George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Blackden, 18 July 1779

From Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Blackden

Salisbury [Conn.] July 18th 1779.


I had the honor of rec[e]iving your Excellency’s letter of 23d June yesterday, in which you are pleased to direct that I send you explicit & specific charges against Colonel Sheldon to be the foundation of an enquiry into his conduct.1

When I wrote your Excellency the 4th of June desiring leave to retire from the regiment, I did not mean to accuse Colonel Sheldon of any thing but want of propriety, of conduct, in respect to a certain letter received from his Officers, in the disgrace of which I considered myself as involved, should I serve under him after its becoming public—I suggested that he did not take such notice of it, as the support of his military character required, but as to general suggestions, I have exceeded my intentions if I made any.

That the representation contained in my letter is well founded, will partly appear from the enclosed copy of the letter,2 which is the subject of my discontent, & the subsequent settlement at Durham may be learned from any of the gentlemen who signed it, marked thus + Those not marked being absent.3

I have no further charges to make against Colonel Sheldon, & beg leave to declare that I have not taken this step from any quarrel or ill-will towards him, with whom I have always lived upon friendly terms, but solely to justify myself to your Excellency in desiring to leave the Regime[nt].4

There are near eighty dragoons dismounted who are quartered at Litchfield, Capt. Bull, & Capt. Shether5 are both in such poor state of health that they could not bear the fatigue of a Campaign, yet think they may be of service in some of the Towns along the Sound, until horses are procured to mount them—I take the liberty just to mention it—& have the honor to be with the greatest respect, Your Excellency’s most obedient, & most humble servt

Saml Blackden

Sprague transcript, DLC:GW.

2The enclosure is a copy of a letter of October 1778 from Capt. Josiah Stoddard and five other captains, Lt. David Edgar and five other lieutenants, and two cornets, to Col. Elisha Sheldon, written at Bedford, New York. It reads: “permit us to address you at this time on a Subject that has long most seriously affected us, and which we hope will in proportion to its magnitude and importance engage your attention—the facts we beg leave to state to you Shall be clearly pointed out, our language unequivocal & explicit as becomes honest men and the truth.

“First then we assert, that no Regiment raised in the thirteen united states ever took the field better appointed, higher animated, or with more laudable & heroic Ambition than that which you had the honor to command.

“Secondly the once enviable & respected name of the 2d Regiment of dragoons is fled almost from the knowledge of mankind & is now contrasted with every circumstance of deprivation & pitiful insignificance—its fire and thirst of Glory is nearly extinguished, and its military force once the terror of the Brittish horse is now transferd to a Banditte of Refugees from the Justice of their Country and the halter—In a word its former Reputation and present imbecility serve no other purpose than to multiply the Laurells of the Enemy and inhance their Value—Thirdly the manner of our doing duty and the Scandalous deficiency of horses which for the greatest part of this campaign has been intirely under your own direction are instances not to be found in any other Regiment of Horse in the American service; fourthly we beleive you have lost or rather never fully established your proper influence at Head Quarters; you have resignd to ignominy the cause of your own Honor meanly giving up the fairest pretensions to rank in the Army and the incense of our reputation has smoak’d on the Alter of your indolence—We have often observed with pain that you desire favors thro illnature, Caprice, or precipitancy, which in the oposite moods you grant with as little Reason as you denied in short you know not how we conceive either to confer a benifit or gracefully to refuse one—5thly we are almost ashamed to tell you, that your ignorance always apparent in Company of Officers of Sense and education which we consider as your misfortune makes us doubtful how far we shall improve under your hands—Sixthly you have ever seemed to Consider your unacquantedness with the individuals which compose your Regiment as a Mark of your greatness and certainly incapacitates you for the tender office of distributing Rewards and punishments—you Seldom or never appear at the head of your Regiment to observe, extend, or correct our military disciplincy you appear not to know or neglect the internal Œconomy of the several troops, particularly what Relates to the supply and consumption of forage, the attention paid to arms Accoutrements and Clothing—And altho the blame arising in this latter instances will chiefly fall upon Ourselves yet it will always happen that when inaccuracy, Embarassment, and disipation possess the body the members must soon feel the force of its Contaggion; example is infinately better than precept—Lastly you have for some months past appeard equally indifferent and unmoved at the good or bad fortune of the Regiment not to mention the inumerable instances of the abrupt haughty and illbred treatment we have Ourselves experienced and Submitted to for almost two years—Sir these griviences are not fabulous, and how far so ever they may lay from the observation of the World they may be made conspicuous.

“In the next place we beg leave to mention with all defference what we conceive to be the source of all these Evils.

“First then tho the task is hard so deeply to wound the feelings of a man, we cannot with the preservation of candour avoid suggesting to you, that in our opinion your Natural Genius Acquirments & Erudition were at the first altogether inadequate to the difficult and important post you hold—you mistook the groundless opinion of other men And your own Zeal to serve the country added to your Love of Novelty & Shew for real talents and a Military Spirit.

“Secondly secure in your Reputation you took no Care to fix the good opinion of your friends by Successive instances of Officerlike and Manly Conduct, by which means the old stock is intirely expended.

“Thirdly your good opinion of yourself and Your Unsoldierlike love of ease, has prevented you from improvement by experience, by Conversation, by reading, or by Corresponding with your superiors in command and Education.

“fourthly you have neglected to cultivate the Esteem and Confidence of your officers and they are but too well convinced that you have lost the Respect of the Regiment at large.

“We therefore deeply impressed with a high sense of the obligation we are under to you, to ourselves, and our Country most earnestly request that you woud Retire from Command while you may do it with honor, to which you were always incompetent and for which you have renderd yourself improper” (DLC:GW).

3The names marked “+” on the enclosed copy of Stoddard et al. to Sheldon from October 1778 are captains Ezekiel Porter Belden, Epaphras Bull, John Shethar, and John Webb; lieutenants Thomas Burkman, David Edgar, George Hurlbut, and Elijah Wadsworth; and Cornet Horace Seymour. The unmarked names are captains Josiah Stoddard and Thomas Young Seymour; lieutenants John Brown and John Simonet de Valcour; and Cornet James Paton.

4GW called upon Blackden to make a decision on his resignation in his reply to that officer, written at “Head Qrs near West Point” on 21 July: “I yesterday received Your Letter of the 18th Instant, with the Inclosure to which it refers.

“I have now to request that you will inform me, whether it is still your wish to retire from the Army—and that you will decide on the point. If you determine to resign, you will communicate it to me by the earliest opportunity—if to remain in service—you will be pleased to join your Regiment without loss of time. I would take the liberty to suggest, that in case you resign it will be necessary, if you have any accounts with the public, to adjust them with the Auditors of the Army as is customary” (Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). Blackden’s letter of resignation to GW is dated 1 Aug. (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 18398).

5John Shethar (1752–1835) served as a lieutenant in the 2d Continental Dragoons from December 1776 until he advanced to captain in October 1777. Shethar resigned from the army in March 1780.

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