George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 2 September 1779

To Major General William Heath

Head Quarters [West Point] 2d Sept. 1779

Dear Sir

When yours of this morning1 came to Head Quarters, I was from home. The direction of the Board of War to apprehend Deserters from the Convention Troops was clearly meant only to extend to those who should attempt to desert from CharlotteVille. Inclosed you have the order itself.2 You will therefore be pleased to order the two persons at present in confinement to be sent safely back to the Township from whence they came, and any others in future who may be under similar circumstances. I am Dear Sir Your most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers.

1This letter has not been found, but a note on the cover of this letter indicates Heath’s letter may have concerned “Deserters being received as recruits for the Army.”

2A printed copy of the board’s undated order, which GW apparently enclosed, is in MHi: Heath Papers with the 2 Sept. documents, following this letter. It reads in part: “Whereas the Board have received information from Colonel Bland, commanding at the Convention Barracks, near Charlotteville in Virginia, that considerable desertions have taken place among the troops of the Convention, many of whom leave the post with an intent to rejoin the enemy: All oficers in the service of the United States, are therefore directed to be vigilant in detecting and apprehending deserters from those troops. The civil officers in the respective States where such deserters may be found, are earnestly requested to give their assistance in securing them; and the well affected inhabitants will do essential service to their country, by taking into custody all British deserters travelling from the southward, and delivering them to the next Commissary of Prisoners, or committing them to the nearest ⟨gaol⟩. A practice of administering the State oath ⟨of alle⟩giance to deserters from the convention troops ⟨illegible⟩ ⟨su⟩pplying them with passes, has heretofore ⟨illegible⟩ent, and productive of very pernicious co⟨nsequences⟩, by affording them a safe and easy method ⟨of⟩ ⟨illegible⟩ng to pl⟨a⟩ces in the possession of the British army. Those magistrates and other officers of justice, who have been induced to receive such oaths, and grant passes in consequence thereof, are earnestly called upon to discontinue a practice so injurious to the States: And as those passes have been obtained merely with a design to facilitate their escape to the enemy, the soldiers possessed of them are notwithstanding to be sec⟨ur⟩ed, and treated as deserters.”

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