George Washington Papers

General Orders, 4 July 1779

General Orders

Head-Quarters New-Windsor Sunday July 4th 1779.

Parole St Domingo—C. Signs Hadley. Haddam.

At a General Court-Martial held by order of Major General McDougall in the Highlands the 19th of June last, Colonel Greaton President, Lieutenant Torey [Ivory] Holland of Colonel Putnam’s regiment was tried for “Encouraging a Prisoner at Terry town to make his escape on the 22nd of March last, it being unbecoming the character of an officer and gentleman,” found not guilty and acquitted with honor.

The General confirms the sentence and orders Lieutenant Holland released from Arrest.1

At another General Court Martial whereof Colonel Nixon was President the 6th day of April last, a certain Isaac Depue was tried for “Assisting to seize and secretly convey to places within the possession of the british forces Major Blauvelt and Hermanus Talman, loyal Citizens of the State of New-York”2 unanimously adjudged guilty of the charge exhibited against him and in pursuance of a resolution of Congress of the 7th of February 1778.3 unanimously sentenced to suffer death, by being hung by the Neck until he shall be dead.

At the same Court John King was tried for, “Assisting to seize and secretly convey to places within the possession of the british forces said Blauvelt & Talman and also for aiding in the taking of William Sitcher an officer in the service of the United States, also a private Soldier in the aforesaid service,4 and conveying them to the City of New-York,” found guilty of that part of the charge which relates to the taking of Blauvelt & Talman and unanimously sentenced to suffer death by being hung by the Neck until he the said John King shall be dead.

Likewise Joseph Bettys was tried for “Having been a Spy for General Burgoyne (in the service of the enemy) by coming within the American lines in the State of New-York in a secret manner and returning again to the enemies of the United States, and for having forged a certificate to facilitate the execution thereof,” found guilty and unanimously sentenced to suffer death, by being hung by the Neck ’till he shall be dead.5

The Commander in Chief confirms the aforegoing sentences.

A certain Stephen Smith was also tried by a General Court-Martial whereof Lieutenant Colonel Loring was President the 6th of January last for “Being a Spy, by coming frequently within the American lines in the States of New-York and Connecticutt in a secret manner and returning to the enemies of the United-States”—found guilty and unanimously sentenced to suffer death.

Which sentence was afterwards approved by Major General McDougall.

This day, being the Anniversary of our glorious Independence will be commemorated by the firing of Thirteen Cannon from West-Point at one ô clock P.M.6

The Commander in Chief thinks proper to grant a general pardon to all Prisoners in this Army under sentence of death—They are to be released from confinement accordingly.7

At a Brigade General Court-Martial June 24th 79. Lieutenant Colonel Davidson President, William Shields Waggon-Master8 to the North-Carolina Brigade was tried.

1st—“For exchanging a public horse as one of his own property.”

2nd—“For stealing the Waggoner’s forage.”

3rdly—“For having offered for sale (or to exchange) a public Mare (as his own property) which he drew out of the continental yard for the use of the brigade.”

4thly—“For having sold (to the driver of Major Murphy’s9 private team) two collars which he drew for the use of the brigade, and

5thly—“For selling to a soldier (at near double price) cloathing he drew out of the public Store and paid for.”

The Court do acquit him of the 1st charge but find him guilty of the last four and sentence him to be dismissed the service.

The General is sorry to differ in opinion, in part, from the Court— It appears to him that the first charge was better supported than the second.

Shields had no right to take the horse in the first instance, but when he was taken and put into the public service, which appears to have been the case, he became a public horse and the public was responsible for him to the original owner, therefore as he afterwards took this horse and exchanged him as his own, the first charge appears well founded.

His being Waggon Master and taking forage from the Waggoners under him for the use of his own horses even tho’ it may have been done irregularly or wantonly can hardly be considered as a theft which the charge declares.

These reasons do not permit the General to confirm the sentence but as Mr Shields appears to have been very culpable upon the whole, the General recommends it to the Quarter Master General immediately to dismiss him from the service.

The General requests the commanding officers of those regiments who have furnished men for his guard to send without delay to the Adjutant General, certificates of the time of service for which they are respectively engaged.10

Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene commented to Silas Deane in a letter of this date written at New Windsor: “We are in a State of inactivity here” (Greene Papers, description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends 4:199–200).

1Ivory Holland (1739–1820), a Massachusetts native, served as a private in a company of minutemen between April and December 1775 and as sergeant in a New York regiment during 1776. He became lieutenant in Col. Rufus Putnam’s 5th Massachusetts Regiment in April 1777, was named regimental quartermaster in April 1781, and remained in the army until June 1783.

2These men apparently were Johannes Joseph Blauvelt (1714–1789), who served as major in the Lower Orange County Regiment of the New York militia, and Harmanus Talman, who served as ensign in the Haverstraw Precinct Regiment of the New York militia.

3This date is inaccurate. Congress passed a resolution on 27 Feb. 1778 to deter attacks against loyal citizens (see 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 10:204–5; see also Henry Laurens to GW, 1 March 1778, and n.3 to that document).

4William Sitcher was a lieutenant in Col. Oliver Spencer’s Additional Continental Regiment. The British held Sitcher as a prisoner in New York City during the early months of 1778 (see Elias Boudinot to GW, 2 March 1778, and n.6 to that document).

5Joseph Bettys (Bettis, Bettes, Bettice; d. 1782) served as a sergeant in Col. Cornelius D. Wynkoop’s 4th New York Regiment during the early months of 1776. Demoted for disciplinary reasons, Bettys transferred to the fleet on Lake Champlain under Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold and was taken prisoner after fighting gallantly in the naval battle on 11–12 Oct. of that year. The British converted his sympathies, and Bettys acted as a messenger and spy until his capture led to this court-martial. Escaping his death sentence because of GW’s pardon on 4 July 1779, Bettys resumed his career in the British service and gained notoriety as a marauder along the New York frontier. Bettys was captured on 31 March 1782 and executed as a spy and traitor (see Connecticut Courant and Weekly Intelligencer [Hartford], 23 April 1782; Stone, Joseph Brant, description begins William L. Stone. Life of Joseph Brant—Thayendanegea: Including the Border Wars of the American Revolution. … 2 vols. New York, 1838. description ends 2:210–14).

6See GW to Alexander McDougall, this date.

7GW had proposed this course in his letter to McDougall of 3 July.

8William Shields enlisted as wagon master in the 1st North Carolina Regiment on 1 July 1777.

9This officer almost certainly was Maj. Hardy Murfree of the 2d North Carolina Regiment.

10This request likely was directed to officers in the Maryland line, who had been called upon to supply men for GW’s guard (see the source note for the general orders of 7 June).

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