George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Samuel Huntington, 27–28 May 1780

To Samuel Huntington

Head qrs Morris Town May 27th[–28] 1780


It is with infinite pain I inform Congress, that we are reduced again to a situation of extremity for want of meat. On several days of late, the Troops have been entirely destitute of any, and for a considerable time past they have been at best—at half—a quarter—an Eighth allowance of this essential article of provision. The men have borne their distress in general with a firmness and patience never exceeded—and every commendation is due the Officers for encouraging them to it, by exhortation and example. They have suffered equally with the Men, and, their relative situations considered, rather more. But such reiterated—constant instances of want are too much for the Soldiery—and cannot but lead to alarming consequences. accordingly Two Regiments of the Connecticut line mutinied & got under arms on Thursday night1—and but for the timely exertions of some of their Officers who got notice of it—it might have been the case with the whole—with a determination to return home—or at best to gain subsistence at the point of the bayonet. after a good deal of expostulation by their Officers and some of the pennsylvania line who had come to their assistance, after parading their Regiments upon the occasion, the Men were prevailed on to go to their Huts, but a few nevertheless turned out again with their packs, who are now confined. colo. Meigs who acted with great propriety in endeavouring to suppress the mutiny was struck by one of the Soldiers. I wish our situation was better with respect to provision in other quarters; but it is not. They are in as great distress at West point to the full2—and by a Letter of the 19th from Colo. Vanschaick at Albany he informs me, that the Garrison of Fort Schuyler had then only a Month’s supply on hand—and that there was no more provision to send them. From this detail Congress will see how distressing our situation is; but there are other matters which still contribute to render it more alarming.

By advices received from prisoners who escaped from Montreal about the last of april—and some who escaped from other parts of Canada—the Enemy were assembling a considerable force at Montreal; composed of Regulars, Tories & Savages—and making preparations of Cannon &c. for an expedition against Fort Schuyler, on which they were to set out the 15th Instant.3 How far this may really be the case I cannot determine, but by a Letter received to day by Genl Schuyler from His Excellency Governor Clinton, dated at Kingston the 23d—Sir John Johnston had penetrated into the Country with Five hundred Men as far as Johnstown—and seemed to be taking post.4 If a force is coming against Fort Schuyler, and which it is to be apprehended is the case to justify this measure—the manuvre must be intended to prevent supplies of provision (supposing we had them) from being thrown into the Garrison. In consequence of this disagreable intelligence, I have determined if it can possibly be done, to put the York Troops in motion for the North River and embark them for Albany—from whence they will proceed and act as circumstances will admit & require.5 What they will do for provisions I know not, as we have none; and as the great exertions of the state for the support of the Army last year, and that part of it which lies at the Highland posts till the present time—added to the shortness and bad quality of their crops,6 with the destruction of several of their Frontier settlements, have drained the Inhabitants to the distress of their families: I am now entreated in the most pressing terms, to send on flour to supply the Troops at West point, and from the fullest persuasion of the inability of the State of New York to do more than she has already—I was compelled two days ago to order a Hundred Barrels of flour to be forwarded from hence even for the Troops at Fort Schuyler.7

Nothing is further from my wishes than to add in the smallest degree to the distresses or embarrasments of Congress on any occasion, and more particularly on one, where I have every reason to fear they have it not in their power to administer the least relief. Duty however compells me to add one matter more to those I have already detailed. I have been informed by the Two Colonels of the pennsylva. line in whom I have the utmost confidence, who were called to assist Colo. Meig’s to suppress the mutiny on Thursday night, that in the course of their expostulations, the troops very pointedly mentioned besides their distresses for provision, their not being paid for Five months; and, what is of a still more serious & delicate nature in our present circumstances, they mentioned the great depreciation of the Money—it’s being of little or no value at all—and yet if they should be paid, that it would be in this way and according to the usual amount, without an adequate allowance for the depreciation. They were reasoned with—and eve[r]y Argument used that these Gentlemen & Colo. Meigs could devise, either to interest their pride or their passions; they were reminded of their past good conduct—of the late assurances of Congress8—of the Objects for which they were contending; but their answer was—their sufferings were too great—that they wanted present relief—and some present substantial recompence for their service. This matter I confess, though I have heard of no further uneasiness among the Men, has given me infinitely more concern than any thing that has ever happened—and strikes me as the most important; because We have no means at this time that I know of, for paying the Troops but in Continental money, and as it is evidently impracticable from the immense quantity it would require, to pay them in this as much as would make up the depreciation. Every possible means in my power will be directed on this & on all occasions, as they ever have been, to preserve order & promote the public service; but in such an accumulation of distresses—amidst such a variety of embarrasments which surround us on all sides—this will be found at least extremely difficult. If the Troops could only be comfortably supplied with provisions—it would be a great point—and such as would with the event we expect soon to take place—the arrival of the Armament from France to our succour9—make them forget—or at least forego, many matters which make a part of their anxiety and present complaints. I have the Honor to be with the highest respect & esteem Yr Excellency’s Most Obedt st

Go: Washington

p.S. I was duly honoured with Your Excellency’s dispatches of the 20th by favor of the Marquiss de la Fayette and shall consider, & act upon their important contents in the best manner I can, to promote the great Objects to which they extend.


The Troops were served yesterday with allowance of meat, by the arrival of some pork from Trentown—and Thirty Cattle came in from Connecticut in the Evening. Sixteen were left at West point. Some Cattle also have just reached Camp from pennsylvania.10

I inclose Your Excellency three New York Gazettes11 also a small printed paper found in our Camp, containing an address to our soldiery by the Enemy to induce them to desert.12 It is most likely that many Copies were dispersed and that they have had a considerable effect—though this is the only one that has been seen by the Officers notwithstanding their pains to find them. Your Excellency will see the points, on which the Enemy particularly found their Address.

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The draft, also in Harrison’s writing, is heavily emended.

Congress read this letter on 31 May; referred it to a committee consisting of delegates Oliver Ellsworth, John Armstrong, and James Duane; and instructed them to “confer on the subject of the letter with a committee of the general assembly and supreme executive council of Pensylvania” (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 , 17:473). The minutes of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council for 31 May record that “a letter was received from Mr. Elsworth, General Armstrong and Mr. Duane, a Committee of Congress, requesting a Conference on the supplies for the Army; Whereupon, they were introduced into conference and read a letter from his Excellency Gen’l Washington, of the 27th instant, to Congress, stating his situation and difficulties” (Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 12:370; see also 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 , 15:221–22). For the committee’s report, see Huntington to GW, 3 June; see also 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 , 17:479–80.

1For the mutiny of two Connecticut regiments on Thursday, 25 May, see Return Jonathan Meigs to GW, 26 May.

3For this intelligence, see Goose Van Schaick to GW, 19 May.

4GW is referring to the letter dated 25 May at Kingston, N.Y., from New York governor George Clinton to New York delegate Philip Schuyler. Clinton wrote Schuyler that he had received accounts “from Tryon County, which I must beg you to communicate to his Excellency Genl. Washington and to Congress.” Clinton explained that Lt. Col. John Johnson had “encamped his Troops near Johnstown,” and that “when you compare this Circumstance with the acc’ts from Montreal of the Preparations that were making to invest Fort Schuyler, there is every Reason to expect that Place is actually besieged by a considerable Force, for, unless this is the Case we must suppose Sir John a Madman to set down & by unnecessary Delay leave it in our Power to cut off his Retreat” (Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 5:754–55). Replying on 28 May, Schuyler wrote that he received Clinton’s letter at 5:00 P.M. “yesterday afternoon; I was with the Commander in chief when it came to hand, and afforded him an Immediate perusal of it; he did me the honor to Intreat my opinion on the possibility of Subsisting any troops he might detatch to the northward during their rout and after their arrival at the point of Operation; I did not hesitate to decide that they could be … General [James] Clinton’s brigade will in Consequence march for New Windsor to-morrow morning; a want of Carriage induces a delay of this day” (Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 5:767–69; see also GW to Clinton, 28 May, n.3).

Frederick Haldimand, governor of Canada, wrote Lord George Germain from Quebec on 12 July that Johnson was sent “with a party of about 500 troops and Indians in order to favour the escape of those desirous to take refuge in this province, which he effected by his activity in a march of 19 days through the woods, having brought off 150 loyalists fit to carry arms, first destroying a considerable number of houses, mills, etc., and a great quantity of provisions and stores of all kinds” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 18:116–18). For reports of raids in the vicinity of the Mohawk River led by Mohawk chief Joseph Brant and Johnson, see Clinton to GW, 19 May, and notes 1 and 2 to that document; see also Clinton to GW, 21 May, and n.3 to that document.

6For flour previously sent from New York to the army, see Jeremiah Wadsworth to GW, 27 Aug. and 1 Sept. 1779. The New York legislature had passed measures allowing for the impressment of crops (see George Clinton to GW, 26 Dec. 1779, and n.3 to that document, and 19 May 1780, and n.5 to that document).

7See GW to George Clinton, 25 May, and n.2 to that document; see also Robert Howe’s first two letters to GW on 22 May (letter 1; letter 2).

8A congressional resolution adopted on 10 April promised that “when Congress shall be furnished with proper documents to liquidate the depreciation of the continental bills of credit, they will, as soon thereafter as the state of the public finances will admit, make good to the line of the army, and the independent corps thereof, the deficiency of their original pay, occasioned by such depreciation” (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 , 16:344–45; see also Huntington to GW, 18 April). For later congressional actions, 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 , 17:725–26.

9For the French expeditionary force, see GW to Duane, 13 May, and n.8.

10For the forwarding of these provisions, see Ephraim Blaine to GW, 18 and 21 May, and Henry Champion, Sr., to GW, 25 May.

11These newspapers have not been identified.

12GW enclosed a printed item titled “ADDRESS to the Soldiers in the Continental Army, 1780.” It reads: “THE time is at length arrived, when all the artifices, and falsehoods of the Congress and of your commanders, can no longer conceal from you, the misery of your situation; you are neither Clothed, Fed, nor Paid; your numbers are wasting away by Sickness, Famine, Nakedness, and rapidly so by the period of your stipulated Services, being in general expired, this is then the moment to fly from slavery and fraud.

“I am happy in acquainting the old countrymen, that the affairs of Ireland are fully settled, and that Great-Britain and Ireland are firmly united, as well from interest as from affection: I need not now tell you who are born in America, that you have been cheated and abused; and you are both sensible, that in order to procure your liberty you must quit your leaders, and join your real friends who scorn to impose upon you, and who will receive you with open arms; kindly forgiving all your errors.

“You are told that you are surrounded by a numerous militia, this is also false—associate then together, make use of your firelocks and join the British Army, where you will be permitted to dispose of yourselves as you please” (DNA:PCC, item 152; filed with the LS).

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