George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 7 November 1780

From Major General William Heath

West point November 7 1780.

Dear General

I was honored with yours of the 5th a few hours, since that of the 31st Ultimo, not ’til this moment where the latter has been I cannot tell. it’s delay has been the Cause of my troubling you more than once on one subject.1

I shall take immediate measures for the Security of Colo. Kosciuszko’s Chest; it Shall be lodged at my own quarters.

Preparations are making for taking up the chain. at present we are obliged to tend it to prevent it’s Sinking. Should a severe Snow Storm take place, it may be it’s fate.2

I am happy to hear that flour is Soon to come on for our relief, and most heartily thank your Excellency for your kind assurances that we Shall constantly have a part of what you obtain. Our Situation is peculiar. the Surrounding Mountains do not afford that relief which those find whose Situation is in a fertile Soil, and among Wealthy farmers. indeed the Troops being entirely destitute of Money prevents their buying vegetables if they are to be found, and the Scantiness of their ration forbids any ability to barter. I request to be informed whether there is any prospect of the Troops soon receiving the two Months pay promised by Congress, for which they have been for Some time impatiently waiting.3

The ill clad, and ragged State of the Troops, and great Complaints on that account, also Constrain me to represent their Situation to your Excellency. there are many recruits who have been enlisted many months since for the War who have not yet received their Cloathing. this, Most materially wounds the service.

If there are any quantities of Cloathing in the public Stores which are to be distributed to the Several State Clothiers, I would request the proportion of them that will fall to the Troops at this post, as Soon as your Excellency may think it convenient and proper, as many of the Men engaged for the War will Soon be unfit for duty, unless Some Articles of Cloathing can be issued to them.

At the request of the Cloathier General I have forbidden the State Cloathiers issuing any articles (except Shoes) until the distribution is made, but beg Such distribution may be made as soon as circumstances will admit.4

I will write to the Eastern States and urge the necessity of their forwarding their respective quota’s of supplies before the difficult Season Sets in,5 but I am pretty Certain that under present circumstances, a competent supply of Flour for this post only, cannot be obtained from this State, and I am Sorry to hear that large quantities of Wheat, and Flour are purchased up all over the State to be Sent to the Eastward, and it has been hinted to me by one who knew, that Some of it was intended to be Sent from America. to allow this will Certainly be ill policy, Since it every day grows apparent that if the War continues, America will become more and more the Seat of it.6

I have executed George Baker one of the Criminals, he was charged With being concerned in a conspiracy to Spike the Cannon at Fort Schuyler in September last, and intending to desert to the Enemy, and inducing others to desert. he was found guilty of the two latter. The other Culprits under Sentence, I believe I Shall pardon.7 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Your Excellency’s Most obedient Servant

W. Heath

P.S. I have just Sent for Colo. Kosciuszko’s Chest. it was left without a Lock. Mrs Warren Says upon the Detection of Arnold, She burnt the plans, lest their being found With her Should raise a Suspicion to her disadvantage. I Shall order a further enquiry into the matter.8


LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers. Heath’s draft is dated 6 November.

2For the taking up of the defensive chain across the Hudson River near West Point, see Heath’s second letter to GW, 15 Nov., and n.3 to that document.

3Delinquent pay was a chronic complaint among soldiers in the Continental army and a regular subject for consideration in Congress. Heath’s specific reference has not been identified.

4Heath had written Nathaniel Stevens, deputy commissary general of issues, from West Point on 6 Nov.: “His Excellency General Washington has this moment informed by Letter that One Hundred Barrels will come on immediately from Morris Town, please give directions to the Commissary at Kings ferry to forward it as Soon as it arrives.

“I am exceedingly sorry to inform you that you must be again disapointed with respect to Clothing, General Wilkinson the Clothier Genl was here Yesterday he had obtained exact returns of the Clothing in the Hands of the Continental and State Clothiers in order to a General distribution to the different States troops, and requested that I would forbid the Issue of any Clothing Untill the distribution was made, an Order was Issued accordingly Yesterday forbiding the Issue of Clothing except Shoes in cases of Necessity. … P.S. If you have any Potatoes at Command or other Vegetables they will be a great releif to the Troops let them be forwarded” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also James Wilkinson to GW, this date).

Heath again wrote Stevens from West Point on 8 Nov. to express how the lack of flour or a substitute “becomes more Serious and distressing every Day. … no Flour has yet arrived from the Main Army, we have been obliged to take the reserves from the Forts, and the Troops cannot be Served with Flour to Day” (MHi: Heath Papers).

5Heath’s draft of this letter, written at West Point on 8 Nov., emphasized that the vital “Post and its dependencies” were “almost totally destitute of Provisions.” With supplies unavailable from New York because of enemy deprivations along its northern frontier and with winter approaching, he required assistance from other states. Heath advised that “there is not Four Days Flour at this Post and we are living from Day to Day on Fresh Beef. … I will rest assured that that Zeal and public Spirit which has on every difficult Occasion distinguished your State will on the present be exerted for our immediate releif” (MHi: Heath Papers). For evidence that Heath wrote Massachusetts governor John Hancock and Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., see his undated postscripts related to clothing and naming these men, filed under 7 Nov. in MHi: Heath Papers.

7Heath executed George Baker, who had enlisted in the 1st Continental Artillery Regiment in November 1777, deserted in March 1778, rejoined the regiment that September, and found himself under guard at Pluckemin, N.J., in April 1779. Baker served at Fort Schuyler, N.Y., in early 1780. For his earlier pardon for attempted desertion, see Henry Knox to GW, 9 May 1779, and n.2 to that document.

Heath issued a pardon at West Point on 8 Nov. 1780 for Joshua Eagins, “a Soldier in the 3rd New York Regiment,” who was tried “at the General Court Martial whereof Colo. Shreve was President for repeated desertion and leaving his Post when Sentinel.” The pardon returned Eagins to his regiment “in full expectation that this act of lenity will have a proper Influence on his future Conduct” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Heath also issued pardons for William Burtis, Jr., and Reuben Weeks on 10 December. The draft of Heath’s pardon for Burtis indicated that GW had “Signified his pleasure that a Pardon be grant⟨ed⟩” and allowed Burtis to “be released from Confinement and Set at Liberty.” Weeks received a pardon “of like tenor and date” (MHi: Heath Papers).

8“Mrs. Warren” may have been Sarah Warren, who had been convicted of scandalizing an officer at West Point earlier in 1780 (see Palmer, The River and the Rock description begins Dave Richard Palmer. The River and the Rock: The History of Fortress West Point, 1775-1783. New York, 1969. description ends , 233).

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