George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Wilkinson, 11 October 1780

From James Wilkinson

Trovose1 [Bucks County, Pa.] October 11th 1780


I had this Moment the honor to receive your Letter of the 5th Inst., and should instantly obey your Excellencys Commands was I possessed of means necessary for the Purpose;2 I shall go to Philadelphia Tomorrow Morning & as soon as my private credit or the public funds can furnish me the small sum necessary to defray my traveling expences, shall set off for your Quarters: In the mean time I must beg leave to trouble your Excellency with the inclosed copies of my Official transactions, and I hope it will appear therefrom that I have not been defective in Duty.3 I am ignorant of the Measures which the Board of War or their Agents (the absolute Providorisy of Clothing) have adopted since the Return of which I inclose a copy, was made, having n⟨ot⟩ ever been honored with any communication on the subject; tho, I am very apprehensive that their confidence in the Capital supply exported from France has suspended every object of domestic Provision; The Articles of Clothing which I have since received being inconsiderable, a transcript of Mr Moylans Issues since this Return deducted from the Quantity represented therein will exhibit our Situation:4 I have heard that Congress furnished the Board of War with £20,000 Stg some time ago for the purposes of the Clothing Department but when, where, how or for what Articles this trifling Sum has been appropriated I know not,5 however I hourly expect to receive the proceeds, which at best will afford us but little releif, if we are absolutely disappointed in our European expectations; I am sorry to inform your Excellency that I am equally uninformed with regard to the steps taken by the different States, but I dread from the derangment of our finances & the distracted state of our civil Polity that their exertions, if they have made any, are feeble & insufficient.

I have this Day received a Letter of the 23rd Ultmo from the Maryland State Clothier at Petersburgh requesting to know when he might apply for Clothing, & representing the wretched Condition of the remains of that Line, which from the total loss of baggage in the affair near Camden are reduced to the most distressing situation, however as they have the advantage of a temperate Clime I shall write Governor Lee requesting him to make the best provision he can for them & will let him know that we have no prospect of being able to furnish any supply from this Quarter.6

By advice from Springfield of the 13th Ultmo I find that my Deputy at that place had no prospect of geting forward the small quantity of Winter Clothing there on Hand, every department having exhausted its credit & being monnyless, when this evil is removed I hope we shall be able with the remnants which may be scraped together & the strands at New Burgh, if they should prove of good quality, to collect Woolens sufficient to make 700 or 1000 Suits, buttons can be easily obtained & if I can by any means pick up thread & lining, I think, as the only resource, that they can be made up by regimental detachments of Taylors, who may immediately go to work either at Morris Town or New Burgh.

The Hide Department has not escaped the Fate of the other branches of the civil staff; The want of a few essential regulations in the present System, has originated a diversity of Opinion respecting its merits, this Circumstance & the total absence of Money has thrown it into much disorder & confusion; we must not therefore expect the substantial assistance from this source which we have hitherto experienced: the inclosed Copy of a Letter to the Board of War will shew your Excellency the footing on which I have held myself & now stand with the Department.7 My Circumscribed office being literally Commissarial, I can be answerable only for the equal & seasonable distribution of the Articles I receive, and this must depend in a great Measure on the Qr M: Generals Department: whilst my Friend Mr Moylan attended to & discharged this Duty satisfactorily, I conceived that my presence would be most essential here, in Order to make representations to Congress & the Board of War, to attend the frequent calls of the latter, to obtain Monies, whilst to be had, for the Commissaries of Hides and to keep my Papers properly arranged. if I have not wrote your Excellency so often as I ought to have done, I hope I shall b⟨e⟩ excused when I protest upon Honor, that I have been influenced by the conviction of the Presumption, ⟨Im⟩pertinence & Gasconade of intruding immat⟨erial⟩ concerns of Office on Moments imployed in ⟨mutilated⟩ of National Importance, and I have the honor to be Your Excellencys Much Obliged & ready Hble servant

James Wilkinson C. Gn.


1Trevose was the country estate of Joseph Galloway in southwestern Bucks County, Pa. (see Battle, Bucks County description begins J. H. Battle, ed. History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania … with Sketches of Its Historic and Interesting Localities, and Biographies of Many of Its Representative Citizens. Philadelphia, 1887. description ends , 764–66). Its Loyalist owner had fled to England in December 1778.

2GW had written Wilkinson from headquarters at Orangetown on 5 Oct.: “From the want of opportunities of having more frequent personal communications with you, I am in a great measure at a loss to know what are our real prospects of Cloathing for the ensuing Winter. Mr Moylan, your Assistant with the Army, is only able to furnish me with returns of what few Articles are in his immediate possession and in the Magazine at Newburgh, but he is intirely ignorant of what the Continental Agents in the different States may have in their hands, or whether the States themselves have made any provision for their respective Lines. The Season is already so far advanced, that no time is to be lost in collecting together what is provided, and informing the States of the true situation of matters that they may yet endeavour to procure something for their troops if it shall be necessary. On the foregoing accounts I shall expect to see you with the Army immediately after the receipt of this letter” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote “sent to the care of the Board of War” at the bottom of the draft).

3Wilkinson enclosed his letter to Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, dated 8 Oct. with “Objections to the Arrangement of the Clothing Department” and “a plan” to bring about “the greatest Œconomy & effect” (DLC:GW). Wilkinson included undated documents titled “A Plan for regulating the Clothing Department” and “An Estimate of the Bounty Clothing for the establishment of the Year 1781” (both DLC:GW).

4Wilkinson enclosed extracts from his letters to the Board of War dated 8 and 10 Aug. (DLC:GW). The earlier letter called “particular attention to the Article of Shirts, the supply of which has been so inconsiderable as to keep the Troops constantly destitute of this essential part of their bounty.” The later one sought information to settle his accounts and winter clothes for Col. Daniel Brodhead’s command. No enclosed returns have been identified, but see Wilkinson to GW, 17 October.

5Congress resolved on 1 July that “the paymaster of the Board of War and Ordnance be furnished with bills on Europe to the amount of twenty thousand pounds sterling, to be applied by the said Board towards supplying the army with cloathing” (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 , 17:581–82).

6This correspondence with Maryland officials has not been identified.

7Wilkinson enclosed his letter to the Board of War dated 4 Jan. (DLC:GW; see also Wilkinson to GW, 1 March, n.1).

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