George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Robert Howe, 10 October 1780

From Major General Robert Howe

Totoway 10th of October 1780

Dear Sir

When the Movements of the Enemy made it much more than probable that an immediate Attack upon West Point was intended, the Garrison was unfortunately almost without Provisions of any Sort—& it became requisite by every Method to obtain Supplies in the most expeditious Manner—In this Situation, & at a Crisis so critical & important, I was compell’d to fall upon Measures extraordinary perhaps in their Nature, but warranted by Necessity—& among other Expedients, I directed the Commissaries, & Depy Q.M. Genl to endeavour to purchase, & in Case of Failure to impress, in Manner least distressing to my Fellow Citizens, the Articles necessary for the Maintenance & Support of those Men who were to defend that important Post. Provisions (notwithstanding our every Effort) were obtain’d but in very inadequate Proportions—& knowing how much a Supply of Spirits would contribute to render a Short Allowance of Provision more supportable, 1 directed the Commissaries (& requested Col. Hay to exert himself to assist them in it) to obtain by Purchase or Impressment the Quantity necessary—without the least Delay—Col. Hay with an Activity I have often experienced upon other emergent Occasions, & from which Service has derived great Benefits, obtain’d for the Public the Quantity set forth in the inclos’d Estimate—which, by Contract, if paid for by the 1st of August was to bear no Interest, but if not then paid, to be paid for by the 1st of October with Interest—& the Parties not to be sufferers by any Depreciation which might happen. By a Letter from Col. Hay received yesterday I find that none of the Persons have had their Money1—by which, as the Rum taken from several of them was almost their whole Property, they are reduced to a Situation extremely distressing—I therefore take the Liberty to trouble your Excellency upon this Occasion, & earnestly to request your Influence with Congress to obtain Payment for a Set of Men who could have had the Price agreed for paid down to them at the Time, had they not chosen to deliver up their Property to Public Service—in Preference to disposing of it to private Individuals—Without immediate Payment Sir, I really apprehend several of them will be ruin’d—particularly Mr John Taggart who is now with me, & whose whole Property consists in what is due him from the Public.2 I am Dear Sir With the greatest Respect your Excellency’s most obedient & Humble Servant

Robert Howe


1Neither the letter from Lt. Col. Udny Hay nor the enclosed estimate has been identified.

2GW replied to Howe from headquarters near Preakness on 12 Oct.: “I have recd your favor of the 10th respecting the payment for the Rum seized by your order. since I saw you I am informed there is a Resolve of Congress, which I have not seen, pointing out a mode of payment with interest and I think making allowance for depreciation, if any. The first time I see the Commy General, I will make the necessary inquiry and inform you more fully” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). Howe wrote the Board of Treasury president from Totowa on 2 Nov. seeking payment for John Taggart “and some Others” who “Generously gave up at that Critical time for the Use of the Troops the Rum they had on hand” (DNA:PCC, item 42). Hay, then at Fishkill, N.Y., had certified on 10 July that Taggart provided 677 “Gallons of New England Rum” and 1,150½ gallons of “West India Rum” (DNA:PCC, item 136). Congress authorized payment, “making good the depreciation,” on 4 Jan. 1781 (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 , 19:23). On 8 March, Taggart still sought 4,745½ “dollars in Gold or Silver … or the full Value thereof in paper money, or Bills of Exchange” (DNA:PCC, item 42; see also Taggart to Samuel Huntington and Congress, 12 Feb., DNA:PCC, item 42).

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