George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, 3-4 January 1781

To Brigadier General Anthony Wayne

Head Quarters New Windsor 3d[–4]January 1781

My dear Sir

I this day, at Noon, recd yours of the 2d in the Morning, by Major Fishbourn, who has given me a full account of the unhappy and alarming defection of the Pennsylvania line. The Officers have given convincing proofs that every thing possible was done by them to check the Mutiny upon its first appearance, and it is to be regretted that some of them have fallen sacrifices to their Zeal. I very much approve of the determination of yourself—Colo. Butler and Colo. Stewart to keep with the troops, if they will admit of it, as, after the first transports of passion, there may be some favorable intervals which may be improved. I do not know where this may find you, or in what situation. I can therefore only advise what seems to me most proper at this distance and upon a consideration of all circumstances.

Opposition, as it did not succeed in the first instance,1 cannot be effectual while the Men remain together, but will keep alive resentment and will tempt them to turn about and go in a body to the enemy, who by their Emissaries will use every Argument and mean in their power to persuade them that it is their only Asylum,2 which,3 if they find their passage stopped at the Delaware, and hear that the Jersey Militia are collecting in their rear, they may think but too probable.4 I would therefore recommend it to you to cross the Delaware with them—draw from them what they conceive to be their principal Grievances and promise to represent faithfully to Congress and to the State the substance of them and to endeavour to obtain a redress. If they could be stopped at Bristol or Germantown the better5—I look upon it, that if you can bring them to a negociation, matters may afterwards be accommodated, but that an attempt to reduce them by force will either drive them to the Enemy, or dissipate them in such a manner that they will never be recovered.

Major Fishbourn informs me that General Potter and Colo. Johnston had gone forward to apprise Congress of this unhappy event,6 and to advise them to go out of the way to avoid the first burst of the Storm. It was exceedingly proper to give Congress and the State notice of the Affair that they might be prepared, but the removal of Congress, waving the indignity, might have a very unhappy influence. The Mutineers finding the Body, before whom they were determined to lay their Grievances, fled, might take a new turn, and wreak their vengeance upon the persons and properties of the Citizens, and in a town of the size of Philadelphia there are numbers who would join them in such a business. I would therefore wish you, if you have time, to recall that advice, and rather recommend it to them to stay and hear what propositions the Soldiers have to make.7

Immediately upon the receipt of your letter I took measures to inform myself of the temper of the Troops in this quarter,8 and9 have sent into the Country for a small Escort of Horse to come to me, and if nothing alarming appears here and I hear nothing further from you, I shall, tomorrow Morning, set out towards Philadelphia by the Route of Chester—Warwick. Colo. Sewards.10 Davenports Mill Morris Town. Somerset. Princetown. Trenton on which you will direct any dispatches for me. As I shall be exceedingly anxious to hear what turn matters have taken, or in what situation they remain, you will be pleased to let me hear from you. I am with very great Regard Dear Sir Your most obt & humble Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. 4th Jany 7 OClock A.M. Upon second thoughts, I am in doubt whether I shall come down, because the Mutineers must have returned to their duty or the business be in the hands of Congress before I could reach you, and because I am advised by such of the General Officers as I have seen not to leave this post in the present situation of things—temper of the troops—and distress of the Garrison for want of Flour—Cloathing and in short every thing.

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, PHi: Wayne Papers; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 152; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1On the draft, which GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman penned, GW wrote the previous seven words between lines.

2On this date, the British in New York City first learned of the revolt of the Pennsylvania line. Maj. Frederick Mackenzie, assistant adjutant general of the British army at New York, wrote in his diary entry for 3 Jan.: “Certain intelligence was received this Morning, that the Pennsylvania troops Cantoned near Morristown in Jersey … have Mutinied: that the Alarm guns were fired in order to assemble the Militia of the Country and suppress the revolt.—that the Mutineers having attempted to March towards Philadelphia, some skirmishing had ensued between them and the Militia, in which some Officers and men had been killed on both sides, and that all that Country is in the utmost confusion. Some other accounts say that the Mutineers intend marching towards Perth-Amboy, in order to Join us.

“Sir Henry Clinton has such good reasons for crediting this intelligence, that he has ordered a large Corps of the Army to be in readiness to march on the shortest notice, and his intention is to move immediately into Jersey with it, to favor this revolt, and encrease the confusion.

“The troops ordered are, The British Grenadiers, and Light Infantry, Three Battalions of Hessian Grenadiers, The Jagers, 37th & 42d Regiments, and Prince Hereditaire; with about 20 pieces of Ordinance.

“It is not yet determined whether he will enter Jersey by Paulus hook, or Elisabeth-town. The nature of the Country and the situation of the Enemy seem to point out the latter as most favorable, as the Country opens there, and we should be nearer to them, whereas there are rivers to be past from the former.

“I am well convinced, (and I have hinted it to The Commander in Chief) that if now, or immediately on our entering Jersey, a Proclamation was to be issued, declaring that The Commander in Chief, would immediately order to be paid in hard Money to the first Thousand of the Rebel Troops, who came in and laid down their arms, as many days pay as they have due to them from Congress, and at the same rates the British troops are paid at, it would be attended with the best consequences” (Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:441–42).

British major Oliver De Lancey, deputy adjutant general and chief of Gen. Henry Clinton’s secret service, wrote in his journal: “On the third of January in the morning received intelligence by an Emissary that the Pennsylvanians had Mutinyed in their Camp … He was immediately dispatched to a Correspondent in New Jersey.” On the next day, De Lancey received intelligence from both the correspondent and the emissary informing him of the grievances of the Pennsylvania troops, their route of march, their current location, and the events of the mutiny as of 3 Jan. (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 , 243–44).

3On the draft, GW wrote the previous twenty-three words along the left margin of the first page.

4On the draft, GW wrote the previous six words, replacing the words “it may have the same effect,” written by Tilghman.

5GW had interlineated on the draft: “if they could be stopped at Bristol or G.T. the better.”

6On the draft, GW wrote the previous seven words between lines, but he rendered “unfortunate” where there is “unhappy” on the LS.

7Congress learned of the Pennsylvania line mutiny on 3 Jan. and resolved at 6:00 p.m. to form “a committee of three” to confer with the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council on a course of action (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 , 19:20).

8GW asked Maj. Gen. William Heath, commanding at West Point, to obtain this information (see Heath’s first letter to GW, 6 Jan.).

9On the draft, GW wrote the previous fourteen words above the line to replace struck-out material: “the opportunity of communicating the contents to most of the General officers who very fortunately had come up to my quarters to dine with me. I.”

10John Seward (1730–1797) of Sussex County, N.J., served as captain of that county’s second regiment of militia. He became its lieutenant colonel in February 1777 and eventually its colonel. According to contemporary maps, his property was located about twelve miles southwest of Warwick, N.Y., along the most direct road from that location to Morristown, New Jersey.

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