George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major Benjamin Tallmadge, 9 November 1780

From Major Benjamin Tallmadge

Bedford [N.Y.] Novr 9th 1780


At the particular Request of Capt. Hunter,1 of this Place, I have set down to write Your Excellency a Line. He desires me to inform Your Excellency that he feels himself very unhappy under the supposed Censure of General Washington, whose favorable opinion he thinks he has not justly forfeited. When at Head Quarters, soon after Arnold’s Desertion, he was not a little mortified in being refused a Passport thro’ the Army. Tho’ the situation of our affairs was very critical at that Juncture, Yet he fears a suspicion of his Character was the reason of any Indifference which was shown him at Head Quarters. He begs Not to have his own word taken as the Criterion of his Conduct, but desires that those who have been particularly knowing to his Conduct, may speak for him. Genl McDougall in particular, he says, is well acquainted with his Proceedings, as well as other Officers who have Commanded on the Lines. To their Account of him, he begs to refer Your Excellency for information. On the whole Capt. [ ] begs that he may not incur the Displeasure of the Commander in Chief on bare suspicion, or false information, especially as the only Reward he seeks for his Labours, is the approbation of honest Men, & his own heart.

I write this at the very particular Instance of Capt. [ ] who wishes to hear whether his suspicions are justly grounded or not2—I have the Honor to be, With great Regard, Your Excellency’s most Obedt Servt

Benja. Tallmadge

P.S. Your Excellency will undoubtedly remember the Character of one George Howel, so often mentioned by C—— His Character has been so notorious, that I have long expected he would have been taken up. I wrote Col. Wadsworth, some time ago some particulars of his Conduct, that he might watch him, since which he has been taken up by the supreme Authority of Rhode Island. Col. Wadsworth has requested me to beg Your Excellency to favor Governor Green or Cook with such information respecting H——l as can be given without bringing the Author of the Information to light.3 I am aware that this cannot be used as positive Proof against the Man, however it may serve as Collateral Evidence, & will corroborate other suspicions.4


ALS, DLC:GW; copy, NHi: Varick Papers. Tallmadge wrote “Private” and “P. Express” on the cover of the ALS, which is addressed to GW at Totowa.

1This name is supplied from the copy because it is obscured on the ALS.

2Tallmadge interceded for Elijah Hunter, a double agent (see also The Discovery of Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept.–24 Nov., editorial note).

3Correspondence between Tallmadge and Jeremiah Wadsworth regarding George Howell has not been identified, but see n.4 below.

4GW replied to Tallmadge from headquarters at Passaic Falls on 16 Nov.: “Your Letter of the 9th Inst. has been duly received.

“The situation of affairs at the time referred to, must have been a sufficient reason for not granting a passport to the Person mentioned in your Letter, had not the particular circumstances respecting him justified the policy. On all such critical occasions the most cautious line of conduct is undoubtedly requisite, and cannot be considered as injurious, however it may carry the appearance of suspicion—But as Head Quarters will soon be on the North River, I can have an opportunity of being more explicit to the Person in question, than is expedient in a Letter—In future I could wish the Names of Agents, & such others as ought not to be known to the Enemy, might not be written in such a manner as to afford a possibility of detection, in case the Letters should miscarry.

“I will transmit Governor Greene the information you request. … P.S. I am anxiously expecting the several Articles of Intelligence I sollicited from You” (Df, in David Humphreys’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; the date is taken from the draft’s docket; see also GW to Tallmadge, 4 Nov.).

GW wrote Rhode Island governor William Greene from headquarters near Passaic Falls on 17 Nov.: “I have been informed that a certain George Howel, not long since from the Enemy, is apprehended by the Supreme Authority of the State of Rhode Island: Altho such positive proof of his being an Emissary from the Enemy should not be obtained as might convict him capitally; I have some time ago received such information, from Confidential Persons, as induces me to believe him to be a dangerous character, and one who ought not to be suffered to go at large.

“The purport of my information, respecting Howel is—‘That no man’s character was higher with the Enemy—that he was a particular freind of Tryon, that he kept a regular correspondence with him, and Colonel Birch, while he (Howel) resided at his native Place—that he could obtain any indulgence, and permission to bring goods to almost any amount from New York, when others could not—that an intimate friend of Howel, within the Enemies Lines, told my informant that Howel had been twice out on the service of Government, and expressed great anxiety for fear he was detected.’

“I thought proper Your Excellency should be informed of these particulars, as they may tend to corroborate other evidence; Notwithstanding my channel of information cannot be given up, to be made use of, for very obvious reasons” (LS, in David Humphreys’s writing, R-Ar; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; the draft and Varick transcript are both dated 16 Nov.; the LS is docketed as received on 28 Nov.). For George Howell’s suspicious activities and escape from custody in Rhode Island, see Tallmadge to GW, 17 Oct., and n.1 to that document; see also Tallmadge to GW, 9 Sept., n.2.

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