George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 3 November 1780

From Major General William Heath

West point Novr 3d 1780

Dear General

A few days since, a young man by the name of Hazleton Spencer was Sent here prisoner from Albany. he asserts that he is an Ensign in Sir John Johnsons Corps, but has not his commission With him. I appointed three Officers to examine him. Enclosed is Copy of their report.1 I Wish your Excellency’s opinion and direction. I have kept him closely confined in the provost. probably upon a strict adherence to the laws and Customs of nations and of Arms, he may be treated as a Spy, and the executing of him may be justified, but as nothing more appears against him than being Within our Lines, the Gentlemen who examined him have thought that advantage may be derived by making Some other use of him.

It is said some of our officers who have been prisoners and hostages, have not fully adhered to the injunctions under which they were laid and are liable to be demanded by the Enemy and proceeded with in a rigorous way; and that policy dictates we should avail ourselves of palliatives when it can be done without injury to the honor or interest of our cause. These I beg leave to Submit to your Excellencys consideration & Shall conduct accordingly.

Our gloom on Account of Supplies increases. Some of the Troops have been Six or Seven days without Flour. The Magazine here cannot afford a barrell.2

Colonel Stewart Commissary General of Issues gave notice some days since that a quantity of Flour would be forwarded from the Main Army, but it has not yet arrived.3 Your Excellencys instructions enjoin the keeping a certain quantity in the Works as a reserve in case of a Siege, but at present it is impossible: Nay, if something more is not done, than I can yet learn is doing I do not See how the Troops are to be kept together.4

Major General Greene informed me that he had written to the Commissary General for information who were his Agents, and to whom he was to apply for provisions.5 I have requested the same of Colonel Blaine a few days Since but, do not know whether he is With the Army or at Philadelphia.6

The season is so far Advanced, and the post So bare of provisions, that I feel exceedingly uneasy at our present Situation, at the Same time I am much at loss what Measures to adopt—whether to press the Eastern States to hasten their Supplies to this place, or not, lest I should break in upon the General Arrangements, and counteract your designs.7 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Your Excellency’s Most obedient Servant

W. Heath

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

1Heath assigned Col. Moses Hazen and lieutenant colonels William De Hart and David Cobb to examine Hazleton Spencer. The officers interrogated Spencer on 21 Oct., and Heath sent a copy of their report to GW. Spencer said “he was at East Greenwich Rhode Island, and is now 23 years of age and has been absent from there 13 years—Removed with his Father to the Country of Charlotte in New York State and lived there till July 1777. then went to General Burgoyne and remained with him as a Sutler till his capture and was then sent back as a follower of the Army. Remained in Canada till June 1778—Joind Sr John Johnston as a Volunteer continued as such till April 80—was then promoted to an Ensigncy in the 2d Battallion of Sr Johns Corps. That each of the Battallions have 10 Companies. Came from Lachene by Montreal to St Johns 19th July—and from St Johns 21st.” Spencer had obtained permission to visit his brothers and sisters in Charlotte County, N.Y., but a militiaman captured him on 5 August. The officers decided “that considering Spencer’s Case in the strict sense and according to the usage of nations he might be considered as a spy, but from the very particular nature of this war & former conduct on similar occassions & also from the whole of the proof being founded on his own confessions submit it to the General whether it might not be most beneficial to the public to dispense with the rigours of punishment attending his situation” (DLC:GW).

Spencer wrote Heath from West Point on 4 Nov. that he had been “Taken prisoner in the state of Vermont Last August” before being sent to Albany and then “to this Place.” Spencer asked that he be returned to Albany, where he “may have Oppertunitis to get Clothing & other Nessaries” as well as “be Ready to be Exchanged. … Pray Consider the most Schoking situation I am now in & Take Pitty upon a most unfortunate Gentleman” (MHi: Heath Papers). Spencer, then imprisoned at West Point, joined another prisoner on 22 Dec. in an appeal to Heath to “be removed, to Some other parts for Confinement, untill Exchanged, with that liberty which by the rules of war may be granted to unfortunate Gentlemen” (MHi: Heath Papers).

2Heath had written Lt. Col. Udny Hay, state agent for New York, from West Point on 1 Nov.: “This Garrison will in a very few Days be reduced to the greatest distress on account of Forage and Provisions Unless the most vigorous exertions are made for its relief, The Troops on the Lines have been for Six or Seven Days without Flour and at this place we are on the verge of want. I beg your every exertion to forward Flour from every Quarter under your direction if it be but in Small quantities … I wish to know what quantity of Flour you will be able to furnish and by what time. … P.S. If it be in your power to Supply my Table with a Little Mutton, Cyder apples, Vegetables &c. they will be very acceptable” (MHi: Heath Papers). Heath later wrote in his memoirs: “The American army were at this time experiencing a great want of flour, which they bore with their usual patience” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 275).

Heath also wrote New York governor George Clinton from West Point on 1 Nov.: “The present state of our provisions borders on want, and our prospects of future Supplies are Serious and alarming, Our principal dependance especially for Flour must be on Your State, I most earnestly request that your agent may be enabled to afford Such Supplies in Season as will be adequate to the necessities of the Troops at least, I wish it may be Possible to replenish the Magazines” (MHi: Heath Papers). Clinton replied to Heath from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on 3 Nov. that Hay “is using every possible exertion to collect the Quota of Supplies to be furnished by this State; and, to prevent a failure, he is possessed of my impress Warrant authorizing him to seize indiscriminately, in every District to the amount, of whatever they may be dificient in delivering, of the Proportions allotted to them. The Desolations lately committed by the Enemy in Tryon and Albany Counties must necessarily have retarded this Business in that Quarter and the amazing Quantities of Grain destroyed will not only disenable us from adding to the Supplies but will I fear reduce us to great Difficulties even in raising the present quota. I mention this lest too great Dependance should be placed on this State” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also William Malcom to GW, 12 Oct., n.4, and Clinton to GW, 18 Oct.).

3Nathaniel Stevens, deputy commissary general of issues at Fishkill, N.Y., reported on 26 Oct. that Charles Stewart, commissary general of issues, had directed fifty barrels of flour to West Point (see Stevens to Nathanael Greene, 9 Oct., n.2, in Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:362). Stewart explained when he wrote Stevens from GW’s headquarters at Preakness on 5 Nov.: “I returned last night from Philade. and coming here am infor[m]ed that Gene. Heath has wrote Head Quarters, on your wants of flour, there are only twenty Barrels in the Magazine, have about Eighty Barrels more, will be in to night, and as the Army is in General supplied for this day and to morrow; I have ordered those two parcells, makeing on the whole about one Hundred Barrels on to Kings Ferry without loss of time Youl will therefore untill it arrives Supply out of your reserves for it will by no means do, to Starve the Troops: General Heath will be wrote to by His Excellency to order, or approve, of this measure for the present.

“The amou[n]t of all the flour, now between Philade. and this Camp, does not exceed one Thousand Barrels. As Soon as waggons can be procured another Hundred Barrels shall be sent for you to Kings ferry, and if you do not git a supply from York State in the mean time there shall be a third quantity, of another 100 Barrels forwarded, but I hope Colo. Hay will soon be able, to do something for you” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also n.7 below).

4GW had instructed the officer commanding at West Point to keep provisions for ten days in each work (see his letter to Alexander McDougall, 27 Sept., source note).

5See Greene to Ephraim Blaine, 15 Oct., in Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:387–88.

6Heath had written Ephraim Blaine, commissary general of purchases, from West Point on 30 Oct.: “His Excellency General Washington has been pleased to honor me with the Command of this Post and its dependencies, The Importance of the Post, the numbers of its Garrison and the difficulty with which Provision are Obtained after the Severe Season Sets in all call for the earliest attention for Seasonably Securing what ⟨is⟩ necessary, not only Competent daily Supplys, but a proper reserve in Case of Siege are indispensible for the Security of the Posts. I cannot yet learn from what Quarter such Supplies are to be drawn, or in what time they may be expected. I have written to his Excellency on the Subject, he has been pleased to refer me to you for more particular information, which I request you will be pleased to favor me with as Soon as possible, I wish to know, from what States and what Magazines this Post is to be Supplied with Flour, meat and rum, who are the Persons appointed to procure and forward them, whether any Certain time has been pointed out to them, for forwarding the Stores and in what proportions, That I may know on whom to Call, Urge to exertion or afford Such assistance as is in my Power—please let me know where your Salted meat is to be put up for this Post—would it not be a great Saving of expense in the Transportation if a Considerable number of the Cattle were Slaughtered in the neighbourhood of this Post?

“I am apprehensive that the Supplys of Flour from this State will be much retarded if not lessened by the late depredations of the Enemy in Tryon County &c.” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also GW to Heath, 14 Oct., and Heath to GW, 24 Oct., and n.10).

7For GW’s reply, see his letter to Heath, 5 Nov., postscript (see also n.3 above).

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