George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Patterson, 2 March 1779

To William Patterson

Head Quarters [Middlebrook] 2d March 1779.


Inclosed I transmit you your instructions1—and letters for the officers commanding at the posts of Wyoming, Sunbury, and Fort Willis.2

Should any money be wanted preparatory to this business—you will apply to me for it. I am sir Yours &c.

Df, in John Laurens’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

William Patterson (1735 or 1737–1782) was born in Donegal, Lancaster County, Pa., and moved in the early 1750s to the Juniata Valley, where his father, James Patterson, became a prominent settler and military leader. Contemporaries as well as historical accounts sometimes have confused the identities of the two men. William Patterson served with the Pennsylvania Regiment during the French and Indian War, being commissioned an ensign in May 1756 and promoted to lieutenant in December 1757. About a year later, he assumed the captaincy of his father’s company. In October 1759, he kept a journal while scouting from Fort Pitt to Presque Isle (see Bouquet Papers description begins Donald H. Kent et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Bouquet. 6 vols. Harrisburg, Pa., 1951-94. description ends , 4:258–60). After his provincial regiment disbanded in late 1759, Patterson gathered intelligence around Presque Isle and assisted British lieutenant colonel Henry Bouquet on his expedition to establish a base at that place. Patterson subsequently returned to central Pennsylvania and apparently speculated in land. Often referred to as “colonel” in correspondence, this rank apparently came from his designation circa 1775 as a lieutenant colonel in the Lancaster County militia. For a posthumous attempt to secure compensation for Patterson’s service under GW in 1779, see Galbreath Patterson to GW, 10 Jan. 1792, Papers, Presidential Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series. 17 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1987–. description ends , 9:422–23.

1GW’s instructions to Patterson were written at Middlebrook on 1 March: “You are to obtain as minute and satisfactory information as possible on the following points—Vizt The Situation of the Towns belonging to the six nations and their dependent Tribes—The strength of each Town—Their disposition and designs with respect to War or peace—the relative distances of all remarkable places—as well as between each of them and the navigable waters of the Susquehanna, Allegany and Seneca Rivers—(the latter empties itself into Lake Ontario at Oswego)—You are also to obtain the best information you can of the Strength of the Garrison at Niagara—whether any Troops are expected in that quarter from Canada—to what amount—and what other aid the Six Nations can derive in case their Country is invaded.

“You will for those purposes employ intelligent, active and honest men, qualified for the service by a knowlege of the Country, language and manners of its inhabitants, to visit the several Towns and make the necessary observations and inquiries—You will proportion the number of these persons to the nature of the business—and a proper degree of expedition—their Pay you will make a reasonable compensation for the service—in both cases avoiding unnecessary expence to the public—The less they are acquainted with the end, & design of their mission the better—and if they had no knowledge of the business entrusted to each other the better chance would there be to come at the truth by comparing their Accts.

“Yourself and the persons employed under you in this business, are hereby entitled to protection and assistance in the prosecution of it—from all Officers commanding at the frontier posts—which you may have occasion to pass” (Df, in John Laurens’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. On the draft manuscript, GW inserted in his own handwriting all the words to the end of the first paragraph from the phrase beginning “You are also” as well as all the words to the end of the second paragraph from the phrase beginning “The less they”). GW apparently spoke to Patterson at Middlebrook in late February and early March (see John Cox to Nathanael Greene, 18 Feb., Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 3:274, and Greene to GW, 1 March).

GW’s assistant secretary James McHenry wrote from Middlebrook to Q.M. Gen. Nathanael Greene on this date: “His Excellency desires that you will give it in order to your deputies at Philadelphia, or elswhere to furnish Col. Wm Patterson with such articles in your department as he may judge necessary in the execution of the service he is going on—with which you have been made acquainted” (DLC:GW). For the awkwardness that arose in returning public property after Patterson’s assignment ended amid allegations of his ineptness and inappropriate behavior, see Patterson to Greene, 29 May, and Greene to Patterson, 11 June, Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 4:100, 143; see also GW to Joseph Reed, 8 and 19 April, RPJCB; GW to Edward Hand, 30 April, and to Patterson, 22 June, both DLC:GW; Reed to GW, 14 April, Hand to GW, 26 April, and Patterson to GW, 29 May, all DLC:GW.

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