George Washington Papers

From George Washington to George Clinton, 4 March 1779

To George Clinton

Head Quarters [Middlebrook] 4th March—79

Dr Sir

The president of Congress has transmitted me Your Excellencys letter to the delegates of New York, representing the calamitous situation of the North Western frontier of that State—accompanied by a similar application from the Pennsilvania Assembly—and a Resolve of the 25th directing me to take the most effectual Measures for the protection of the inhabitants and chastisement of the indians.1

The Resolve has been in some measure anticipated by my previous dispositions for carrying on offensive operations against the hostile tribes of Savages—It has always been my intention early2 to communicate this matter to Your Excellency in confidence—and I take occasion from the letter above mentioned—to inform you that preparations have some time since been making—and they will be conducted to the point of execution at a proper Season—if no unexpected accident prevents and the situation of affairs on the Maritime frontier justifies the Undertaking.3

The greatest secrecy is judged4 Necessary to the success of such an enterprise—for the followg obvious reasons—That immediately upon the discovery of our design—the Savages would either put themselves in condition to make head against us, by a reunion of all their force and that of their allies—strengthened besides by Succours from Canada—or elude the expedition altogether which might be done at the expence of a temporary evacuation of forests which we could not possess—and the destruction of a few settlements which they might speedily reestablish. I begin to apprehend this matter is less under the veil of secrecy than was originally intended—but Your Excellency will see the propriety of using every precaution to prevent its being divulgated—and of covering Such preparations as might announce it—with the most specious disguise.5

With respect to the force to be employed on this occasion it is scarce necessary to observe that the detaching a considerable number of Continental Troops on such a remote expedition—would too much expose the Country adjacent to the Enemys main body.

There must therefore be efficacious assistance derived from the States whose frontiers are obnoxious to the inroads of the barbarians—and for this I intend6 at a proper time to make application. Your Excellency will be pleased to acquaint me what force yours in particular can furnish—what proportion can be drawn from the inhabitants who have been driven from the frontier—and what previous measures can be taken to engage them without giving an alarm—This Class of people besides the advantages of knowlege of the Country and the particular motives with which they are animated—are most likely to furnish the Troops best calculated7 for the service—which shd be Corps of active Rangers—who are at the same time expert markmen and accustomed to the irregular kind of wood fighting practiced by the indians—Men of this description embodied under proper officers would be infinitely preferable to a superior number of militia—unacquainted with this species of War—and who would exhaust the Magazines of amunition and provision without rendering any effectual service.

It will be a very necessary attention to avoid the danger of Short enlistments—the service should be limited only by the expedition or a term amply competent to it—otherwise we may be exposed to having their engagements expire at some interesting or perhaps critical juncture.

I have only to add that I shall be happy to have the advantage of any Sentiments or Advice Your Excellency may be pleased to communicate relative to the expedition.8 I have the honor to be &c.

P.S. In Your Excellencys Letter to the Delegates you mention that you have not received the arrangement of the Troops of your State.

It was transmitted me among the rest from the board of War—and I inclosed it in a letter of 22d Ulto to Brigadr Genl J. Clinton9 desiring him to report to me any subsequent alterations that may have happened—and return the arrangement—to me for completion—Congress hav⟨i⟩ng10 vested me with powers for that purpose11—Commissions will finally be issued from the Board of War—If Your Excelly can hasten the termination of this business, by affording any light or assistance—it will be rendering a very great service.

Df, in John Laurens’s writing, DLC:GW; copy (extract), enclosed in GW to John Jay, 15 Aug. 1779, DNA:PCC, item 166; copy (extract), DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Both extracts consist of the entire letter except for the last paragraph of the body and the postscript. The version of this letter that is printed in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 4:615–18, apparently was taken from a receiver’s copy (LS or ALS) that has not been found. It varies significantly from the wording of the draft manuscript in several places; see notes 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, and 10.

1See John Jay to GW, 26 February. While the copy sent to GW has not been identified, Gov. George Clinton wrote from Poughkeepsie to New York delegates James Duane, John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, Francis Lewis, and William Floyd on 9 Feb.: “The frequent Depredations of the Enemy upon the Frontier during the last Fall, have excited the most serious Alarms amongst the Inhabitants of the Western & Northern Parts of Ulster, Albany, and Tryon Counties and many of them are desirous of removing unless I can assure them that such posts will be taken or such offensive Measures pursued as will tend to protect them. I find myself exceedingly embarrassed by their Applications on this Subject—to defend them by a Militia harrassed as ours are will be impossible—to encourage them to stay will be to make myself in some Measure chargeable with the Evils that may fall upon them in Consequence of such Encouragement—to advise them to break up their Settlements only increases the Evil for Frontiers and defenceless Frontiers will still remain ’till Hudson’s River becomes our Western Boundary—In this Situation I can only apply to you to know whether Congress mean to take any strong Posts to the Westward or to pursue any offensive measures against the Savages. If they do I may by general Assurances induce the Inhabitants to remain on their Farms. If otherwise common Humanity dictates the Propriety of removing them in Time.

“As the proceedings of the Committee of Arrangement have not been transmitted to me few of our Officers hold the Rank assigned to them by such Arrangemt. Nor indeed any other which they consider as conclusive so that dissatisfaction frequently arises on this Head. I must therefore beg the Favor of you to transmit me the Rank Roll as far as relates to our Battalions together with blank Commissions for the Officers and any Special Resolutions that Congress may have passed for filling them up” (DNA:PCC, item 67; see also Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 4:555–56). Congress read Clinton’s letter on 16 Feb. and referred it to the committee appointed to confer with GW (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 , 13:189–90).

Duane, Jay, Floyd, and Lewis replied to Clinton from Philadelphia on 19 Feb.: “We lament the frequent Ravages of the western frontier. They have been severely felt both by our own State and Pensylvania; and we are called upon by every motive to be vigorous in the necessary Preparations for punishing our Enemies and protecting our Citizens. The Commander in Chief has spent some time in this City in Conference with a Committee of Congress. No pains have been spared to impress him with a strong Idea of the absolute necessity of attention to these great objects. The operations which will be most effectual are submitted to his Judgement, and every Department is placed under his immediate Superintendance. With him, therefore, we wish your Excellency to correspond. We know that he has great Confidence in you and that your Solicitations and advice will have a proper weight.

“General Schuyler also stands high in his opinion; & we are fully persuaded that any Plan which you & he suggest, or Requisition which you make, will meet with all possible attention. These are as fortunate Circumstances for our Frontiers as coud be wished, and we are persuaded they will be embraced. If any Obstructions arise, or any thing you may deem essential is omitted (which we have not the least Room to apprehend) we shall stand ready to support your Representations with the utmost Diligence and Zeal.

“The arrangement of the army with respect to the relative Rank of the officers is not yet entirely compleated. This Defect, which has given room for dissatisfaction, is chiefly to be ascribed to the Committees’ having left Congress before the arrangement was matured for a Report. It is however handed over to the Commander in Chief who is directed to finish it, the principles having been established by Congress. You will, therefore, be pleased to apply to him for Information; his own Anxiety on so interesting a Subject to the whole army will not brook Delay” (Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 4:580–82; see also Jay to Clinton, 19 Feb., 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 , 12:93–94).

2The text in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 4:615–18, does not include the word “early.”

3For GW’s interest earlier that winter in future operations against the Indians along the frontier, see GW to Edward Hand, 7 Feb., and to Lachlan McIntosh, 15 February.

4The text in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 4:615–18, does not include the word “judged.”

5GW suggested deceptions in a letter to John Sullivan of 6 March.

6The text in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 4:615–18, reads: “I intended.”

7The text in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 4:615–18, reads: “the troops best qualified.”

9The text in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 4:615–18, reads: “and I sent it to Brigadier General James Clinton; inclosed in a letter of the 22d ulto. to Brigadier Genl. James Clinton.”

10At this place, the text in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, 4:615–18, includes the following words: “by a Resolve of the 4th Feby.”

11This arrangement of the New York line has not been identified, but see James Clinton to GW, 8 April, DLC:GW. For Congress giving GW authority to complete arrangements of rank, see John Jay to GW, 5 Feb., n.1.

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