George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Jay, 29 July 1779

From John Jay

Philadelphia 29th July 1779


I have been honored with Your Excellency’s favors of the 20th & 21st Inst., with the several papers referred to in the latter.

Your Excellency will receive herewith enclosed a copy of a Letter from the President of the Executive Council of this State containing Intelligence relative to the Reinforcements expected by the Enemy1— a copy of a Letter from Major General Sullivan of the 21st Inst.,2 & of several Papers which accompanied it,3 pointing out the difficulties which retard his Progress—These Papers are enumerated in a list which is enclosed with them4—Copies of two Acts of Congress of the 23rd Inst., one for regulating the Hide Department, the other for preventing the destruction of Buildings, & for the better securing Property belonging to the United States.5

James Wilkinson Esquire has been elected Cloathier General—He has accepted the Appointment, & promises to enter on the Execution of it without delay.6 I have the honor to be With the greatest Respect & Esteem Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Servant


LB, DNA:PCC, item 14. GW acknowledged Jay’s letter on 6 Aug., indicating that he would “take the liberty in a few days, to lay before Congress a state of facts with respect to the Expedition under General Sullivan” (DNA:PCC, item 152). In his letter to Jay of 15 Aug., which included numerous enclosures from correspondence involving Sullivan, GW vigorously countered that general’s contentions (DNA:PCC, item 152).

1The original letter from Joseph Reed, president of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council, to Jay, written at Philadelphia on 27 July, reads: “One James Yard an intelligent young Man called upon me this Morning & gave me the following Intelligence. That he sailed from New York about 10 Days ago bound to Italia with a Veiw to come to this Country in a more unexceptionable Mode than by Way of Elizabeth Town. that on his Passage he was taken by the Maccaroni Privateer of Salem & two Days afterwards retaken by the Greyhound Man of War out 42 Days from England. that he was sent for on Board the Greyhound where he found L[or]d Cornwallis & Col. Stewart (Son to Lord Bute) that they ask’d him with great Anxiety whether Admiral Arbuthnot & the Fleet had arrived from England—& then whether General Grant from St Lucia had arrived with the Troops—upon his answering both in the Negative they seemed much surprized and said Admiral Arbuthnot had sailed a considerable Time before them with 200 Ships having on board a great Reinforcement. And Grant was expected long before this Time—they also ask’d him many Questions about our Army that under Sr Henry Clinton &c. &c. &c.—He was then returned to his own Ship & the next Day in Sight of the Greyhound was again retaken by the Monmouth Privateer Capt. Ingersol of Salem who sent him into Eggharbour from whence he came to this Place. This young Man says that he had good Opportunities of knowing in New York what the principal Refugees thought of publick Affairs & that the prevailing System or at least their Opini[o]n of it was that Operations are to be carried on in different Places & every Species of Distress inflicted on the Inhabitants.

“If Congress should have any particular Accounts from New York I must beg the Favour of an early Communication as the Defences of this Place & the calling upon the Militia will much depend upon the Authenticity of th⟨mutilated⟩ Advices” (DNA:PCC, item 69). Congress read Reed’s letter on the same date and ordered a copy sent to GW (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 14:893).

2This enclosure is a copy of a letter from Sullivan to John Jay, written at Wyoming, Pa., and dated Wednesday, 21 July: “I have hitherto delayed troubling Congress with any Accounts from this Quarter, from a hope, that before this Time I should have been able to have given them more favorable Accounts from this Quarter, than is now in my Power. My Duty to the Publick & regard to my own Reputation, compel me to State to Congress the reasons of the Army under my Command being so long delayed at this Post, without advancing into the Enemy’s Country. In Order to which I must beg Leave to observe, that in April last it was agreed, the Army should be put in Motion the fifteenth of May and rendevouz at Easton on the Twentieth & to proceed immediately on the Expedition, the Necessary Preparations were to be made in the Quarter-Master & Commissary departments by the time prefix’d, So that no delay should take place in Carrying on an Expedition, the Success of which seemed in a great Measure to depend on Secrecy & dispatch. I immediately detach’d Parties to clear a Road from Easton to Wyoming which was done in Season & might have been done sooner had not the backwardness of Affairs in other Quarters, oblig’d me to hold great part of the Army at Easton to prevent the unnecessary Consumption of Stores destin’d for the Expedition.

“I must here observe that the plan for Carrying on the Expedition was not agreable to my Mind nor were the Number of Men destined for it, sufficient in my Opinion to ensure Success. This Congress will See by the enclosed Copies of my Letters to General Washington No. 1 & 2 which eventually had no other Effect than to alter the rout of General Clinton’s Detachment from Mohawk River to Susquehannah. I had early in April inquired from the Heads of the Qr Master and Commissary Department & received every possible Assurance that ev’ry Thing would be in a perfect State of readiness upon my Arrival at this Post. But on my Arrival at Easton I was inform’d by Genl Hand who then commanded here, that there was not the least prospect of the Boats or Stores being in readiness in Season; Upon which I halted the Army at Easton, Sending forward only such Corps as were necessary to defend this Post & assist in forwarding the Stores. I remained at Easton until I was asham’d, & then receiving some flattering Letters proceeded on to this Post, where I have remained without having it in my Power to advance toward the Enemy. To prove this clearly to Congress I enclose a Return of Provision (Number 3) made me in April which were said To be deposited on the Susquehannah & would be at Kelso’s ferry So as to be transported here by the Time prefix’d (the Notes at the Bottom of the Return will shew what we now have on hand & of what Quality) & here permit me to observe that near one half the Flour & more than two thirds of the live Stock mentioned, I have caused to be procured from Easton fearing to meet with those Disappointments I have too often experienced.

“The Inspector of Provision is now on the Ground by Order of the Board of War inspecting the Provisions & his Regard to Truth must oblige him on his return to report to Congress that of the salted Meat on Hand, there is not a single Pound fit to be eaten, even at this Day ’tho ev’ry Measure has been taken to preserve it, that possibly could be devised. I also enclose Congress a List of Articles in the Quarter Master’s Department (Number 4) which were to have been procur’d, with Notes thereon of what have been received, Upon Examining which returns, Congress will be at no loss to Account for the Delay of this Army. I requested Comy Blaine to forward a Thousand head of Cattle: Some few more than Two Hundred arriv’d & about One Hundred & fifty more having arriv’d at Sunbury were left, being too poor to Walk & many of them unable to stand. Three Hundred of our Horses came in with Colo. Copperthwait [Cowperthwaite] on the 20th Instant & there is not a Sufficiency of those & no pack Saddles for one half we have. I inclose a Letter from Major Clayburn [Claiborne] of the 19th of May to shew that the Boats were then unbuilt, Which were to have brought the Provision to this Post by the 20th & to shew that the first Boats were upon the Presumption of others being procured, order’d not to return, but the small Number of Boats which have been procured has occasio⟨n’d⟩ those Boats to be sent down the River four Ti⟨mes⟩ since. The other Copies of Letters, Number’d from 5 to 10 inclusively, shew the Steps which have been taken to procure Provisions, will point out the Deficiencies & shew the mortifying Necessity I have been under of remaining in a State of Inactivity at this Post, & will shew that we are now bringing on Pack Horses from Carlisle, fl⟨our⟩ destin’d for the Use of this Army, & which oug⟨ht⟩ to have been here the 20th of May last. I beg leave to assure Congress that those Deficiencies did not arise from want of proper & repeated Application, Nor has a Single Step been left un⟨tried,⟩ which was possible for me or the Army under my Command to take for Procuring & forwarding t⟨he⟩ Stores. Having been taught by repeated Disappointments to be cautious, I early gave Orders to General Clinton to supply his Troops with three Monthly Provisions & wrote Govr Clinton for his Assistance in April last, this has been done & they are supplied. I have procured provision from Easton & other Places, which with what is now on its Way from Sunbury (which will be here on Sunday) will enable us to move the Beginning of next Week. But in order to avoid censure in Case of Misfortune—I must beg Congress to recur to the reasonings in my Letters to General Washington respecting the Numbers necessary to ensure Success & then to examine the enclosed return of the Forces here. They now stand at Two Thousand three Hundred & twelve Rank & File only General Washington in Consequence of my Letters wrote the executive Council of Pennsylvania for Rangers & rifle Men—they engaged Seven Hundred and twenty & the President frequently wrote me that they would be ready in Season, Not a Man of them has joined us, nor are any about to do it: the reason assigned by them is, that the Quarter-Master gave such extravagant Prices to Boatmen, that they all enlisted into the Boat Service—But this is evidently a Mistake for we have not a Hundred Boatmen engaged for the Army & but forty two Pack horse Men, So that I must draught for Boatmen & pack horse Men near Nine Hundred. this will reduce my Numbers to fourteen hundred & twelve; then I must deduct for drivers of Cattle & for the Artillery one Hundred & fifty, for the Garrison one Hundred, which leaves me eleven hundred & Sixty two—from these I deduct the Officers Waiters & Managers of Bat horses, two Hundred & twenty four, this reduces me to Nine Hundred & thirty eight, & more than a third of them without a Shirt to their Backs. This is the force with which I am to advance against an Enemy allowed to be two Thousand Strong & who have certainly been lately reinforced with Seven hundred British Troops from Canada. I need not mention to Congress that it is so easy for the Enemy to act with their whole Force against either parts of our Army before the Junction is formed & that common prudence will direct to it. I have therefore nothing to rely on but the Ardour & well known Bravery of my Troops which I trust will surmount all opposition. But should a defeat take place & the ruin of the Army be the Consequence, whether I do or do not perish in the Action, I call upon the Members of Congress to witness to the World that I early foresaw & foretold the Danger & used ev’ry Means in my Power to procure a Force sufficient to ensure Success, but failed to obtain it” (DLC:GW; see also DNA:PCC, item 160). Also enclosed with this letter from Jay to GW is an undated list, found in DLC:GW, which describes the numbered documents in Sullivan’s letter.

3These enclosures, all in DLC:GW, are copies of Richard Claiborne, deputy quartermaster general, to Brig. Gen. Edward Hand, 19 May; Lt. Col. Adam Hubley, Jr., to Sullivan, 2 July; Hand to Sullivan, 13 and 14 July; and Alexander Steel, deputy commissary general of issues, to Sullivan, 15 July.

Claiborne’s letter to Hand on 19 May, written from Estherton, Pa., reads: “I left General Green’s the 30th of last April, to enquire into and expedite the Business for the Indian Expeditions. I found a great Deficiency in every Thing except Provisions. This necessary Article has been sufficient and I have every Prospect of its Continuance.

“Not a Third of the 2 ton Boats were compleat, and not a Boatman engag’d; so that had it not have been for the large Boats which Colo. Coxe [Cornelius Cox] hired upon the River we must have been entirely at a Loss, and almost inactive.

“However the Boat Builders go on with great Industry, The Recruiters report their great Success in Engaging Boatmen and every Thing in that Way bears a favorable Aspect.

“The Stores heretofore from Colo. [John] Mitchell have come to Hand very slowly, but now they begin to mend their Pace and shortly I hope we shall have the Number that was ordered to be deposited at this Place. Last Evening I recd a Letter from General Greene informing me that General Sullivan with his Troops will be at Wyoming by the 25th of this Month & that the Stores and Provisions must be got up by that, Also to apply to General Hand for a Detachment from the Army to serve as Boatmen. I beg therefore that you will order down immediately to this place one Hundred and 20 Men wth 4 Commission’d Officers to Man 30 two Ton Boats laden with Provision and Stores for Wyomg.

“Be kind enough Sir, to order the Quarter Master who serves with you to employ some of the Inhabitants who are well acquainted wth the River to act as Pilots to those Boats, and send them with the Detachment, who will be allowed a full Compensation for their Trouble.

“It is only this Time that the Men will be wanted, as I am fully assured that a sufficiency of Boatmen will be ready to come up wth the next supply of Stores. The Boats may continue at Wyoming, and it is to be hoped that particular Care will be taken of them. By the Arrival of which Boatmen will be forwarded to Man them, that Soldiers may not be taken a second Time.”

Hubley’s letter to Sullivan on Friday, 2 July, written from Sunbury, Pa., reads: “I have just received your favour of 30th Ultimo $ Express desiring me to inform your honour whether it will be necessary for the Boats at Wyoming to come down the River for the remainder of the Stores, or whether there are a sufficient number below to answer that purpose.

“Mr McClay, the Dy Cy Genl of purchases for this Department is just arrived from Esthertown, which place he left yesterday, & is well acquainted with the state of the Stores there. He informs me that the Stores now at Esthertown & Kelso’s Ferry (exclusive of forty Boats loaded & at this post) will be considerably more than to load the boats, which will remain, & those at Wyoming—It will therefore be necessary that the boats be forwarded with the greatest expedition—as the Water here is falling considerably, and consequently will delay the exportation of the stores much longer than your honour probably may expect—I cannot but condemn the Conduct of the Commissaries, & such other persons employed in forwarding to us the provisions from below—it’s truely alarming—I conceive it my duty to represent to you what has fallen under my immediate notice—I understood by Information that the greatest part of the Salt Beef sent, & intended for the expedition was unfit for use. I conceived it my duty to enquire into the Matter, and order an Examination, and accordingly ordered a person employed in public service for this purpose, & now at this post—He accordingly examined about 180 Barrels (the quantity at present here) and found above one third of it tainted, & unfit for use—the Consequences are certainly alarming—Not only the immense Expence will be lost—I fear it will also occasion a longer delay of the Expedition than what was expected. A great quantity of this Beef is yet below, if steps are not taken to examine into the matter before its forwarded to this place, I fear my Apprehensions will be too well grounded. I have thought proper to give orders for our Movement on sunday morning, as all the boats (excepting Capt. Alexanders who is yet below) are here and sufficiently loaded with provisions, (Beef which passed inspection included) & Qr Master’s stores. I shall exert myself and see to expedite this Business, and hope my proceedings will meet with your honours approbation—I with the advice of Mr McClay & some other Gentlemen have judged it best that Capn Alexander with his Boats should on his Arrival (which will be in about 5 days hence) unload his Cargoe, & immediately return to Estherton & bring on Stores to this place in the mean time the boats from Wyoming will arrive, & the business thro’ this plan be more expeditiously executed, As the Waters below this generally are considerably lower than from this to Wyoming—Should your honour think proper any thing further should be done, before my leaving Fort Jenkins; at which place I expect to be before I hear from you—I should esteem it a favour to have it communicated to me as soon as possible. . . . My staying longer would detain the large fleet at present here, which must be attended with considerable Expences besides waste of time.”

The ALS of this letter from Hubley to Sullivan also is in DLC:GW. Sullivan added an undated comment at the end of this letter: “This Copy Shows the State of provisions below—& as our Dependance Must be upon Live Stock While in the Indians Country it is Surprizing that So few Cattle have been Sent on.”

Hand’s letter to Sullivan on 13 July, written at Kelso’s Ferry, Pa., reads: “When I did myself the honour of writing to you the 11th I told you that I would stop the Boats then coming up, at Sunbury, untill they could be joined by those now lying here. I gave these orders to Captn Meade who had the direction of the first Boats, but shall contradict them by Col. Steel, & direct Captn Meade to proceed immediately on his Arrival at Sunbury, which will be tomorrow. You will therefore please to order such an Escort to meet Captn Mead as you judge sufficient to protect the Stores on board his Fleet consisting of 36 Boats. My reason for altering my Resolution respecting the Boats under Captn Meade’s Care is, that notwithstanding the Boats now loading, & those I expect from Middletown today by Capn Sholt’s [Schott’s] Corps which I dispatched last night for them, will probaley drain the Stores of the most usefull Articles of provision. I have reason to expect that there will be a large quantity of Flour here in a few days, an article which we will doubtless want. You will therefore have it in your option when the Boats arrive at Wyoming, to send them immediately back, or detain them, untill those now loading arrive, in order to proceed with the whole on the expedition, which in my humble opinion will be the most eligible, as it is not likely the No. of Boats we can collect wd bring Provisions from here faster than the Army will consume them.

“I shall tomorrow be able to inform you what Number of Boats I can collect & Man, the stores on board them & what remains behind. The Qr Master’s stores are trifling, The Cargoes will therefore chiefly consist of Flour, Salt and Liquor. Colo. Steel will be able to give you an exact detail of the Stores in the different Magazines on which this depends—My duty restricting me to this and the Posts between this & Wyoming, shall confine myself to them. . . . Cap. Cummings & the Officers of his party deserve public thanks for their spirited Exertions.”

Hand’s letter to Sullivan on 14 July, also written at Kelso’s Ferry, reads: “I have this Morning sent forward one large & 57 small Boats, laden with 247 Barrels & 83 Kegs of Flour, 104 Barrels Beef, 5 Barls Pork, 8 Hogshead, 1 Tearce, & 37 Barrels Whiskey 6 Hogsheads Rum, 75 Bushls Salt, 8 Coils white Rope, 47 Horse Bells, one Barrel Nails, one Box boat Nails, 16 Cut bar Iron, A Quantity of Ocum, 50 Ink Stands, 700 Quills, & a Cask of dryed Beef for your own Use.

“About one Ton of bar Iron, & a few Setts Waggon Harness, with 11 Boxes of Fascine Axes, & 1 Box Boat Nails compose the whole of the Quarter Masters Stores left here or at Estherton: No military Store of any kind.

“The Commissaries Stores at this place consist of 3 Hogsheads 1 Tearce & 6 Barrels Whiskey (one Hogshead & 6 Barrels of which arrived after the Boats were laden) 46 Barrels good Beef & 15 D[itt]o Pork, 60 Barrels Flour, 10 of which could not be embarked on Account of the Badness of the Casks. The other 50 arrived after the Boats were laden, & 24 Barrels condemned Bread.

“The whole of the Boats remaining here, & all to be expected this Season are 12, which I could not Man, as I am informed that a Quantity of Flour & dried Beef destined for your Army Are now at Carlisle, & that the Quarter Master there, (Colo. Davis) has a Number of Horses which General Green has directed him to keep in readiness to send off at a Moment’s Warning, & immagining he intended them for you, have directed Colo. Davis to forward all the flour & Beef by these Horses to Sunbury, which can be done in two Days, telling him he would there receive your Orders to deliver the Loading or to proceed with it to Wyoming Which I hope you will please attend to.”

Steel’s letter to Sullivan on Thursday, 15 July, written at Sunbury, reads in part: “I have the pleasure to inform you that the stores now on their way up are all very good, and the Waters are risen so much that I think the last of the boats Will be here saturday next. When at Carlisle I was informed of the Bake house at York town being burnt which was of small consequence as the bread made there was so bad that on examination I could not pick two barrels out of twenty fit for service. I immediately sent for Mr McLure and Major [Matthew] Smith who informed me they had between 400 & 500 Barrels of flour, which I requested would be immediately sent on, and as there were a number of pack horses about 5 miles from Carlisle I thought it the most expeditious method of getting it forward, to pack it. A number of Cattle go on with the pack horses. As there is a number of Cattle to be collected about this place smoaked beef to be packed, and on the arrival of the other stores an immensity of Business to be done at the request of Major Conway I shall remain here till I see the whole under way for head quarters, which I hope will meet with your approbation.

“On my leaving Estherton General Hand desired me to inform you that it would be expedient to receive your Orders for the pack horses to proceed from this place to the Army as Major General Green had ordered the horses there for a particular use.”

4For this enclosed list, see the end of n.2 above.

5The enclosed copies of these acts have not been identified, but 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 14:867–71.

6For James Wilkinson’s election as clothier general on 24 July, 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 14:883–84, and Jay to Wilkinson, 24 July, in 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 13:289.

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