George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General John Sullivan, 3 March 1779

To Major General John Sullivan

Hd Qrs [Middlebrook] 3d March 1779

Dr sir

Notwithstanding your letter of the 20th Ult. was directed to be forwarded in the most expeditious manner, yet it did not reach me till last night.1

I shall write this day to Mr Wadsworth, who is at Hartford in Connecticut on the subject of the civil process against Capn Sessions and suggest a compromise, and his endeavours for the withdrawing, of the suit.2 Should this be agreed to, by the commissary who is the prosecutor it will no doubt be expected on your part that the military court should be suspended. If the affair is to be carried further3 I can have no objection to a court for the tryal of the commissary who is the principal object of your complaint. However to prevent any questions which might arise from its being composed of judges who may be supposed to have their feelings in some degree interested, it will be necessary4 to hold it in another department. But I would suppose5 the affair may be otherwise adjusted—and do not doubt but that Mr Wadsworth will promote this amicable purpose as he informed me sometime ago that all differences were ⟨at⟩ an end6—I am &.

G. W——n

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

1This letter of 20 Feb. from Sullivan to GW has not been found.

2At this place on the draft, McHenry first wrote “if practicable.” He then struck out those words and wrote “of the suit” to complete the sentence.

3At this place on the draft, McHenry first wrote “prosecuted.” He then struck out that word and wrote “carried further” above the line.

4At this place on the draft, McHenry first wrote “proper.” He then struck out that word and wrote “necessary” above the line.

5At this place on the draft, McHenry first wrote “hope.” He then struck out that word and wrote “suppose” above the line.

6GW is referring to correspondence arising from the actions of Sullivan and Amasa Sessions to procure provisions in Connecticut for the Continental army in Rhode Island during the previous autumn (see Sullivan to GW, 20 and 23 Nov. 1778; Jeremiah Wadsworth to GW, 25 Nov. 1778; and GW to Sullivan, 26 Nov. 1778; see also Nathanael Greene to Wadsworth, 6 March 1779, 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 , 3:335–36). Amasa Sessions (1715–1799) served as captain of a militia company during the French and Indian War, but otherwise lived his entire life in Pomfret, Conn., where he inherited his father’s farm, engaged in various businesses, and held local offices. He was the younger brother of Darius Sessions, a prominent merchant and political figure in Providence, Rhode Island. For information on Amasa Sessions during his early adulthood, especially his sexual liaison with a young Pomfret woman whose death in 1742 led to a court case, see Cornelia Hughes Dayton, “Taking the Trade: Abortion and Gender Relations in an Eighteenth-Century New England Village,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 48 (1991): 19–49.

Upset with the legal proceedings being launched against Sessions, an agent for the Rhode Island mercantile firm of Clark & Nightingale, Sullivan wrote Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., a letter on 17 Feb. 1779 from Providence, R.I., which reads: “I have the honor to Inclose your Excellency Copy of a process against Capt Sessions of Pomfret Set on foot by one Colo McLullen [Samuel McClellan] a Depy Commissary in your State who not Content with having Endeavored to Starve the Army in this Department is now prosecuting the man Employed by Clark & Nightingale to purchase provisions for the Army the process is founded on an Embargo Laid by your Excellency which I never Supposed & I am Sure you never Intended Should be Extended to prevent any person purchasing & bringing from your State provisions for the use of the Army here—my Troops had been twelve Days with only two Days bread or Flour when I applied to Clark & Nightingale to purchase we had Indeed fresh meat but I had Borrowed from the Board of War in Boston Saltd provisions which they Calld for in the most pressing terms & which the Commissaries Said they could not Supply me with & for this Reason I Employd Clark & Nightingale to furnish the Hogs &c mentioned in the process—I think it Exceeding hard that any State Should prevent or Endeavor to prevent the Commander of an Army from purchasing provisions to keep the Army from Perishing. I therefore Conclude that your Excellency will not Suffer a process to go on which must Eventually if maintained End in great Expence to the publick as I cannot in Justice & honor Suffer the person prosecuted to Suffer—I beg yr answer by this Express that I may know what Steps to pursue for Securing the Innocent purchaser from Suffering....

This letter to be Sent by Express with all possible Expedition the Express to wait for an answer” (Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 2:514–15).

Trumbull replied to Sullivan in a letter of 18 Feb. from Lebanon, Conn., which reads: “I am very sorry for the unhappy dispute arisen and mentioned in your’s of Yesterday.

“It is not proper for me to interfere therein—nor do I see how the Justice will avoid binding Capt Sessions to Answer to the Grand Jurors complaint, before a Court competent for the trial of the cause.

“The embargo laid in this State is not intended to prevent the proper purchasing Com’issaries from buying and driving or carrying provisions for the use of the Army, where needed.

“How far the D[eputy] purchasing Com’issary hath been deficient in his duty;—And the step taken in this case may finally vindicate Capt Sessions, will belong to the Court before whom ’tis tried, to determine—purchasers interfering hath been one great means of Inhancing prices” (Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 2:516). The Connecticut law being enforced was an embargo enacted in May 1778 that prohibited exports from the state with the exceptions of “necessary sea stores for vessels outward bound... any cattle, provisions or cloathing” procured for the use of Connecticut soldiers and sailors, and “necesary cloathing or provision” sent by “any particular person or persons” to relatives in the army “for their own use and consumption” (Conn. Public Records description begins The Public Records of the State of Connecticut . . . with the Journal of the Council of Safety . . . and an Appendix. 18 vols. to date. Hartford, 1894—. description ends , 2:17).

For the lengthy legal contentions that ensued despite GW’s efforts to curtail the matter, see GW to Jeremiah Wadsworth, this date, and Wadsworth to GW, 15 March; see also Sullivan’s memorial to Congress, 21 Oct. 1780, Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 16:226; Clark & Nightingale to Sullivan, 30 Oct. 1781, Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 3:342–43; and Whittemore, John Sullivan description begins Charles P. Whittemore. A General of the Revolution: John Sullivan of New Hampshire. New York, 1961. description ends , 112–15.

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