George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Christopher Greene, 27 March 1780

From Colonel Christopher Greene

Providence 27th March 1780


I have the Honor to Inclose the return your Excellency last call’d on me for,1 Also the proceedings of A Court Martial held by Order of General Cornell The proceedings have been laid before The Governor.2 He Took the Advice of His Council as to the propriety of his Acting in the Mater, They were of Opinion he had no right to Act, and recommended my Sending the proceedings to your Excellency—I have been very Severe in punishment for Stealing but almost to no purpose, There has hardly been a weeks Interval, during the winter, but more or less have been Detected in Stealing, Breaking in to Shops, & Stores—I greatly fear they will not be Broke of the detestable practice unless Capital punishment Takes place—The one whose Trial I have Sent has been Several Times Severely whipt for Stealing, to no purpose in reclaiming him, Should it be your Excellencys Opinion to punish Capitally for Such a crime as his I think him as proper a Subject as can be—I Anxtiously wish to know your Excellency’s Determination in the Matter.

I Should be very happy (if consistant) my Regt was Called from the State to join the Army, as I am very confident They wou’d be of more Service to the public when carried from their acquaintance and Conections than Among them, and the view of Stealing wou’d be less prevalent as I am very Sure the wicked Inhabitants Incourages them in vices of the kind.3 I am with the Greatest respect your Excellency’s Most Obt Humle Servt

C. Greene


1The enclosed return has not been identified. When GW wrote Greene on 22 Feb., he had requested “an exact Return of the number of non Commd Officers and privates of your Regiment designating in a particular manner what proportion of them are inlisted for the War and the different terms of service of the residue digested in monthly Columns.”

2The enclosed court-martial proceedings presented to Rhode Island governor William Greene have not been identified.

3GW replied to Greene from Morristown on 12 April: “I have been favd with yours of the 27 March inclosing a Return of your Regimt and the proceedings of a General Court Martial held by order of General Cornell. I am under the necessity of disapproving the sentence of the Court against Windsor Fry on account of its irregular constitution; as by the Articles of War a General Court Martial for the trial of a Continental Officer or soldier can only be ordered by the Commander in Chief—The officer commanding a separate departmt or the Continental General Officer commanding in any one of the states. But that the Offender may not thereby escape from punishment, I inclose a power to hold a proper Court, under which the prisoner may be brought to a new trial—I have not yet determined upon the station of your Regt for the ensuing Campaign, but I think it more than probable that I shall be under the necessity of drawing it to the main Body of the Army to replace, in part, the detachments which we have been obliged to make to the southward. I return the proceedings of the former Court Martial” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; Tilghman identified Greene’s location as Rhode Island on the draft). GW apparently is referring to a revised article of war (see GW to Robert Howe, 21 March, n.7). The enclosed “power” has not been identified.

Greene responded to GW from Newport, R.I., on 9 May: “I have the Honor to Inclose the proceedings of the Court Martial Held by your Excellencys Order.

“I have at this post my Regt and about fifty States Troops, The Officers at the post or on Duty in the State are not a Sufficient Number for a Genl Court Martial The States Officers all being Discharged except Two We are in no way to get Pay or Clothing for the Regt but by Sending to Head Quarters for Warrants, The expence of Traviling is Too great for a Pay Masters wages for Such a journey These Considerations makes [me] wish to join the Army. I will notwithstanding Cheerfully comply with what your Excellency Directs” (ALS, DLC:GW). The enclosed court-martial proceedings have not been identified.

GW answered Greene from Morristown on 31 May: “I recd your favr of the 9th Inst. enclosing the proceedings of a Court Martial upon Fry of your Regt. I have approved the sentence, and enclosed you have a Warrant for his Execution. I think it more than probable that your Regiment will be in a little time drawn to the main Body of the Army, should it not, means must be fallen upon to provide you pay and other necessaries upon the spot” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). The enclosed warrant has not been identified, but in the general orders for 28 May, GW confirmed Fry’s death sentence for stealing “‘a quantity of Beef, Candles and Rum’” from the commissary’s store and “‘for breaking open two Wind Mills and Stealing a Quantity of Metal.’” The same general orders noted as contributory to Fry’s sentence “the heinousness of his present Crimes together with his former bad conduct.”

Windsor (Winsor) Fry (d. 1823) enlisted as a private in the 1st Rhode Island Regiment in February 1777 to serve for the war. According to regimental muster rolls, he deserted on 5 Feb. 1780 and was retaken the following September. For reasons that remain unclear, he avoided execution and was allowed to return to service. Fry stayed in the army until the end of the war. Documents in Fry’s pension file contain no mention of his death sentence or desertion and identify him as a propertyless black laborer in poor health who signed his name with a mark (see DNA: RG 15, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800–1900).

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