George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major Richard Howell, 7 April 1779

From Major Richard Howell

Spanktown [N.J.] 7th April—79

Reasons assign’d to his Excy General Washington for resigning.

1st Necessity, an Epidemic Disease in the Army.

2d Engagements with my Connexions to retire. Expenditures in Consequence of them, prior to the Promises of Legislation to provide for the Army, which if certain, will appear to be too late, as the Fate of Tantalus has been too long mine.

⟨3d A⟩ sure resentment of Parents (who have & I hope will support me,) if I continue; & think the Loss of one son in the Army a sufficient public sacrifice.1

4th A Dispute of rank with Majr Conway, who does not wish to leave the Army.2

5th Service since the Year–76. & the Necessity of preparing to Live by my civil profession—’Twill take at least 1 Year or two, to wipe away the rust of 3 campaigns so that I may appear with Common advantage at the Barr, should I continue ’till the End of the service, I must wait that time in preparation, then finding every other practitioner establish’d in his practice, learn to starve four or five Years, ’till Providence, in Mercy to me & Mankind in general, shall please to remove my Competitors.3

From those reasons I beg Leave to present to your Excy my Commission—It should have been done last fall but I could not till now proc⟨eed⟩ to plead or purchase a Library—I have been all Winter in service which has been very equal to my Pay—And I have frequently observ’d those whose fortunes secure them from present Want & afford a sure prospect of future support, crying out agt those who leave service, but tho’ they have had their Influence with me, now prudence & filial Affection command me not to Hear—If honest services & Unfeigned Necessities may weigh with your Excely I shall Hope a Dismission. I retire not from any Private resentments or Change of Sentiments, the last will journey with my Being, but from urgent & palpable Necessity. Give me Leave to acknawledge my Esteem for your Excy’s Person, & tho’ hitherto well attested, I will not hesitate to Evince it on any future Occasion.4 I am yr Excys very hmble servant

Rd How⟨ell⟩ Majr 2d Jy Regt

ALS, DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 4037.

1Richard Howell’s parents, Ebenezer and Sarah Bond Howell, were Quakers who had emigrated from Wales to Delaware in 1724. His twin brother, Lewis Howell (1754–1778), who had studied medicine with a physician in Cumberland County, N.J., was appointed a first lieutenant in the Delaware Regiment in January 1776, and then the following November he became surgeon of the 2d New Jersey Regiment. Sick with a fever at the time of the Battle of Monmouth on 28 June 1778, Lewis Howell resigned from the army on 5 July 1778 and died soon afterwards at a tavern near Monmouth Court House.

2Although Howell’s commission as major of the 2d New Jersey Regiment was dated 28 Nov. 1776, eleven months before John Conway’s appointment as major of the 4th New Jersey Regiment on 29 Oct. 1777, Conway had a slightly earlier date of rank in the Continental army, having been appointed a captain in the 1st New Jersey on 21 Nov. 1775, eight days before Howell was commissioned a captain in the 2d New Jersey Regiment. Conway, who had transferred to the 3d New Jersey Regiment in October 1778, became lieutenant colonel of the 1st New Jersey Regiment on 5 July 1779.

3Howell subsequently practiced law in Cumberland County, N.J., and served as clerk of the state supreme court until 1793, when he became governor, serving until 1801. Howell is reputed to have composed an ode welcoming GW to Trenton, when GW visited the city in April 1789 on his way to his presidential inauguration in New York City (see Papers, Presidential Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series. 19 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1987–. description ends , 2:109).

4GW replied to Howell on 15 April, accepting his resignation (DLC:GW; see also GW to Peter Scull, 15 April, DLC:GW).

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