George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Horatio Gates, 18 July 1779

From Major General Horatio Gates

Providence [R.I.] July 18th 1779.


I have within this Half Hour received the inclosed papers, and Letters, from Colonel Cheever, Colonel Mason, and the Officer Guarding the Arsenal at Springfield.1 Since my being Commanded to This Department,2 I have not given any Orders with Regard to the post at Springfield, lest my directions should Clash with those given by Your Excellency, or General Knox; I well know Ordnance Affairs are best managed by those who are properly instructed in its Various Branches. I therefore think it my Duty, to refer the regulation of all Matters at Springfield to Your Excellency. I have wrote to Colonel Cheever by the Express to this Effect; at the same time acquainting Him, that the refractory Artificers, must be obliged to receive the Ration of Provisions allotted to them until Your Excellency’s Commands shall be received at The Arsenal.3

I wish I could acquaint Your Excellency That proper Regularity in the Care, and Distribution of The Ordnance Stores in this Department had been Observed. I am sorry to say the Contrary is too Apparent, I wish Colonel Lamb might receive Your immediate directions to proceed hither, and make a thorough inspection into the past, & present Management Thereof. At the same time, it might not be improper to Order all the Salt petre, & Sulpher at the different Stores, to be sent to the Powder Mills at Andover, and Salisbury;4 to be worked up without Delay, as I understand from the Board of War, powder is rather Scarcer than could be wished at this Critical period. I have in Vain applied to portsmouth, and Boston for Powder; not any belonging to the Continent at either of those places. I have not a single Barrel of Musket powder in Store here; and not more than Thirty Barrels of Cannon. I lately wrote to Springfield for Fifty Barrels of the former, agreeable to Your Excellency’s Directions; but I did not send before I was disappointed in every other Application.5

I request Your Excellency will Confirm that Order.6 I am, Sir, Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Hume Servt

Horatio Gates

ALS, DLC:GW; ADf, NHi: Gates Papers; copy, DNA:PCC, item 154; copy, DNA: PCC, item 171.

1Gates apparently enclosed four letters and three other documents. A letter from Ezekiel Cheever, deputy commissary general of military stores at Springfield, Mass., to Gates, dated 16 July, Friday, reads: “I embrace this oppo. $ Mr Bridge who Brings you a Letter from the officers of this departmen⟨t⟩ informing you of the behaviour of Some of the Artificers. I am realy Sorry to trouble you with an accot of Such Conduct & Sulky tempers However I judged it necessary to advise you of Such procedings that We might have your Instructions & orders for our goverment, I am persuaded everyone will Say I endeavor to make matters easy & agreeable as possible But Such Conduct I will oppose and endeavour to render our Illustrious Cause the best Services I am Capable I think Sir you’l judge it Necessary the officers of this department be Commissioned & authorized to take Cognizance & punish Such offenders, for want of due authority Such offences will result last Tuesday pursuant to the most pressing demands from his Excelly Govr Trumbull informing me He had well found reasons to belive the Enemy where resolutely determined to penetrate into this Country & Spread thair ravages as far as Hartford before thay returned to N. york I Ventured to Send Him Three field pieces with thair apperatus Compleate under the Command of Capt. Frothingham with 17 men taken from the Laboratory and the next morng on fresh applycation from Colo. Comfort Sage accompanyed with Govr Trumbulls request I Sent Three more field pieces under the Command of Capt. Bryant with 12 more laboratory men They marched with Alacrity & if oppo. offers dont doubt thay will do honor to them Selves & Country.

“This movement gives me anxiety but I flatter my Self the Critical juncture of affairs will Appologize for my well intended endeavours to aid the public Service I shall reprisent the Same to morrow $ Post to His Excelly Genl Washington, and Shall be happy if I meat His & your with all Superiour officers approbation. . . . P.S. dear Sir, if any agreeable Intelligence to Communicate, We Shall esteem it a particular favour” (DLC:GW; see also Cheever to GW, 17 July).

A letter from David Mason, assistant commissary of military stores at Springfield, Mass., to Gates, dated 15 July, has not been identified, but the Sprague transcript reads: “I embrace this oppertunity to intercede with your Honor in favor of a worthy brother Sergeant Henry [Hoey] Conducter of the Laboratory, that he may be permitted to draw one Ration in provision for his wife which is here with him and one child, as he is not able to purchase either bread or meat for his family, had he ever so much money; he is every way deserving of this favor, being the most valuable man we have in the Labortory” (DLC:GW; see also GW to Mason, 25 July, and n.3 to that document).

A letter from Mason, Cheever, and Maj. Joseph Eayres, an artillery artificer, to Gates, written at Springfield on 16 July, reads: “It is with great reluctance we find Ourselves Necessitated to Acquaint Your Honr with A fresh difficulty arisen in this Department by Reason of the Change of Rations, The Issuing Commissy for this department delivered untill the 10th Instant seven pounds of Flour & Nine gills of Rice $ man $ Week, Since that he has received orders from Boston to Deliver only four ⟨p⟩ounds Flour three pounds & Nine gills of Rice $ man ⟨$⟩ Week which was the settled allowance in the time of the scarsity of Flour in Boston, The workmen Complains that they cannot subsist themselves on that Allowance. and if they are denied Bread they cannot work. nor perform the service Expected & Required. of them—Every inducement, & argument has been offered to perswade them to apply themselves to their proper duty Untill proper application could be made, but no perswasions will prevail With Some, who ar[e] Refractory, And no service can be Expected unless examples are made of some of the Grocest offenders, the few men in the Armory, & Harness, Business are Complyant and attentive to their duty, others in the Department obstenately persist in not doing any Work untill they can have Bread allowed them (as they term it) they persist in it that they will not accept of Rice in lieu of Flour—the Commissy has Signified that there will Be no Difficulty in their being supplyed With Flour instead of Rice if he is Directed by proper Authority to Issue it. Therefore Sir, we thot it most prudent, to make this Representation to Your Honr And pray You will be pleased to Send Such orders & Directions as You shall Judge most Expedient for the General service. . . . N.B. we have found it Necessary to Confine those men Mentioned in the Enclosed Schudle. P.S. & we humbly pray the Officers of this department may be allowed to draw the same Rations as the workmen” (DLC:GW). Mason, Cheever, and Eayres apparently enclosed a schedule dated 15 July in their letter to Gates, which then was enclosed in this letter from Gates to GW. That schedule named eight carpenters, three wheelwrights, and five blacksmiths confined at Springfield for disobedience (DLC:GW).

A letter from John Carpenter, commander of the guard at the Springfield arsenal, to Gates, dated 15 July, reads: “Sence the Removal of Genl Heath from the Command at Boston I have had no Information who was Commander in Chief in this Department. but Concluding it must be your Honour I Now address you as such & Transmit the present State of my Company of Guards Stationd at Springfield. and would beg your orders Not only how to Conduct but also to whom to make my Future Returns.

“the D.C. of Issues of this Department has Lately Recd order to Deliver but 4lb. of Flour & 3lb. of Rice pr week this order has made Great Disturbance Not only with the artificers but also with the Guards and as I hear that a Complaint is preparing to you for a Redress of this Grievance with Respect to the former I would address your Honour in Behalf of the Latter that they might Receive as usual their Rations of Flour or bread” (DLC:GW). Carpenter’s returns, both dated 16 July, apparently enclosed initially with his letter to Gates and then in this letter from Gates to GW, showed the present state of his “Company of Guards” as one captain, one subaltern, three sergeants, three corporals, two drummers and fifers, and forty-six privates, and the number of prisoners confined “in the Artificers Department for Disobedience of Orders” as fifteen, plus one deserter (DLC:GW).

John Carpenter (c.1739–1805) served as a sergeant in the Lexington Alarm of April 1775 and as a lieutenant in Col. Timothy Danielson’s Massachusetts regiment from that May to December. He transferred to the 3rd Continental Regiment in January 1776 and remained in that unit until it disbanded at the end of the year. Subsequently a captain in the Massachusetts militia, Carpenter became captain of the prison guards at Springfield in March 1779, and he continued in that capacity until March 1783.

2A resolution that Congress passed on 22 Oct. 1778 placed Gates in command of the eastern department (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 12:1038; see also Henry Laurens to GW, 23 Oct. 1778, and GW to Gates, 29 Oct. 1778, and n.1 to that document).

3This letter from Gates to Ezekiel Cheever has not been identified, but see n.1 above.

4Gates is referring to Andover, Mass., and Salisbury, Connecticut.

5Gates had written Cheever at Springfield on 11 July in a letter that in part reads: “In a late Letter from H. Ex. G. Washn, he acquaints me, that I must draw upon the nearest Magazines for any Military Stores immediately wanted by this Army. I have sent to Boston, & portsmouth, & there is no Supply of powder to be Obtain’d from either of those places. I have not any Ammunition here, but what is Fix’d, and the Article of Muskt Cartridges much too Scanty. I must therefore desire a Supply of powder be immediately sent me, to make good the deficiency complain’d of. Fifty Barrels of good Small Arm powder will do for the present” (Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ; see also GW to Gates, 13 June).

6GW replied to Gates on 25 July.

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