George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Board of War, 27 July 1780

From the Board of War

War-Office [Philadelphia] July 27. 1780.


We have been honoured with your Excellency’s letter of the 18th instant; and to enable us to comply with your demands for shot & shells & the other principal articles in general Knox’s returns,1 we laid before Congress the estimates of which the inclosed are copies; & reported the resolutions thereon which Congress were pleased to adopt, copies of which are likewise herewith transmitted.2

In consequence of general Knox’s information that six 24 pound cannon might be procured,3 we took the liberty to reduce the number of 12 lb. shot in his estimate, & to propose the procuring so many 24 lb. shot as should be equivalent to that reduction. This alteration corresponds with the wishes of general Knox, and we doubt not will meet your Excellency’s approbation.

You will perceive by the estimate that we have only doubled general Knox’s of October 5th 1779;4 without adding one third part for the greater length of days at this time: because we can scarcely hope with every possible exertion to procure powder for the double estimate alone; and because from present appearances the commencement of the intended operations Will be postponed till the days are again much shortened. But if, notwithstanding, it is your opinion that one third part should be added to the estimate, we will take our measures accordingly: and we beg leave to assure your Excellency that nothing depending on us shall remain unattempted which you shall think requisite for the accomplishment of your designs against the enemy.

We write by this express to General Knox, to desire him to set Faesh’s and Ogden’s furnaces to work;5 and propose his sending a proper officer to Mr Gale’s furnace at Stafford (which is 18 miles from Enfield, and 34 from Norwich landing) in Connecticut6—to Brown’s furnace in the state of Rhode-Island,7 and to the furnaces at Bridgewater and its neighbourhood in Massachusetts-Bay; all which we conceive may be advantageously employed, as the land-carriage need not be considerable to the waters communicating with the Sound. If Livingston’s furnace in the manor of Livingston can be engaged in this business, we suppose, from its situation, it may be more beneficially employed than any other whatever.8

As we ought on this occasion to explore every possible resource for procuring gunpowder, we took the liberty, in the letter accompanying our report, of suggesting to Congress the expediency of applying for aid, in this essential article, from the magazines of France and Spain in the West Indies: but what, or whether any measures are proposed to be taken in consequence thereof, we are not informed.9

Your Excellency may perhaps be surprized that, at this late period, and when our allies are actually arrived for the purpose of cooperating with us in an enterprize of such magnitude and importance as the siege of New-York, the greater part of the necessary stores are yet to be provided. But lest any inattention should be attributed to this board, we beg leave to assure you, that we never had the least intimation of any intended offensive operations against the enemy, or of any aid of ships or troops expected from France, till the arrival of the marquis de la Fayette; and then only from private report.10 Your letter of the 4th instant was the first official account we ever received on the subject.11 We have the honour to be with the greatest respect your Excellency’s most obedient servants. In behalf & by order of the board

Tim: Pickering

ALS, DLC:GW. GW replied to the board on 3 August.

2The board enclosed “A Return of Shells, Shot and Powder in possession of the United States, and the Quantities of each deficient—for the Service of the present Campaign, for Sixty days firing,” dated 24 July, which listed the following deficiencies: 10-inch mortar shells, 19,275; 6- and 8-inch mortar shells, 15,531; 24-pound shot, 18,192; 18-pound shot, 45,949; and 12-pound shot, 9,136. It gave the total cost of purchasing the necessary shot and shells as £3,136,250. It also identified possible sources for obtaining the required 12,000 barrels of powder (DLC:GW). The enclosed “Estimate of Supplies for the Service of Cannon & Mortars,” also dated 24 July, listed quantities and cost of several miscellaneous items, including cannon cartridge papers and spirits of wine, totalling £163,175 (DLC:GW).

The board also enclosed a document with two resolutions of Congress, the first dated 24 July and the second 25 July (DLC:GW). Congress had already sent GW the first resolution authorizing the board to procure shot and shells (see Samuel Huntington to GW, 26 July, n.4). The second resolution directed that the board be supplied with $4 million to purchase the shot and shells required in the first estimate and $435,000 to purchase the supplies enumerated in the second estimate (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 , 667–68).

4For this estimate, see GW to Knox, 26 June, n.4.

5This letter has not been identified.

6Connecticut physician, scientist, and businessman Benjamin Gale (1715–1790) and his partners had operated a steel mill in Killingworth, Conn., since 1744. He also may have operated the ironworks erected in 1734 in the area that is now the borough of Stafford Springs in the town of Stafford, Connecticut.

7Rhode Island merchant and manufacturer Nicholas Brown, through his firm Nicholas Brown and Co., had operated an iron foundry at Scituate, R.I., since 1765.

8For this ironworks, owned by Robert Livingston, see Henry Beekman Livingston to GW, 12 Feb. 1778, n.1.

9For the board’s letter to Congress of 22 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 , 17:658–61.

10For Major General Lafayette’s meetings in Philadelphia in May after his return from France with news of the expected arrival of a French expeditionary force, see GW to Lafayette, 19 May, n.2; see also GW to James Duane, 13 May, n.8.

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