George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Captain Jonathan Forman, 8 May 1779

From Captain Jonathan Forman

Elizth town [N.J.] May 8th 1779


General Maxwell has communicated to us the substance of a letter from your Excellency of yesterday.1 It has made us very unhappy that any act of ours should give your Excellency pain; but we trust when you are made acquainted with the circumstances that induced us to take these measures, that so far from censuring us, you will app[r]ove our conduct—The reasons that we have not heretofore made your Excellency acquainted with our peculiar hard circumstances were, that it would be giving you uneasiness, without answering any valuable end, for we are truly sensible of the incessant pains your Excellency has taken for the benefit of the Army. You are pleased to say, that you cannot but consider the late step of the Officers hasty and imprudent, That it was not hasty we will readily prove, and whether imprudent, future events in some measure must determine, tho’ dire necessity, with us, admitted no Alternitive. It will be proper to inform your Excellency that the Officers of the Jersey Brigade have repeatedly, and at almost every session of the Assembly since January 1777 Memorialized them upon the necessities of the Troops and the reasonableness of their makeing them some compensation for their services, that the Members of the Legislature (individually) Always assured the Gentlemen who waited on them with the memorials, that something very Generous should be done for the Troops; but we have the misfortune to inform your Excellency that not a single resolve was ever entered in their Minutes in our favor, Untill within two weeks—So long ago as last winter we informed the Council, of our determination to leave the service, unless we were properly provided for, and from them we again receivd Assurances that provision should be made for us—At the begining of the present session a Representation was sent to them signd by every Officer of the Brigade (a Copy of which we have inclosed) and so far were they from complying withe the reasonable requisitions contained in it, that they have referred it to Congress—Thus are we circumstanced; we have lost all confidence in our Legislature, Reason and Experience forbid that we should, have any. Few of us have private fortunes, many have families, who already are suffering every thing that can be received from an ungratefull Country, are we then to submit to all the inconveniencies, fatigue and Danger of a Camp life, while our Wives and our Children are perishing for want of common necessaries at home, and that without the most distant prospect of reward, (for our pay is now only nominal)—We are sensible that your Excellency cannot wish nor desire it from us—We are sorry that you should imagine we meant to disobey Orders, it was and still is our determination to march with our Regiment and do the duty of Officers until the Legislature should have a reasonable time to Appoint others, but no longer. We beg leave to Assure your Excellency, that we have the highest sense of your Ability and Virtues, that executing your orders has ever given us pleasure, that we love the service, and we love our Country; but when that Country gets so lost to virtue and justice as to forget to support its servants, it then becomes their duty to retire from the service.2 We are your Excellencys Obedient, hume servants

In behalf of the Officers of
the first Regiment
Jona. Forman 1st Capt. the Regt

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to John Jay, 11 May (second letter), DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, Nj. Brig. Gen. William Maxwell enclosed this letter in his letter to GW of this date.

2The officers and troops of the New Jersey Brigade had since March 1777 made repeated petitions to the state legislature for redress of their grievances on pay, clothing, and supplies, only to be put off every time (N.J. Gen. Assembly Proc., Aug. 1776–Oct. 1777 sess., 114; Oct. 1777–Oct. 1778 sess., 10, 165; Oct. 1778–Oct. 1779 sess., 22; N.J. Legislative Council Proc., Aug. 1776–Oct. 1777 sess., 73–75; Oct. 1778–Oct. 1779 sess., 33–34).

By April the officers of the brigade believed that they had waited long enough, as indicated in the enclosed copy of their representation to the New Jersey legislature, dated 17 April at Elizabeth, N.J.: “It is with great reluctance that the Officers of the Jersey Brigade undertake to Address you. They had reason to expect that you would, (from principles of Justice as well as nesesaty) before this time, have taken such Measures as would have rendered it Unnessisary, but the circumstances of your troops has become such, that it would now be criminal to be Silent. The Legislature need not be informed, that our pay is now only nominal not real, that four Months pay of a Private will not procure his Wretched Wife and Children a single bushel of wheat. The situation of your Officers is worse—The pay of a Colonel of your Regiments will not purchase the Oats for his Horse, nor will his whole days pay procure him a single Dinner. A common laborer, or an Exp[r]ess rider receives four times as much pay as he. It would be superfluous for us to point out all our Grievances, they are many, they are great, and they are known to you. It is therefore a duty we owe our Country, a duty we owe Ourselves, to inform you; in the most plain and unambiguous terms, that unless a speedy and ample remedy be provided: the total dissolution of your Troops is inevitable. The spirit of Desertion has already taken place, and has risen to the most alarming height. Combinations of large parties to desert, are almost every day discovered, and the utmost vigilance of the Officers is not able to prevent it—The Soldiers estimate the Money truly, by what it will purchase—They have frequently been heard to say that it was true, the British pay was very small, but notwithstanding two days pay would purchase a quart of rum, and with us a months pay would not more than do it—In the year 1776 the pay of the Officer and soldier afforded nothing more than a scanty subsestance, since that period the Currency has depreciated in most articles of life more than two thousand perCent: Are we then to risque our lives in the Field of Battle, to submit to all the inconveniences of a Camp life, to be deprived of the sweets of domestic happiness, and subsist upon one twentieth part of a sufficiency—Congress seeing the enormous rise of the Necessaries of life, so long ago as Decembr 1777 recommended it to the several States to p[r]ovide all Necessary Clothing for their Officers and Soldiers at, prices proportioned to their pay—We had examples of the States both to the Southard and Eastward complying with this Resolution, and in many instances, exceeding it.

“That your Troops are less Brave, or have done less duty than any Troops in the Union, is a posisition that none have been hardy enough to Advance; and why they should be so long Neglected, is a problem in politics hard to be explained.

“Pensylvania has lately passed some Resolves in favor of her Troops, Maryland has adopted the same, some other States have done more, but None of them have done enough.

“The Familys of Officers and Soldiers should some way be provided for; If our pay was in Spanish Milled dollars (and that was the Contract between Congress and us) we could provide for them; We therefore neither ask nor wish for more than a Compliance, with the original contract.

“Pay us in Spanish Milled Dollars, or give us an equivalent, and our Complaints shall instantly cease” (DLC:GW).

The general assembly read this remonstrance on 26 April and referred it to a committee, which three days later offered the following resolution, to which the house and council agreed: “Resolved, That Provision hath already been agreed to be made, as far as is consistent, previous to an Application to Congress; and that if upon such Application, no Measures are by them adopted in that Behalf, it will then be the Duty of this State to provide for their Quota of Troops in the best Manner they can devise” (N.J. Gen. Assembly Proc., Oct. 1778–Oct. 1779 sess., 76–78; N.J. Legislative Council Proc., Oct. 1778–Oct. 1779 sess., 38–39). Unsatisfied with this attempt to shift responsibility to Congress, the officers of the 1st New Jersey Regiment issued an ultimatum on 6 May, declaring that they would resign their commissions unless the legislature took immediate measures on their behalf (see William Maxwell to GW, 6 May [second letter]).

The timing of this ultimatum could not have been worse, for the 1st New Jersey Regiment was under orders to march to camp by Monday, 10 May, in preparation for moving off to support Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s expedition against the Six Nations (see GW to Maxwell, 4 May, and Maxwell to GW, 5 May). GW responded to Maxwell, criticizing the officers’ conduct, on 7 May, prompting this response from Forman that Maxwell forwarded under cover of his letter to GW of this date. Unwilling to respond to the officers directly, GW sent Maxwell another unsympathetic letter on 10 May; but he also wrote to John Jay on 11 May (second letter) pointing out that while the officers’ conduct was “highly blameable,” they also had good reason for discontent.

The New Jersey legislature defused the crisis, thanks in part to the intervention of Major General Stirling, and resolved on 8 May to issue £200 to each officer and $40 to each non-commissioned officer and private of the 1st New Jersey Regiment (see Stirling to GW, 10 May). At the same time, the legislature issued a lengthy “Representation” to Congress, asking that it would “adopt a Mode of making such further Provision for the Army, as they may think just and adequate; a Mode, which, by comprehending the Whole, will remove all Danger of partial Distinctions; which will be less difficult, less expensive than the Mode excepted against; and which will produce that Satisfaction, without which the Service can never be generally agreeable to those engaged in it, or fully beneficial to the Nation” (N.J. Gen. Assembly Proc., Oct. 1778–Oct. 1779 sess., 88–90; N.J. Legislative Council Proc., Oct. 1778–Oct. 1779 sess., 44–47). Congress read the representation on 10 May and referred it to the Board of War, resolving that “the President inform the governor of New Jersey, that as soon as Congress shall have concluded their deliberations on certain affairs of great moment now before them, the circumstances of the army shall be duly considered, and due attention shall be paid to the subject matter of his letter and the paper therein enclosed” (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 , 14:568; see also 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 , 12:452–53). The 1st New Jersey Regiment, meanwhile, marched according to GW’s orders on 11 May (see Maxwell to GW, 12 May).

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