George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, 2 January 1781

From Brigadier General Anthony Wayne

Mount Kemble [Jockey Hollow, N.J.]
2nd Jany 1781 9. OClock. A.M.

Dear General

The most general and unhappy mutiny suddenly took place in the Pennsa Line about 9. OClock last Night it yet subsists—a great proportion of the troops with some Artille[r]y are Marching towards Phila.

every exertion has been use’d by the Officers to Divide them in their Determination to revolt—it has succeeded in a temporary manner with near one half—how long it will last God knows.

I have ordered the Jersey Brigade to Chatham1—where the Militia are also Assembling—least the Enemy should take advantage of this Alarming Crisis, Indeed the alarm Gun’s have been fired—& the be⟨a⟩kens kindled towards Elizabeth town2—perhaps it was Occationed by our Unhappy Affair.

I am this moment with Colos. Butler & Stewart—taking Horse to try to halt them on their March—towards Prince town, as a last resort, I am advised to collect them & move on Slowly towards Pennsa.

What their temper may be I can not tell—we had our escapes last night—perhaps we may be equally fortunate to day.

If not adieu my Dear General & believe me yours Most Affectionately

Anty Wayne

Capt. Billing is killed Capt. Tolbert Mortally wound, some Others are also Hurt.3

Major Fishbourn who carries this—will be able to give your Excellency a particu[l]ar Acct of the last Night’s & this Mornings transaction’s4—I am happy to Inform you that not an Officer was absent on this Occation—nor have any of the Soldiers gone towards the Enemy their General cry is to be Discharged—& that they will again enlist & fight for America a few excepted.


Genl Potter & Colo. Johnston who were eye Witnesses of the Whole as far as it is yet gone—go express to Phila.5

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS (dated “½ after 4. OClock A.M.”), PHi: Wayne Papers; ADfS (dated “5, OClock A.M.”), PHi: Wayne Papers. The two drafts have nearly the same wording but vary substantially from the ALS, particularly in their details about the beginning of the mutiny. The later draft reads in part: “It’s with inexpressible pain I acquaint your Excellency of a total defection & General mutiny in the Pennsa line which suddenly took place between the hours of 9 & 10 OClock last evening, every possible exertion was used by the Officers to surpress it in it’s bud—but the torrent was too potent to be checked—Capt. Bitting has fell a Victim to his Zeal & duty—Capt. Tolbert & Liut. [Francis] White are reported Mortally Wounded—a very considerable Number of the Field & Other Officers have been much bruised & Injured by Strokes from Muskets, bayonets & Stones nor have the revolters escaped with Impunity—many of their bodies lay under our horses feet—& Others will retain with existan⟨ce⟩ the traces of our Espotoons & Swords—they finally moved from the Ground about 11. OClock at Night scouring the parade with round & Grape Shot from four field pieces, the troops Advancing in a Solid Column with fixed bayonet[s] produ[c]ing a defensive fire of Musketry in front flank & rear, during this horrid scene a few Officers with myself was carried with the tide, to the fork of the road, at Mount Kemble—but placing ourselves on that leading to Elizabeth town—& producing a conviction to the troops that they could not advance upon that route but over our dead bodies—they fortunately turned toward Princetown.” Subsequent information in the drafts is similar to that in the ALS.

Capt. Joseph McClellan of the 9th Pennsylvania Regiment recorded in his diary entries for 1 and 2 Jan. the beginning of the mutiny: “january 1, 1781. … About 8 o’clock in the night a number of men in the 11th Regiment began to huzza and continued some time, but it was generally thought it only proceeded from the men drinking, as they had drawn half a pint of liquor this day. A number of the officers collected in order to quiet the men, which was done in a great measure. But in a short time a disturbance began on the right of the division, by the men parading with their arms, and firing some scattering shots, which soon became general through the division, notwithstanding every endeavor used by the officers. The men at length seized upon the artillery and began to drag them off on the road. During this time Captain Bitting was shot through the body and soon died. Captain Tolbert was badly wounded. Several shots were fired from the artillery as they kept them moving, the men in general by this time being in arms, huzzaing, and firing their pieces in the air. The 9th & 5th regiments were kept in their parades until they were threatened by others, if they did not move off they would turn the artillery on them, several shots being fired over their heads. At length the greater part of them mixed in with the other regiments, and kept the road by Gen. Waynes quarters. A number returned that night, collected more men, and, indeed, forced near one half the Line away. Their first hal[t] was at Vealtown, four miles from camp, and they continued there until they collected most of the Line.

Jany. 2. The men continued going off in small parties, headed by a sergeant, and drove off near 100 head of cattle. The men continued their march towards Princeton. The General, Cols. Butler and Stewart continued with them; the remainder of the officers in camp” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 2d ser., 11:631). For another officer’s firsthand account of the beginning of the mutiny, see Reeves, “Letter-books,” description begins John B. Reeves, contributor. “Extracts from the Letter-books of Lieutenant Enos Reeves, of the Pennsylvania Line.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 20 (1896): 302–14, 456–72; 21 (1897): 72–85, 235–56, 376–91, 466–76. description ends 21:72–75.

For an overview of the circumstances leading to the mutiny of the Pennsylvania line, including low or no pay, food shortages, lack of adequate clothing, resentment over bounties paid to other troops, and disputed enlistment terms, see GW to Wayne, 27 Nov., n.1; see also Van Doren, Mutiny in January description begins Carl Van Doren. Mutiny in January: The Story of a Crisis in the Continental Army now for the first time fully told from many hitherto unknown or neglected sources both American and British. New York, 1943. description ends , 15–40. The large number of troops in the Pennsylvania line ruled out any attempt to reduce the mutineers to obedience by force. Upon learning of the mutiny, GW, fearing the mutineers might march east and join the British, hoped Wayne could persuade them to march west and cross the Delaware River into Pennsylvania and there bring them to negotiations. GW at first planned to go to New Jersey, but he soon changed his mind and remained at New Windsor (see his letter to Wayne of 3–4 Jan.). GW dispatched Brig. Gen. Henry Knox to alert the governments of the New England states to the crisis and appeal for pay, provisions, and clothing for the army (see Circular to the New England States, 5 Jan., and GW to Knox, 7 Jan.; see also Knox to GW, 7 Feb.). The mutineers, after leaving Jockey Hollow, marched south to Princeton. At that town, Wayne conducted preliminary, but unsuccessful, negotiations with the rebellious troops (see Wayne, Richard Butler, and Walter Stewart to GW, 4 Jan.).

The mutiny sparked activity by Congress, the Pennsylvania authorities, and the British. Congress sent a committee to negotiate with the mutineers, but the committee deferred to Joseph Reed, president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, as the chief negotiator. Gen. Henry Clinton, the British commander in chief, sought to win the mutineers’ allegiance by sending out emissaries with a written proposal promising protection, full pay, and pardon. Clinton’s efforts came to naught (see Continental Congress Committee on the Pennsylvania Line to GW, 7 and 10–11 Jan., and Wayne to GW, 11 Jan.). Reed was able to come to an agreement with the mutineers that ended the crisis at the price of the temporary dissolution of the Pennsylvania line. In accordance with the terms of the agreement, the Pennsylvania troops marched to Trenton, where the process of settlement, discharge, and furlough began (see Wayne to GW, 8, 12, 21, and 28 Jan.) For a full account of the final negotiations, see Reed and James Potter to GW, 19 February.

1See Israel Shreve to GW, 8 Jan., and n.1.

2For the signal beacons situated in New Jersey to alert militia, see GW to Henry Knox, to William Livingston, to Arthur St. Clair, and to William Smallwood, all 23 March 1779.

3Capt. Samuel Tolbert survived his wounds and continued to serve in the Continental army until 1783.

Adam Bettin (Betting, Bittin, Bitting, Bitton; d. 1781) joined the 3d Pennsylvania Regiment as a lieutenant in January 1776. Captured at the fall of Fort Washington on 16 Nov. 1776, Bettin remained a prisoner of war until his exchange in April 1778, when he brieflyjoined the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment as a captain. He soon transferred to the 10th Pennsylvania Regiment as a captain lieutenant with his commission dated 10 Aug. 1777. According to the records of the 10th Pennsylvania Regiment, Bettin was killed “on the west side of Fort-Hill, in the Jockey Hollow road, near an old house, in Morris County, New Jersey; he left a widow, Deborah (who married a man named Connolly in 1784), and three children” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 5th ser., 3:471).

4Capt. Benjamin Fishbourn was Wayne’s aide-de-camp.

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