George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Ezekiel Cheever, 2 December 1780

From Ezekiel Cheever

Springfield [Mass., 2 Dec. 1780]. Cheever charges John Collins, deputy commissary of military stores, with “Malepractice and late Villanous Conduct” for the robbery and illegal sale of saltpeter, flight to avoid investigation, and falsification of documents. Apprehended and imprisoned at Boston, Collins attempted to bribe the officer that took him into custody. Cheever forwards to GW a copy of an “anonymous Letter” from Collins “with Complaints & Charges against” Cheever, which Cheever calls “futile, I Can Satisfy any inquiry made Concerning them.”1 Denouncing Collins for “his abominable iniquity,” Cheever requests GW’s order. “I pray your Excellency will be pleased to Excuse my troubleing you with this long detail.”2


1Collins had written an unidentified correspondent from Springfield on 29 Sept.: “last evening Mr Cheever arrived heare from Philada After a Tedious Journey of Six weeks & four days. … says the Honble Board War have been pleased to reinstate himself if so it is full time this department was broke up for I will Assert that the public sinks money every day while he hold the Command of the works here.

“The frequent selling & Bartering of public stores Chiefly by him and his orders, must be very detrimental to the public and is a great means of raising the resentment of the people at Large … it is with the Greatest reluctance I am oblidge by my Oath for the faithfull discharge of my duty to my Country to enclose a few Charges which will Convince your Honr that his Genl Conduct cannot by no means entitle him to a Continuation in the public Service” (DLC:GW). The undated enclosure charged Cheever with “Selling Continental powder in the year 1777, when the Militia were Called upon to stop the progress of the enemy at or Near Bennington and Rendering no Account of the sale of it for drawing pay & rations … for Selling 18,000 dollars Worth of Saltpetre at private Sale Without Authority—Indulging Capt. Wm Barton of the Armory, to Barter Continental Iron for a load of hay for his horse, for purchassing Sweet oil in Connecticut Charging the Same in his General Account to the public & Converting it to his use—& for encouraging the Bartering of public Stores in a low way” (DLC:GW).

2GW replied to Cheever from headquarters at New Windsor on 17 Dec.: “I have received your favor of the 2d Inst. you will take the first opportunity of having Mr Collins brought to Springfield where I will direct a Court Martial to try him under a Resolve of Congress of the 22d Augt 1780 passed expressly for the punishment of those who commit frauds in the department of the Quarter Master, Commissary or Commy of Military Stores—You will let me know when Mr Collins arrives at Springfeild—and also what Rank or employ he holds in the service” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; see also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 17:756–57, and Samuel Huntington to GW, 24 Aug., and n.3). Collins eventually was court-martialed and convicted (see Cheever to GW, 13 Jan. and 10 March 1781, both DLC:GW; Collins to GW, 16 Feb. 1781, DLC:GW; and General Orders, 23 March 1781).

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