George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 24 October 1780

From Major General William Heath

West point October 24th 1780

Dear General,

The last Evening I was honored with yours of the 21st 21st and 22d Instant to which I shall duly attend.1

The minister of France passed by the Peeks Kill road Yesterday before I was honored with your letter or heard of his approach.2

The Enemy did not come out as was expected, and Colo. Hazen has returned.3

I shall appoint a Court of Enquiry for Lieut. Colonel Varick &c. and facilitate Mr Garangers trying experiments in Gunnery when he arrives.4

A deserter from the Brittish Artillery came to this post today he left New york last Saturday,5 Says it was reported there that General Clinton had gone with the Troops which lately Sailed their destination variously conjectured—that General Kniphausen Commands—that the Troops which lately arrived at New York were Said to be only recruits—102 of which were for the Six Companies of Artillery—that the Cork fleet had arrived &c.6

It was my intention on my first arrival to have represented to Your Excellency that there is at Providence in the State of Rhode-island a large quantity of Amunition and Ordnance Stores. I think too many to be trusted at that place, and are not altogether so well secured as they should be, if their present repositories are to be considered as permanent. I submit it to your Excellency.7

I cannot but express my anxiety at the prospect we at present have of proper supplies for this important post. We but just obtain a daily Supply of Provisions, When the Magazines should contain a Supply for an emergency. One long Storm, or Spell of Severe Weather would drive us on the Verge of Want. I cannot yet learn from what quarter permanent Supplies are to be drawn. A large quantity of Salted Meat and Flour Should be in Magazines before Winter. I Cannot learn that any preparations are making in this vicinity for putting up the former. Would it not be much the best and least expensive to have the Beef killed and Salted as near the post as possible? it would Save a great expence in transportation, and be within our reach.

I request to know on whom I am to call or depend for Supplies of every kind, not only for present use, but to replenish the Magazines.

When I am ascertain’d of this no exertions of mine shall be wanting to Secure them if possible in Season, and I shall avoid troubling your Excellency with complaints on that head, unless necessity Compels me.8

I have written to his Excellency Governor Clinton and Colonel Hay on the Subject—have requested the assistance and support of the former, and exertions of the later.9 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Servant.

W. Heath

P.S. I am just informed that a number of prisoners made their escape from the provost at Fish Kill the last night by digging upwards of 20 feet under ground.10


LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers.

2French minister La Luzerne was returning to Philadelphia from Rhode Island (see Nathanael Greene to GW, 23 Sept., n.4).

3See Heath to GW, 21 Oct.; see also Heath to Moses Hazen, 22 Oct. (MHi: Heath Papers).

4See Document XIX referenced at n.1 above.

5The previous Saturday was 21 October.

6For the troops and supply fleet, see John Jameson to GW, 23 Oct., and n.1 to that document. British general Henry Clinton did not sail with the embarkation for Virginia (see GW to Samuel Huntington, 17 Oct., n.2)

7GW wrote Col. Christopher Greene on 3 Nov. to place the military stores at Rhode Island in safe locations (DLC:GW; see also Heath to GW, 19 Oct., and n.1 to that document).

8Heath presumably based his concerns on a “Return of Provisions and Stores on Hand and the number of Rations Issued daily at West Point and the Posts in its Vicinity,” dated 22 Oct. (MHi: Heath Papers).

9See Heath to George Clinton, 17 Oct., in 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 , 6:301–2; and Heath to Udny Hay, 21 Oct. (MHi: Heath Papers).

10See Hugh Hughes to Heath, this date (MHi: Heath Papers; see also Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 274).

GW replied to Heath from headquarters near Passaic, N.J., on 28 Oct.: “I have been favoured with your Letter of the 24th Inst. and thank you for the representation you make of the Ammunition and Ordnance Stores at Providence—I will give directions to Colonel Greene for their further security.

“While I feel the full force of all your observations respecting the necessity of having permanent supplies laid in for the Posts in the Highlands—I have to lament the inefficacy of our past measures, and the disagreeable prospects before us. Col. Blane can give you more particular information; As it is the business of the Commissary General, to point out the places of deposit to the state Agents, and to make all the arrangements in the Department, but not having the power, or the Means, to make any purchases himself; the supplies must be very inadequate and precarious, unless the States will furnish the quotas they are called upon for, with more punctuality and dispatch, than has hitherto been the case.

“The plan you suggest of having the salted provisions put up as near the spot as possible, would certainly be eligible—but at present seems impracticable, while the Army is barely subsisted from day to day—I cannot but hope, however, that the Legislatures (most of which are now sitting) will take immediate and effectual means to have the necessary Magazines laid in for the Winter.

“I have appointed Brigadier General Clinton to take the command [at] Albany, who will proceed thither accordingly” (LS, in David Humphreys’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; see also Circular to the States, 2 June, n.1).

Heath replied to GW from West Point on 30 Oct.: “I was yesterday honored With yours of the 28th Instant. Your reply respecting provisions rather increases my apprehensions of want. The late depredations of the Enemy in Tryon County will I fear also greatly curtail our Supplies of Flour from that quarter.

“Our late accounts from the Northward are favorable. it is said the Enemy were retiring with great precipitation and our people pursuing them, and it was thought would overtake them. I have receiv’d Nothing officially, if at any time I do, it Shall be immediately transmitted to your Excellency.

“Brigadier General Clinton leaves this place today to proceed to Albany” (LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers; see also William Malcom to GW, 12 Oct., n.4). GW acknowledged this letter when he wrote Heath on 5 Nov. (MHi: Heath Papers).

GW had written Brig. Gen. James Clinton from headquarters at Preakness on 28 Oct.: “As it is necessary there should be an Officer in whom the State has confidence to take the general direction of affairs at Albany and on the Frontier, I have fixed upon you for this purpose, and I request you will proceed to Albany without delay and assume the command. You will be particularly attentive to the post of Fort Schuyler and do every thing in your power to have it supplied with a good stock of provision and stores; and you will take every other precaution the means at your command will permit, for the security of the Frontier, giving me the most early advice of any incursions of the enemy. I inform General Heath of your appointment. … P.S. I have been informed a great number of Arms have been delivered at Albany—by whose Order, or to whom I know not—but presume they are in the hands of the Militia, and more than probably by Order of Col. Vanscaick or Col. Malcom—I beg that every possible Means May be used to recover them to the Public; and no more be delivered to Militia” (LS, in Caleb Gibbs’s writing, NNPM; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; GW signed the cover of the LS, which is addressed to Clinton at West Point; GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton wrote the draft, but GW revised the postscript in his own writing). Clinton replied to GW on 12 Nov. (DLC:GW).

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