George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 16 December 1780

To Major General William Heath

Head Quarters New Windsor Decr 16th 1780

Dear Sir

In answer to your favor of yesterday, I have to observe; that it appears to me there can be no propriety, in arresting an Officer, in ordinary cases, a long time before he can be brought to tryal; And that in the instance of Major Reed, upon his being brought before the Court, they would be the proper Judges, whether the Proceedings should be postponed, ’till further evidence was obtained. In the mean time, I see no reason why he should be detained in more rigid confinement than is commonly practiced in cases of arrest.1

With respect to Joshua Ferris, Notwithstanding there is no doubt of the justice of the former sentence against him—it may possibly be best to suspend the matter, to inquire further into his character, and let the sentence still hang over him.2

I have taken Measures to know what Boards can be spared by the Quarter Master General, for the purposes you mention.3

If any Deserters should come from the Enemy, you will be pleased to order them to be sent to Head Quarters.4 I am Dear Sir With very great regard Your Most Obed. Hble Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in David Humphreys’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW’s aide-de-camp David Humphreys also wrote the draft, which was dated 17 Dec. before a “6” was written over the “7” in the dateline.

1See Heath to GW, 15 Dec., and notes 1 and 2 to that document.

2Humphreys initially wrote “his head” on the draft before striking out the last word and writing “m” over “s” to alter the first word. Heath sent the proceedings for the court-martial of Joshua Ferris when he wrote GW on 17 Dec.; see also the source note above.

The court-martial likely involved Joshua Ferris (1763–1848), who served in the Westchester County, N.Y., militia between 1778 and 1783, “performing Such military Services as the exigency of the times required in patrolling, guarding and expeditions to various parts of the Said County of Westchester” as well as to “the Tory neighborhoods about New York.” In the same deposition, given on 5 Sept. 1832, Ferris claimed acquaintance “while in service” with several Continental army officers” (DNA: RG 15, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800–1900). Ferris later moved from Westchester County and died at Ithaca, New York.

3Presumably with GW’s prompting, Q.M. Gen. Timothy Pickering wrote Heath from Newburgh, N.Y., on 17 Dec. to advise that “the schooner Peggy with some boards” would leave the next day for West Point (MHi: Heath Papers; see also GW to Roger Welles, 13 Dec., n.10).

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