George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel Osgood and Oliver Phelps, 15 December 1780

From Samuel Osgood and Oliver Phelps

Springfield [Mass.] Decr 15th 1780


We are constrain’d from the present Situation of our Business, to trouble your Excellency with a Representation of our Prospects with Regard to forwarding future Supplies to the Army; & also the Plan this Commonwealth has laid for filling the Magazines with salt Provisions. The General Assembly upon receiving the Requisitions of Congress for Supplies for 1781 immidiately determined to comply therewith, as to the Quantity of salt Provision demanded; & laid a specific Tax to be collected in all, by the 20th of February next, amounting to about sixteen thousand Barrels of Beef; with Directions for us, to have the whole Quantity salted.1

As this Tax is the only Fund we have for supplying the Army, if we should proceed to Barrel the whole of it, we shall not be able to forward any more live Cattle;2 If your Excellency should Judge that it will be of more Importance to have part of the Cattle forwarded alive, than to have the whole barreled, your Directions in this Matter will be sufficient Justification of our Conduct. We have tho’t that Springfield & Richmond, or some other Town in the County of Berkshire near to North River, will be convenient Places for depositing the Beef, if agreeable to your Excellency.

We cannot apprehend that there is any Probability of procuring so large a Quantity of Beef in this State at this late Season of the year; But we hope that what we have already delivered for salting & what we shall now procure will form a Magazine of some Consequence.3 We have the Honor to be with every Sentiment of Respect Your Excellency’s most obedient & most humble Servants

Samuel Osgood
Oliver Phelps


Oliver Phelps (1749–1809) moved from his birthplace in Connecticut to Massachusetts in 1770 and became a successful merchant. He served briefly in the military before being appointed state superintendent of purchases for the army. Phelps sat at various times in the Massachusetts legislature and speculated in land with disappointing results during his later life.

1Osgood and Phelps refer to responsibilities related to resolutions adopted in the Massachusetts legislature on 4 Dec. “For Furnishing this Commonwealth’s Proportion of Specific Supplies for the Support of the Army in the Ensuing Year” (Mass. Acts and Laws, 1780–81 description begins Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 1781. Reprint. [Boston] 1890. description ends , pp. 205–10; see also Samuel Huntington to GW, 12 Nov., n.1).

2The Massachusetts legislature in late September had passed resolves to supply live cattle (see Mass. Acts and Resolves description begins The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay. … 21 vols. Boston, 1869–1922. description ends , 21:621–25).

3GW replied to Osgood and Phelps from headquarters at New Windsor on 28 Dec.: “On receipt of your favor of the 15th Inst. I applied to Colo. Blaine and desired him to inform me whether he could dispense with a supply of live Cattle from your State from that time to the 20th Feby next. His answer was, that he could not upon any account, as without a regular weekly supply of one hundred and twenty Head from you, the Army must be distressed for meat. This being the case, necessity justifies the measure which you propose of sending on, alive, a proportion of the quantity assessed to make up 16,000 Barrels of salt Beef—This, you will be pleased to observe, will, if it is not procured by some other Means, lessen your Magazine of salt Meat about 1500 Barrels: But I should imagine that quantity might easily be purchased of private persons who put it up for sale, or out of the numerous prizes which arrive in your parts—This is a matter in which I should not have thought myself at liberty to have interfered, had there been any alternative—but as there is not, necessity, as I said before, must justify your deviation from your orders.

“I have furnished the State, agreeable to the act of requisition with the places of deposit and the proportions at each—These they have no doubt informed you of” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; see also GW to Phelps and Osgood, 20 Jan. 1781, and Phelps to GW, 4 Feb. 1781, both DLC:GW). Ephraim Blaine, commissary general of purchases, was then at New Windsor. For the places designated in Massachusetts for proportions of the required provisions, see Circular to State Executives, 10 Dec. 1780, n.8.

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