George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs, 26 May 1780

From Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs

Hutts [Jockey Hollow, N.J.] 26th May 1780


Yesterday morning a letter without Signature was found in the Rear of this Brigade with complaints of want of provisions, and intimations that if matter was not redress’d immediately, the troops would march into the Country1—Roll Call was attended as usual without any appearance of disturbance, at which time I mention’d the letter and caution’d the Officers to exert themselves in case any mutinous conduct should be discover’d—Within half an hour after this conversation, the Officers and men having return’d to the Hutts, Was alarm’d with the beating of Drums & information that the two Regiments on the left were under Arms and marching towards the right wing, which they I believe expected would Join them: But if they had a design were preventd by the exertions of the Officers from Assembling—the two Regiments were dispersed without much difficulty:2 But as I could not from the temper that appear’d in the other Regiments depend upon them in case of further disorder, thought it not best to risque a refusal of their Assistance, I sent to Colo. Stewart requesting him to Assemble his Brigade3—Several of the men who appear’d to be the principals are confin’d, every thing is quiet & I have not the least apprehension of any further difficulty—Mr Gamble or the Brigade Commissary are doub[t]less to blame—this Brigade is now ten days deficient in Meat, notwithstanding my efforts to have them supply’d—there cannot possibly be a case where mutiny can be admitted: But that this Brigade has been worse served With provisions than any other in the Army will I believe appear by Mr Gambles Books4—I am with every Sentiment of respect Your Exellencys Obedt servant

R.J. Meigs Colonel Com’dt 1st Connt Brigade


GW replied to this letter from headquarters on this date: “I am exceedingly happy to hear that matters are again reduced to a state of tranquility in the Brigade under your command. I am very much obliged to you for your exertions upon the first appearance of a proceeding of so dangerous a nature and for your conduct throughout the whole of it. Mutiny, as you very properly observe, cannot in any case be justified, but still, if the Commissaries, by a partiality of Issues, have in any degree given ground of complaint, they shall be called to an account and made to answer for it” (LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC: Return Jonathan Meigs Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). GW signed the cover of the LS.

1The unsigned letter has not been identified.

2Participants and observers described the mutiny in the Connecticut line. Private Joseph Plumb Martin of the 8th Connecticut Regiment wrote that the regiment’s soldiers “got a little musty bread and a little beef, about every other day, but this lasted only a short time and then we got nothing at all. The men were now exasperated beyond endurance. … At evening roll call they began to show their dissatisfaction by snapping at the officers and acting contrary to their orders. After their dismissal from the parade, the officers went, as usual, to their quarters, except the adjutant … [who] said something that did not altogether accord with the soldiers’ ideas of propriety, one of the men retorted; the adjutant called him a mutinous rascal … and then left the parade. This man, then stamping the butt of his musket upon the ground … called out, ’Who will parade with me?’ The whole regiment immediately fell in and formed. … the Fourth Regiment, which lay on our left, formed, and came and paraded with us. We now concluded to go in a body to the [Third and Sixth] regiments … and induce them to join with us. … By this time our officers had obtained knowledge of our military maneuvering … and informed the officers of those regiments of our approach and supposed intentions. The officers ordered their men to parade as quick as possible without arms. When that was done, they stationed a camp guard, that happened to be near at hand, between the men and their huts, which prevented them from entering and taking their arms, which they were very anxious to do. Colonel … Meigs, of the Sixth Regiment, exerted himself to prevent his men from obtaining their arms until he received a severe wound in his side by a bayonet in the scuffle. … When we found the officers had been too crafty for us we returned. … While we were under arms, the Pennsylvania troops, who lay not far from us, were ordered under arms and marched off their parades upon, as they were told, a secret expedition. They had surrounded us, unknown to either us or themselves (except the officers). … After our officers had left us to our own option, we dispersed to our huts and laid by our arms of our own accord, but the worm of hunger gnawing so keen kept us from being entirely quiet. We therefore still kept upon the parade in groups, venting our spleen at our country and government, then at our officers. … While we were thus venting our gall against we knew not who, Colonel [Walter] Stewart of the Pennsylvania Line, with two or three other officers of that Line, came to us and questioned us respecting our unsoldierlike conduct (as he termed it). We told him he needed not to be informed of the cause of our present conduct, but that we had borne till we considered further forbearance pusillanimity; that the times, instead of mending, were growing worse; and finally, that we were determined not to bear or forbear much longer. … ’Why do you not go to your officers,’ said he, ’and complain in a regular manner?’ We told him we had repeatedly complained to them, but they would not hear us. ’Your officers,’ said he, ’are gentlemen, they will attend to you. I know them; they cannot refuse to hear you. … your officers suffer as much as you do. We all suffer. The officers have no money to purchase supplies with any more than the private men have. … you know not how much you injure your own characters by such conduct. You Connecticut troops have won immortal honor to yourselves the winter past, by your perseverance, patience, and bravery, and now you are shaking it off at your heels. But I will go and see your officers, and talk with them myself.’ He went, but what the result was, I never knew. … Our stir did us some good in the end, for we had provisions directly after, so we had no great cause for complaint for some time” (Martin, Private Yankee Doodle description begins Joseph Plumb Martin. Private Yankee Doodle: Being a Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier. Edited by George F. Scheer. 1962. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 182–87).

Lt. Samuel Richards of the 3d Connecticut Regiment reported that when asked by their officers why they paraded, the mutineers “replied thro’ a leading serjeant, that their sufferings had become so great they could endure them no longer, and were determined to quit the service and return home: adding that from the commencement of the year they had received neither pay nor clothing, and now provision failed.

“Col. Meigs who was a favorite of the soldiers—having his sword drawn—moved near to the serjeant, who was the speaker, and commanded him to fall into the ranks and return with the men to quarters; on this the serjeant levelled his gun with the bayonet fixed towards Col: M. saying their resolution was formed and they should not recede from it. … A short season of calm ensued and the officers assured the men that if they would quietly return to their duty, and their pressing wants were not supplied by a given day, they—the officers—would not attempt to prevent their dispersing. The officers then retired and by midday all was apparently quiet” (Diary of Samuel Richards description begins Diary of Samuel Richards, Captain of Connecticut Line, War of the Revolution 1775-1781. Philadelphia, Pa., 1909. description ends , 67–68).

In his journal entry dated 29 May, Dr. James Thacher wrote about the mutineers: “Their complaints are, that they have too long served the public without any present, or prospect of future recompense; that their sufferings are insupportable, that their pay is five months in arrear, and that it is of no value when received” (Thacher, Military Journal description begins James Thacher. Military Journal of the American Revolution, From the commencement to the disbanding of the American Army; Comprising a detailed account of the principal events and Battles of the Revolution, with their exact dates, And a Biographical Sketch of the most Prominent Generals. Hartford, 1862. description ends , 197–98). For GW’s assessment of the mutiny’s cause, see his letter to Samuel Huntington, 27–28 May, and n.8.

3Col. Walter Stewart had temporary command of the 1st Pennsylvania Brigade.

4James Gamble, deputy commissary at Morristown, signed an “Account of Stores on hand of the Commissaries at Camp and at the Magazine,” dated 4 May. It showed that the 1st Connecticut Brigade, which included Meigs’s 6th Connecticut Regiment, had no supply of pork on hand, but had two heads of cattle and four barrels of beef. The return indicated that available beef, pork, and cattle would feed the troops only about four days (DNA:PCC, item 39).

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