George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Alexander McDougall, 24 April 1779

From Major General Alexander McDougall

Head Quarters pecks Kill [N.Y.] 24th April 1779.


I was honored with your Favor of the 19th two Days since. In my address to your Excellency, of the 10th of December last, is this paragraph. “I shall want more heavy Cannon; I wish therefore to have your Excellency’s Order for those at Boston, which I am informed is subject to it.” The inclosed Resolution of Council of that State, will fully explain to you the Cannon, I alluded to.1 It was handed to me by General Putnam, when I took the Command last Spring. Two pieces of the Seven, were then brought to these posts. And as they will not spare any of the somersets Cannon, surely they will the remaining five Eighteen pounders, belonging to the Continent. I have ever been free, from the illiberal spirit of local attachment, to the prejudice of the common Interest. But I own it does not appear, the same Spirit influences our Bretheren in power, in the Bay. In 1776 this State, upon a Resolve of Congress, chearfully gave Six of its heavey Cannon (Twenty four pounders) for the Canada Service, which have not been replaced.2 And at a time, when they were necessary for the protection of this State. Those now wanted, are for the common Communication, and Security. Under the present circumstances, there is but a bare possibility, of such vast numbers of heavy Cannon being wanted in Boston. And I am persuaded, all the Artillery Battalions of the Continent, wou’d not man the heavy Cannon now in the Bay, and about Boston. When Fort Montgomery was taken, on lamenting the loss of those Cannon, and our inability to replace them; I remember General Varnum informed me, some heavy ones might be spared from Providence.3

I have written repeatedly to Reading for the remainder of Poors Brigade; But to little effect; my last was Six Days since, ordering on the Train and all men fit for duty and the Convalances to Fish-Kill; none of those are yet arrived. Its strength here, is as it was in my last.4 I have understood many of the men are gone Home on furlough; all those inlisted for the War. Neither your Orders nor my intreaties, will collect in time, any Troops under the Orders of General Putnam. And I am sorry to be obliged to Assert, I have no hope, expectation, or reliance, of succours from him, if ever they are wanted to march on Short Notice. I am constrained to this Assertion, on the best Evidence. I wish to know, whether the Artillery Baggage and Tents, march with that Brigade? And what quantity of Ammunition they ought to have. The Enemy have closed the Communication with the Country, for Six Days past. This is either, to cover a movement or an embarkation. If the former, and against these posts; it wou’d have been more Eligible for him, soon after the River open’d. The Chain is extended, and every other preparation in my power is made. I am Your Excellencys Most Humble Servant

Alexr McDougall


1The enclosed copy of resolutions of the Massachusetts Council, dated 4 March 1778, reads: “Major General Putnam having made Application to this State desiring they would furnish him with a Number of Cannon for the defence and Protection of North River, and the General Assembly having referred this matter to this Board. They have taken the Same under Consideration and have Consulted with General Heath upon this Subject and find that none of the Cannon placed at the Several Forts within this State can with Safety be spared. That there are Seven pieces of Cannon, Eighteen pounders within this Government belonging to the Continent which were lent to this State until they should upon any Special Emergency be called for by Congress. And as Genl Heath is of Opinion that three of them may be spared without endangering the State the Board are willing that Genl Putnam should be Supplied with that Number. Therefore[.] Ordered that Genl Heath be and hereby is desired to deliver to Genl Putnam three of the Eighteen pound Cannon with their Carriages if needed that belong to the Continent, he giving a receipt to be Accountable for the Same” (DLC:GW). Congress later authorized GW to demand all of the cannon; see John Jay to GW, 4 May, and GW to the Massachusetts Council, 12 May.

2McDougall is referring to a resolution of 17 Feb. 1776 (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 , 4:157).

3McDougall enclosed an undated memorandum from John Brown of Providence, R.I., indicating the prices at which cannon might be manufactured (DLC:GW).

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