George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Benjamin Lincoln, 25 December 1780

From Major General Benjamin Lincoln

Boston December 25 1780

My dear General

I was in the evening of the 23d honored with your Excellencys favor of the 11th.1

No measure has been left untried to save the question for filling up our battalions for the war; but every attempt of its abettors for that purpose, and many there were in the assembly, proved abortive. The following short anecdote will point your Excellency to some and I think the principal reasons, on which the question was lost—A venerable gray headed old Gentleman who has lost two sons in the war rose in the assembly and observed, that the army must be filled up & by our own children, who were affraid of becoming slaves; which they supposed might be the case if they engaged for the war. We have, continued the old Gentleman, sons now grown up who will readily engage for three years; and by the time their services shall expire others now young will be ready to take their places. These ideas so fully possessed the minds of the country members, that they supposed every attempt to fill up the army for the war would be ineffectual, serve only to waste the time, & probably prevent its being done even for three years. Though I am my self convinced that the measure is wrong, and that we had better have tried to have raised part of the number in the first place, and those for the war: Yet I have the pleasing satisfaction to be fully convinced, that those who were of a different opinion acted from the purest motives, and the fullest conviction that it was the most eligible. Notwithstanding the vote passed to raise the men for three years or for the war, yet I have great hopes from the encouragement given to them to engage for the war, in addition to the sum to be given for a three years enlistment; and from the disposition I find in the sea ports in favor of the former measure, that great exertions will be made by them and others to carry it into execution.2 Indeed this town has already secured about one third of its men for this term; and expect thus to secure the remainder.

The Assembly meets next week and if there is the most distant prospect that on a revival of the question it will share a different fate from its last, I am positive it will be renewed.

By looking back into the state of our finances, and forward to the expences, which will necessarily be incurred the next Campeign, it is found that part of them must be provided for by direct borrowing—This I think will have a very happy effect, for before we can be again trusted we must rescind some former resolutions, which have not given all that protection and support to creditors, which perhaps the Legeslative body intended they should give, and adopt an inlarged system of poloticks, pregnant with the heghest justice—the most permanent security to individuals. This will give dignity to Government—array the Legislature with confidence, & cloth the Executive with strength & vigour: for a government whose resolutions are equal will as certainly find support, as that men regard & steadily pursue their own happiness.

I am much surprised to hear that there is so scanty an allowance of clothing in Camp, as we have had for so long a time, not only a good supply on hand in Europe and the West-Indies: but, as I have the greatest reason to believe, a sufficiency of cloths within this State, brought in by our privateers, to cloth our army, at any time within these five months past, five times over—Our finances I know are in a miserable situation, but I cannot believe that those of the several States are in so ruinous a condition as to prevent the purchase of so necessary an article.

Though it always gives me pain to offer a sentiment, which may in the least cast a censure upon Congress, for I know they are embarrassed, and are not supported as the best good of the public evidently dictates, Yet I cannot but suggest my belief that the want of proper arrangements in some degree occasioned those distresses of our army, consequent upon a want of clothing. Either the continental agents should purchase the whole for the army at large; or the several States should be left entirely to cloath their own troops, without the least interference of the agents—for so long as it is the joint business of the agents, and the respective States, a mutual reliance will occasion a failure of exertion in each—The former method is much to be prefered; because there would be a greater uniformity in the clothing of the troops, which will, among other conveniencies, serve to prevent the existence of jealousies, arising from an apprehension of different usage If an idea has ever been held up, that the continental army is but the union of thirteen different armies, having different interests, and in some degree different pursuits; and of course that good policy requires, that each State should secure the affections of their own troops, and attach them to her particular interest, every step I wish might be taken to bury the sentiment in oblivion; and every measure tending to support it, if another can as conveniently be adopted, be by no means executed. This then will stand as an other reason, why the continent should cloth the troops of the respective States or rather their own army.

The business of clothing the army is exceedingly loose and irregular, so far that this State, even at this late hour, are uncertain, whether Congress expect that they are to cloth their own troops, independent of them or not. As it is a matter of great importance, I hope Congress will be explicit and decided on this point—it is particularly necessary that they should be so, as it is supposed here, that the late requesition of Congress for the specific articles and cash, together with what they draw from the new emission is the whole demand on this State;3 & as I said before part of this expence must be provided for by borrowing. Should Congress think it most expedient, that this State or the several States should cloth their own troops, and credit them for the expence in the present requisition, I am confident that if they give orders to this State, for this purpose, they will be immediately executed.

Colonel Henly assures me that the goods are here, and that an immediate supply for the whole army can be obtained—some have been offered him on credit—he has no orders to purchase.4

To cloth all the troops of the continent can now I think be easily effected—The inclosed will shew your Excellency what quantity of clothing has been lately sent on, and what remains on hand5—I hope the matter will not be delayed a single moment from an expectation of our receiving what we have in Europe or the West-Indies. The dangers of the seas and the riske of capture are too great to justify the least suspension—indeed was it to arrive at the hour of our procuring a full supply, should we even then have more on hand than sound policy would direct? I believe not but am rather of opinion that a provident people, under our circumstances, would store three times the quantity. If on the whole we should be ordered to cloth our own troops, I wish Your Excellencys directions whether, if it can soon be effected, the recruits should be detained in the mean time, or marched on without delay to camp—In either case I conceive it will be necessary to send a number of officers to Springfield, & to this Town, as those will probably be the two principal places, at which the troops will rendezvous; for if we mean to keep them from straggling marauding and wasting their time they must be sent in bodies under proper officers—It appears to me that it will be also necessary to detain some of the arms now here, & which are ordered on, to be put into the hands of those on whom we can depend. They will serve as a guard to others of a different character.

The General Court have ordered to each man one dollar a mile to enable him to march to Camp; but it is so far short of the real expence, that it will answer no valuable purpose—Indeed if it was adequate, I think no good would arise from the measure; for I am confident the men will not be got to camp, unless they are marched under the care of proper officers, and different magazines established on the rout, at which the men can be regularly supplied. I think there should be one in this town; one in Worcester, one in Springfield & one in Lichfield—If your Excellency should be of opinion, that the measure is necessary, I wish you would suggest it to the Governor, who ever disposed to do right doubts the propriety of his ordering these magazines from the specific articles called for by Congress. If those are not taken it will be difficult to establish them.

There are some matters to be attended to here in the military way, which seems to be the perticular business of your Excellency, as commander in chief or the commanding officer in a seperate department. Am I sir a senior officer here competent to such business? If I am not, and further powers from your Excellency should be necessary, and you should think proper to grant them, I hope, if it can be avoided, an idea of my being commanding officer in this department will not be held up.6 I have the honor to be My Dear General with every sentiment of regard and esteem Your Excellencys most Obedient & most humble servant

B. Lincoln


2For this legislation passed on 2 Dec., see “Resolve for Raising Four Thousand Two Hundred and Forty Men, to Supply the Deficiency of this Commonwealth’s Quota of the Continental Army” (Mass. Acts and Laws, 1780–81 description begins Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 1781. Reprint. [Boston] 1890. description ends , pp. 190–201, quote on 190).

3For this resolution requisitioning provisions and money from the states, see Samuel Huntington to GW, 12 Nov., n.1.

4Former Continental army colonel David Henley was a partner in the Boston firm Otis & Henley, which procured clothing for the Continental army.

5Lincoln enclosed Otis & Henley’s “Return of Cloathing sent on to the Army” to the care of James Bull, deputy clothier general, dated 27 Dec. at Boston. The return showed that between 15 Nov. and 15 Dec. the firm had forwarded 296 watch coats, 1,054 coats, 4,824 vests, 4,752 overalls, 729 breeches, 3,741 hose, 4,075 socks, 279 mittens, 1,190 shirts, and 5,194 blankets. Remaining on hand were 900 coats, 5,000 vests, 5,000 overalls, and 7,000 blankets. A memorandum to Lincoln on the return reads: “We shall send this Day Week, about twelve Waggon Loads more of Cloathing, or thirty Six Hogsheads.

“It’s now in our power to supply the Army with every Article of Cloathing, could we obtain the Cash for this purpose, on good terms; the quantity of Goods at Market is Large, of every kind.” A note explained why the number of blankets would fall short of the 14,000 “mention’d to his Excellency, when at H. Qrs” (DLC:GW).

6GW replied to Lincoln on 9 Jan. 1781 (NjP: Armstrong Collection).

Index Entries