George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Livingston, 3 March 1779

To William Livingston

Head Quarters Middle Brook 3d March 1779

Dear Sir

I was a few days ago honored with yours of the 18th ulto inclosing the depositions of several inhabitants and civil Officers respecting ill treatment recd from sundry Officers of the Army and a refusal in some of them to submit to the civil process—Major Call and Mr Heath two of the Officers are at Winchester in Virginia in Winter Quarters a very considerable distance from hence, but if you are of opinion that there is an immediate necessity for their appearance to answer the charges against them I will order them down—Capt. Von Heer and Mr Skinner are in Camp. From the conclusion of your letter you seem willing to suffer the matter to be compromised by the parties to prevent further trouble. I rather wish that the several charges may be fully investigated, that the Officers may, if they are found guilty, be dealt with according to law civil or military, in which ever Court they may be tried, or, if innocent, honorably acquitted. I therefore propose that the parties accusing Von Heer and skinner should institute Civil suits against them, to which I will engage they shall submit, or if they will leave it to a military determination, I will order a Court Martial which will be the speediest method of bringing it to an issue.1

I am every now and then embarrassed by disputes between the Officers and Inhabitants, which generally originate from the latter coming into Camp with liquor, selling it to the Soldiers, and, as the Officers alledge, taking Cloathing provisions or accoutrements in pay. there being no civil redress, that I know of, for a greivance of this nature, the Officers undertake to punish those suspected2 of such practices, sometimes with reason, and probably sometimes without foundation—If there is no law of the State to prevent this kind of commerce between the people and the Soldiery, it would have a very good effect, to procure one, prohibiting an inhabitant from selling liquor to the Soldiers, within the limits of the Camp, without leave obtained from the commanding Officer of the quarter into which it may be brought, and imposing a penalty, recoverable by a summary process before a Magistrate, upon any person receiving Arms, Accoutrements, Cloathing or provisions from a soldier by way of purchase, or in exchange for any commodity brought into Camp for sale.3 An act of this kind would releive the considerate Officer from the disagreeable necessity in which he is often involved, of submitting to a greivance destructive of every military principle, or undertaking to punish a Citizen by virtue of his own authority, and it will point out a mode of redress to others too willing perhaps to exercise military power4 when they have an oppertunity or excuse for so doing5—I congratulate you on your late escape at Eliza. Town6 as I am very sincerely Dear Sir Yr most obt.

I return you the Affidavits agreeable to your request.

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

1See Livingston to GW, 9 March. For efforts to resolve the dispute between Jonathan Dickerson and Lt. James John Skinner over allegations of confiscated forage and intimidation by an army officer, see GW to Livingston and Livingston to GW, both 12 April (DLC:GW).

2At this place on the draft, Tilghman first wrote “found guilty.” He then struck out those words and wrote “suspected” above the line.

3At this place on the draft, Tilghman wrote and struck out a sentence: “As It is my most earnest wish to support the Civil authority to its fullest extent, and I know of no more effectual method of doing this than pointing out a mode so it is my duty to endeavour to obtain a remedy for a grievance.”

4At this place on the draft, Tilghman first wrote “law.” He then struck out that word and wrote “power” above the line.

5Livingston repeated much of the text from GW’s letter in a draft message to the New Jersey general assembly dated 23 May that urged the legislators to enact measures to control liquor sales in army camps, but Livingston apparently never presented this message to the assembly (see Prince, Livingston Papers description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends , 3:96–97).

6Capturing Livingston was a goal of the British raid on Elizabeth, N.J., during the early morning hours of 25 February. For details on that thwarted attack and Livingston’s escape, see William Maxwell to GW, 25 and 27 Feb., and especially n.3 to the latter document.

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