George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Udny Hay, 23 November 1780

From Lieutenant Colonel Udny Hay

Poughkeepsie [N.Y.] 23rd Novr 1780.


[The still distressed situation the Garrison at West Point is in, for want of Provisions, especially Flour, which it has become my Province to furnish, alarms me greatly:1 nor can I rest Satisfied ’till I relate to your Excellency, some of the many Causes, which I may venture to Affirm has prevented me from Collecting before this Time, the greatest part of the Quota of that Article, Demanded from this State;2 and to propose, at same Time, the only remedy, which to me, now appears to Remain.

As to the Causes, the want of Money to pay Contingent Expenses (though the Legislature has taken large Strides to procure me some)3 has not been one of the Smallest—It is unnecessary to Trouble your Excellency with a Detail, of the many Disadvantages which arose from the Disappointments I met with in that way; I shall only beg leave to assure you, that Two Thousand Dollars of the New Emission is all the Money I have yet been furnished with;4 nor did I receive even that, ’till about Three Weeks ago: The excessive scarcity of Money in the State is another Cause; for as we Purchase totally upon Certificates, it will be easily believed that those who have for Years past had nothing else for all the Services they have performed for the Public, without being able to receive any Value for them, will not Voluntarily part with more of their property on the same Terms, especially when they want some of the necessary Articles of Life, which, by being shut out from all their own Parts, they must obtain by the medium of Cash or Barter, from other States; But what gave the fatal Stab, to all my hopes, was the Law passed last Session for taking off the Embargo; ever since which Time, there have been a Swarm of Speculators, from the Eastern States, purchasing with hard Money, or exchanging for Articles the People of this State were excessively in want of.5

Previous to the Embargo being taken off, I took the Liberty of Memorialing the Legislature on the Subject; Imagining I foresaw the evil Consequences that would arise therefrom, but the Clamours of the People, that they were not only Hem’d in, by the Enemy, from the whole of the outward Trade, they formerly enjoyed; but restricted, to a Degr⟨ee⟩ totally unknown to the other States, in the Sale of the very Articles they raised themselves, were so great, that they prevailed.6

I can now, Sir, see only one way by which the Impending Evil can possibly be Evaded, which is by obtaining a General Impress Warrant, from his Excellency the Governor of this State, for all the Wheat and Flour, bought therein with an Intent to Sell again, ’till Six thousand Barrels, including what shall be ready of the Quota of the State & not Consumed, is procured, and I flatter myself if your Excellency makes a requisition of this Nature, it will be Complied with; If something Similar to this is not done, before the Water Communication is shut up, or a Supply of Flour does not come from the Southward; I dread the Consequences that must arise.]7 Should your Excellency think such a Mode proper to be adopted, I must further request, that about two hundred Men, well Officered, be sent in Boats up the River, leaving Fifty of them at FishKill Landing to take Directions from Major Wyckoff, one of my Assistants;8 the remaining hundred and Fifty, to come to this Place and receive Directions from me: It is not for fear of any Tumult amongst the People, this number is necessary only to Guard the Wheat, or Flour, after it is Impressed, and to Assist in Collecting Teams for the Transportation thereof, to the different Landings—[The Measure, itself, will rather be popular, as the Traders will be the Chief sufferer’s thereby.]

I hope your Excellency will excuse the Liberty I have taken, and believe it is occasioned only from the Sincere desire I have to serve my Country, and the Army who Supports the Cause it is engaged in.

The Commissary General expects a large Quantity of Beef will be Salted under my Direction.9 I proposed, both for the sake of saving Salt, and for the better preservation of the Beef, to take out all the sticking Pieces, and put up, in Barrels, by themselves: Genl Heath, I am Informed, disapproves of this Method, and Thinks your Excellency ought to be Consulted, before it is put in Execution; shall therefore be happy in receiving your Orders.10 I have the Honor to be with the utmost Respect, Your Excellencys most Obedient Hble Servant

Udny Hay

P.S. [The Season is so far advanced that if the utmost possible Expedition, is not used, in prosecuting the Measure, I have proposed; should your Excellency adopt it, I am afraid the River will be in such a State, as to prevent the Transportation, of what we get, by Water.]

LS, DLC:GW; copy, MHi: Heath Papers (see n.1 below). GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote after the postscript on the ALS to explain the brackets: “parts within Brackets transmitted to Govr Clinton” (see GW to George Clinton, 27 Nov.).

1Hay had written Maj. Gen. William Heath from Fishkill, N.Y., on 18 Nov.: “I was honoured with yours of Yesterday, and am sorry to find the Department you command is generally in so distressed a Situation as at present, rely on every possible exertion from me, though the Difficulties I am constantly obliged to encounter despirit me excessively, I am Informed one hundred and nineteen Barrels of Flour arrived at the Fort yesterday, eighty more will come from this Quarter the day after Tomorrow, and I expect a considerable quantity from above, there is flour at the Mills which cannot be transported for want of Bags or Casks, the want of these is one of the greatest obstacles I meet with at present in procuring a quantity both of Flour and Forage, particularly the latter.” Hay subsequently explained his efforts to spur his assistants to “Uncommon Exertions before the Communication by Water was stopt,” but believed the lack of money meant the necessary articles could be obtained only with “a certain degree of Force.” He reported extensively on preparations to salt beef cattle at Poughkeepsie and requested Heath to provide guards (MHi: Heath Papers).

Heath had sent a circular letter from headquarters at West Point on 17 Nov. that included Hay: “This Post is now entirely without either Flour or Beef Cattle, your every exertion is to be exercised in forwarding immediate relief” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Hay again wrote Heath from Poughkeepsie on Monday, 20 Nov.: “A great deal is wanted to be done at this place before we can begin slaughtering the Cattle must therefore again request you will order the guard up as soon as possible.

“I expect two vessells newly loaded with Flour Forage & Roots from Esopus landing the first will probably arrive at the Fort about Friday next the other soon after. …

“Rely upon every thing in my power being done for throwing in a proper supply of provisions to the Garrison—I wish the means was in some small degree adequate to the necessity of accomplishing that measure” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Heath began his reply to Hay from West Point on 23 Nov.: “Your favors of the 18th and 20th Came Safely to hand, I hope the Supplies you mention will arrive by the time mentioned and many more follow them, (Some Cabbages turnips &c. for my own table will be very acceptable) I imagine the guard is with you before this time” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Hay replied to Heath from Poughkeepsie on 24 Nov. with instructions to “order a proper person from the Garrison to purchase the Cabbages you want for your self, I will take care he is repaid whatever sums he advances and takes proper receipts for, I am affraid of mentioning any thing to the purchasers at this critical season of the year which may in the least degree tend to draw off their attention from procuring and forwarding on all the flour & Forage possible; You will see by my letter to General Washington what I propose as the dernier resort for throwing you in a full supply against winter, Copy of which have taken the liberty to enclose for your perusal, from the uncommon influence that every thing coming from the General has on the minds of the people of this continent, if the measure is adopted I think it will be attended with great success.

“If in the mean time you can possibly spare the officers party for assisting in collecting the Quota of the State let me beg you will do it, they are excessively wanted.

“I sett off tomorrow on a tour around the Country to see the purchasers and hurry on the supplies of every sort, if I fail in the duties enjoind on and expected of me, it may be from want of judgement, but never shall from want of proper deligence or pains” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also the source note above).

2Congress had requested provisions from several states (see Circular to the States, 2 June, n.1). The quota for flour from New York called for 140 barrels each month.

3Hay presumably refers to recent tax legislation passed in New York (see Alexander McDougall to GW, 30 Oct., and n.4 to that document).

4Congress had created this new money (see Philip Schuyler to GW, 12 March, notes 3 and 4).

5Hay condemned “An Act more effectually to draw forth the Quota of Supplies, allotted to this State, to procure further Supplies; and to repeal the Laws prohibiting the Exportation of Flour, Meal and Grain, out of this State; and the Purchases of Flour, Meal and Wheat, with Intent to be sold again,” which had become law on 21 Sept. (N.Y. Laws description begins Laws of the State of New-York, Commencing with the first Session of the Senate and Assembly, after the Declaration of Independency, and the Organization of the New Government of the State, Anno 1777. Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1782. description ends , 149–50). This law repealed “An Act to prevent the Exportation of Flour, Meal and Grain out of this State,” adopted on 14 March 1778, and “An Act more effectually to provide Supplies of Flour, Meal and Wheat for the Army,” adopted on 31 Oct. 1778 (N.Y. Laws description begins Laws of the State of New-York, Commencing with the first Session of the Senate and Assembly, after the Declaration of Independency, and the Organization of the New Government of the State, Anno 1777. Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1782. description ends , 11–12, 45–46).

6New York governor George Clinton had brought Hay’s concerns to the attention of the state senate (see N.Y. Senate Proc., 7 Sept.–10 Oct. 1780 description begins Votes and Proceedings of the Senate [of the State of New-York], &c. At the first Meeting of the Fourth Session. [Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1783]. description ends , p.6; see also Hay to Clinton, 7 Sept., 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 , 6:178–80).

7See the source note above.

8Hendrick Wyckoff (d. 1789) apparently served as an officer in the New York militia prior to becoming a commissary agent. He performed espionage activities later in the war (see Wyckoff to GW, 24 Feb. 1783, DLC:GW). A death notice in The New-York Journal, and Weekly Register described him as a “merchant, of the house of Smith and Wyckoff,” who “sustained the character of a virtuous, benevolent, and useful Citizen.”

9See Ephraim Blaine to GW, 10 Nov., and n.5 to that document.

10GW replied to Hay on 27 Nov.; see also n.1 above.

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