account published I will send a particular account—it was to celebrate the Alliance between France & America” (NNGL; see also Thacher, Military Journal description begins James Thacher. Military Journal of the American Revolution, From the commencement to the disbanding of the American Army; Comprising a detailed account of the principal events and Battles of the Revolution, with their exact dates, And a Biographical Sketch of the most Prominent Generals. Hartford, 1862. description ends , 159).

The New-Jersey Gazette (Trenton) for 3 March reported: “The anniversary of our alliance with FRANCE was celebrated on the 18th ultimo at Pluck’emin, at a very elegant entertainment and display of fire-works given by General Knox, and the officers of the corps of artillery. It was postponed to this late day on account of His Excellency General Washington’s absence from camp.

“General Washington—the principal officers of the army; Mrs. Washington—Mrs. Greene—Mrs. Knox; the gentlemen and ladies for a large circuit round the camp, were of the company. Besides these, there was a vast concourse of spectators from every part of the Jersies.

“The barracks of the artillery are at a small distance from Pluck’emin, on a piece of rising ground which shews them to great advantage. The entertainment and ball were held in the academy of the Park.

“About four o’clock in the afternoon, the celebration of the Alliance was announced by the discharge of THIRTEEN cannon, when the company assembled in the academy, to a very elegant dinner. The room was spacious, and the tables very prettily disposed both as to prospect and convenience.—The festivity was universal, and the toasts descriptive of the happy event, which had given certainty to our liberties, empire—and independence.

“In the evening was exhibited a very fine set of fire-works, conducted by [Lt.] Col. [Ebenezer] Stevens—arranged on the point of a Temple of one hundred feet in length, and proportionably high. The Temple shewed THIRTEEN arches, each displaying an illuminated painting.—The centre arch was ornamented with a pediment, larger than any of the others;—and the whole edifice supported by a colonnade, of the Corinthian order.

The illuminated paintings were disposed in the following order:

“The 1st arch on the right represented the commencement of hostilities at Lexington, with this inscription. The scene opened.

“2d. British clemency. Represented in the burning of Charlestown, Falmouth, Norfolk and Kingston.

“3d. The separation of America from Britain. A magnificent arch broken in the centre, with this motto. By your tyranny to the people of America you have separated the wide arch of an extended empire.

“4th. Britain represented as a decaying empire–by a barren country–broken arches–fallen spires–ships deserting its shores–birds of prey hovering over its mouldering cities–and a gloomy setting sun.—


“The Babylonian spires are sunk—

“Achaia–Rome–and Egypt mouldered down.

“Time shakes the state tyranny of thrones,

“And tottering empires rush by their own weight.

“5th. America represented as a rising Empire. Prospect of a fertile country–harbours–and rivers covered with ships—new canals opening–cities rising amidst woods–a splendid sun emerging from a bright horizon. Motto.

“New worlds are still emerging from the deep,

“The old descending in their turns to rise.

“6th. A grand illuminated representation of Louis the sixteenth. The encourager of letters—-the supporter of the rights of humanity–the ally and friend of the American People.

“7th. The centre arch. The Fathers in Congress. Motto. Nil desperandum reipublicæ.

“8th. The American Philosopher and Ambassador [Benjamin Franklin] extracting lightening from the clouds.

“9th. The battle near Saratoga, 7th October, 1777.

“10th. The Convention of Saratoga.

“11th. A representation of the sea fight off Ushant, between Count D’Orvilliers [Louis Guillouet, comte d’Orvilliers] and Admiral Kepple [Augustus Keppel].

“12th. [Joseph] Warren–[Richard] Montgomery–[Hugh] Mercer–[David] Wooster–[Francis] Nash–and a croud of heroes who have fallen in the American contest, in Elisium, receiving the thanks and praises of Brutus–Cato–and those spirits who in all ages have gloriously struggled against tyrants and tyranny. Motto. Those who shed their blood in such a cause shall live and reign for-ever.

“13th[.] Represented peace with all her train of blessings. Her right hand displayed an olive branch—at her feet lay the honors of harvest—the back ground was filled with flourishing cities–ports crouded with ships–and other emblems of an extensive empire, and unrestrained commerce.

“When the fire works were finished the company returned to the academy, and concluded the celebration by a very splendid ball.—

“The whole was conducted in a style and manner that reflects great honor on the taste of the managers.

“The news, announced to Congress, from the Spanish branch of the house of Bourbon, arriving at the moment of celebration, nothing could have, so opportunely, encreased the good humour of the company, or added to the those animated expressions of pleasure which arose on the occasion.” For this false rumor of a Spanish alliance and loan, see GW to Henry Laurens, 17 February.

The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 6 March published a letter “from a foreigner to a gentleman in this city,” dated “Near Middlebrook Camp,” 22 Feb., that described the Continental soldiers in their winter quarters as well as the entertainment at Pluckemin on 18 Feb.: “His Excellency the Commander in Chief arrived from his Head-quarters about three o’clock in the afternoon. Mrs. Washington was in a carriage, accompanied by that steady friend to the rights of mankind, Mr. [Henry] Laurens, the late President of Congress. I had also the pleasure of seeing Mr. [William] Duer, late a Member of that Honourable Body from the state of New-York.

“I was introduced to Mrs. Washington, Mrs. Greene, Mrs. Knox, and a circle of brilliants, the least of which seemed more valuable than that stone of immense price which the King of Portugal received from his Brazilian possessions.

“About four o’clock the occasion was announced by a discharge of thirteen round of cannon. We then repaired to the academy to dinner. The company was composed of the most respectable Gentlemen and Ladies for a considerable circuit round the camp, and as many of the officers of the army as could possibly attend.

“I had, till now, only seen the outside of the academy. It was raised several feet above the other buildings, and capped with a small cupola, which had a very good effect. The great room was fifty feet by thirty, arched in an agreeable manner, and neatly plaistered within. At the lower end of the room was a small enclosure, elevated above the company, where the preceptor to the park gave his military lessons. This was converted into an orchestra, where the music of the army entertained the company. The stile of the dinner was of that happy kind, between the extremes of parade and unmeaning profusion, and a too great sparingness and simplicity of dishes. Its luxury could not have displeased a republican. The toasts were descriptive of the day, while the joy and complacency of the company could have given umbrage to none, except our enemies the British.

“Just as night came on, we were called upon to the exhibition of fire works. These were under the direction of Colonel Stevens of the artillery. The eye was very agreeably struck with the frontispiece of a temple, about one hundred feet in length. It was divided into thirteen arches, each arch embellished with an illuminated painting, allegoric of the progress of your empire, or the wise policy of your alliance; the center arch was ornamented with a pediment, and proportionably larger than the others; the whole supported by a colonade of the Corinthian order. The different works in pyrotechny were very agreeably disposed, and displayed to great advantage.

“In all public rejoicings, I make it a point to mix with the multitude; if they are not pleased, the demonstration may be considered as wrong. In the present instance I was charmed to find that every man’s heart went along with the occasion.

“When the fire works were finished, the company returned to the academy, the same room that had served to dine in served to dance in; the tables were removed, and had left a range for about thirty couple, to foot it to no indifferent measure. As it was a festival given by men who had not enriched themselves by the war, the lights were cheap and of their own manufacture; the seats the work of their own artizans; and for knights of different orders, there were hardy soldiers, happy in the thought of having some hand in bringing round what they were celebrating.

“The ball was opened by his Excellency the General. When this man unbends from his station, and its weighty functions, he is even then like a philosopher who mixes with the amusements of the world, that he may teach it what is right, or turn its trifles into instruction.

“As it is too late in the day for me to follow the windings of a fiddle, I contented myself with the conversation of some one or other of the Ladies during the interval of dancing….

“I do not recollect that I have ever been more pleased on any occasion or in so large a company: There could not be less than sixty Ladies.”

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