George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Samuel Washington, 31 August 1780

To Samuel Washington

Camp near Fort Lee [N.J.] Augt 31st 1780.

Dear Brother,

Your letter of the 31st Ult. came to my hands by the last Post, from Philadelphia—It gave me much concern to find by it, that you were in such bad health.1 I hope this, if it should arrive safe, will find you much amended.

It is a considerable time since I wrote to you2—in truth it is rare for me to put pen to paper for private corrispondencies, so much is my time and attention engrossed by public business—I wish I could add, as profitably as it might be, but the fatal system of policy whh we have adopted, & for ought I see to the contrary, are determined to persist in, prevents this.

We are always without an Army—or have a raw and undisciplined one, engaged for so short a time that we are not fit either for the purposes of offence or defence, much less is it in our power to project schemes & execute plans which depend upon well disciplined and permanent Troops—One half the year is spent in getting Troops into the Field—the other half is lost in discharging them, from their limited Service, & the manner & time in which they come and go—the public in the meanwhile incurring an immense expence in paying two setts—that is, the comers & goers—at the same instant—In a waste of Provisions, Stores, Arms, and a thousand things which can scarce be enumerated—In a word short enlistments has been the primary cause of the continuance of the War, & every evil which has been experienced in the course of it—It has been the source from whence the depreciation of our Money has flowed, and though it is the cause of our present embarrassments, I much question whether our eyes are yet opened; & whether the fatal policy which heretofore has governed all our measures will not direct Us to another short enlistment when the present force leaves us.3 It is impossible for any person at a distance to have an idea of my embarrassments, or to conceive how an Army can be kept together under such circumstances as ours is—half its time without Provision, Cloathing or pay.4

The flattering prospect which seemed to be opening to our view in the Month of May is vanishing like the Morning Dew—The States, instead of sending the full number of Men required of them by the first of July, ⟨or⟩ the consequent supplies, have not furnished one half of them yet.5 & the second division of French Troops & Ships not being arrived, nor any certainty when they will, I despair of doing any thing in this quarter this Campaign6—& what may be the consequence, if the combined Arms of France & Spain are not more prosperous in Europe or the West Indies, I shall leave to others to predict. At best, the Troops we have, are only fed from hand to Mouth. & for the last four or five days have been without Meat. In short the limits of a letter would convey very inadequate ideas of our disagreeable situation; & the wretched manner in which our business is conducted—I shall not attempt it therefore, but leave it to some future Pen, and a more favourable period for truths to shine.

The first division of French Troops (as no doubt you have heard) are at Rhode Island—where their Squadron is blocked up by the British fleet under Arbuthnot of superior force. The Army under my command is encamped on the west bank of the North or Hudsons River, about fifteen Miles from the City of New York & within full view of the Enemy—the River only between us—We lately made a Forage opposite to the City & expected to be opposed in it but were not.7

I sincerely wish you a perfect restoration of health, and the enjoyment of every blessing of life—My best regards attend my Sister (with whom I should be happy in a better acquaintance) & all your family8—& with the greatest truth I remain Yr Affece Br.

Go: Washington

P.S. Have you ever taken the necessary Steps to save my Lotts at the Warm Springs?9

ALS, PHi: Gratz Collection.

1Samuel Washington’s letter to GW dated 31 July has not been found. He died in September 1781.

4Another perspective can be seen in portions of Col. Israel Shreve’s letter to his wife, Mary, written at Preakness on 7 July: “The inhabitants in general has become so relaxed as scarcely to deserve freedom. But our little army is so firm and steady to their cause that nothing but death will prevail over it. I say let military law rule those lukewarm wretches that rest at home in a seeming secure state. If they will not fight let them be made use of as supporters of the army. If this is refused I care not if I see them made use of as beasts of burden or drove out of the country. The real time of trial is now approaching. If we fight without pay, [we] shall not suffer ourselves to be imposed upon as heretofore. God grant a speedy reformation, peace and plenty throughout this land is the prayer of every good man.

“As to my leaving the army, I cannot think of [it]. I have a number of men that are jewels to their country, being soldiers well disciplined and proved. Those brave men I cannot desert [together] with the cause of my country” (Thompson, Israel Shreve description begins William Y. Thompson. Israel Shreve: Revolutionary War Officer. Ruston, La., 1979. description ends , 72–74, square brackets in source).

5For these quotas, see Circular to the States, 2 June, n.1.

6See GW to James Bowdoin, 28 Aug., and n.2 to that document.

7Lt. Col. Henry Dearborn began his journal entry for 25 Aug.: “the Light Infantry & three Brigades from the right wing march’d with 370 waggons down to Bergin point oposite the City of N. York, to collect forrage, & cattle. some cannonading hapen’d near Powlers hook, but the Enimy did not chuse to make a serious attack” (Brown and Peckham, Dearborn Journals description begins Lloyd A. Brown and Howard H. Peckham, eds. Revolutionary War Journals of Henry Dearborn, 1775–1783. 1939. Reprint. New York, 1971. description ends , 201–2).

8Susannah Perrin Washington (1753–1783) became Samuel Washington’s fifth wife in 1778.

9GW apparently retained these lots (see Schedule of Property, 9 July 1799, and n.21, in Papers, Retirement Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series. 4 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1998–99. description ends 4:518, 526).

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