George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Israel Putnam, 20 May 1779

To Major General Israel Putnam

Head Quarters Middle Brook May 20th 1779

Dr Sir,

I return you the papers relating to the officers at Springfield1—I find by them that Major Ayres has avoided a trial by a resignation. This is a matter which it would be inconsistent with my duty to permit as the charge against Major Ayres is of a very serious nature and founded on the report of a public body. It is contrary to practice that the resignation of an officer while under arrest should supersede a trial and it is expressly precluded by a resolve of Congress of the 21st of June 762—I mean not to suppose any thing unfavourable to Major Ayres; but I am under a necessity of desiring that you will immediately take effectual measures to prosecute the intended trial and produce his appearance. You will therefore without delay appoint a Court Martial for the purpose. It will facilitate the business if the Court can be composed, wholly or principally of the same members who decided in the case of Lt Col. Mason & Smith. I have therefore written to General McDougall that at your call General Huntington or any other officers of his brigade who were on the former trial may attend.3 With great regard & esteem Dr Sir I am Yr Most Obedt servant.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1The enclosed papers have not been identified, but see General Orders, 14 May.

2Congress had resolved on that date that, “whereas, Congress is informed that an opinion has prevailed that officers resigning their commissions are not subject to trial by a court martial for offences committed previous to such resignation, whereby some have evaded the punishments to which they were liable, it is hereby declared that such opinion is not just” (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 , 5:472).

3Whether Maj. Joseph Eayres was ever put on trial has not been determined; he remained in service until 1780 (see GW to Putnam, 22 Feb., n.2).

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