George Washington Papers

Circular to the New England States, 5 January 1781

Circular to the New England States

Head Quarters New Windsor Janry 5th 1781


It is with extreme anxiety and pain of mind, I find myself constrained to inform Your Excellency, that the event I have long apprehended would be the consequence of the complicated distresses of the Army, has at length taken place. On the night of the first instant a mutiny was excited by the Non Commissioned Officers and Privates of the Pennsylvania Line, which soon became so universal as to defy all opposition. in attempting to quell this tumult, in the first instance, some Officers were killed, others wounded, and the lives of several common Soldiers lost. Deaf to the arguments, entreaties, and utmost efforts of all their Officers to stop them, they moved off from Morris Town the place of their Cantonment, with their Arms, and six peices of Artillery; And from accounts just received from General Wayne’s Aid De Camp, they were still in a body, on their march to Philadelphia, to demand a redress of their greviances.1 At what point this defection will stop, or how extensive it may prove, God only knows; at present the Troops at the important Posts in this vicinity remain quiet, not being acquainted with this unhappy and alarming affair—but how long they will remain so cannot be ascertained, as they labor under some of the pressing hardships with the Troops who have revolted.

The aggravated calamities and distresses that have resulted from the total want of pay for nearly twelve Months, the want of cloathing at a severe season, and not unfrequently the want of provisions, are beyond discription. The circumstances will now point out much more forcibly what ought to be done, than any thing that can possibly be said by me on the subject.

It is not within the sphere of my duty to make requisitions without the Authority of Congress, from individual States, but at such a Crisis as this, and circumstanced as we are, my own heart will acquit me, and Congress, and the States (eastward of this) whom, for the sake of dispatch, I address, I am persuaded will excuse me, when once for all I give it decidedly as my opinion, that it is vain to think an Army can be kept together much longer, under such a variety of sufferings, as ours has experienced—and that unless some immediate and spirited Measures are adopted to furnish at least three Months pay to the Troops, in Money which will be of some value to them; And at the same time, ways and means are devised to cloath and feed them better (more regularly I mean) than they have been—the worst that can befall us, may be expected.

I have transmitted Congress a Copy of this Letter, and have in the most pressing manner requested them to adopt the measure which I have above recommended; or something similar to it, and as I will not doubt of their compliance, I have thought proper to give You this previous notice that you may be prepared to answer the requisitions.2

As I have used every endeavour in my power to avert the evil that has come upon us, so will I continue to exert every mean I am possessed of to prevent an extension of the mischief, but I can neither foretell or be answerable for the issue.

That you may have every information that an Officer of rank and abilities can give of the true situation of our affairs, and the condition and temper of the Troops I have prevailed upon Brigadier Genl Knox to be the bearer of this Letter—to him I beg leave to refer Your Excellency for many Matters which would be too tedious for a Letter.3 I have the honor to be With great esteem & respect Your Excellencys Most Obedt Hble Servant

Go: Washington

LS, in David Humphreys’s writing, addressed to Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., Ct: Trumbull Papers; LS, in William Colfax’s writing, addressed to Massachusetts governor John Hancock, M-Ar; LS, in Humphreys’s writing, addressed to New Hampshire council president Meshech Weare, Nh-Ar: Weare Papers; LS (photostat), in Humphreys’s writing, addressed to Rhode Island governor William Greene, ViMtvL; Df, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Samuel Huntington, 6 Jan., DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Photostats of the LS addressed to Greene are also in CtY: Washington Family Papers and NN: U.S. Presidents. Trumbull wrote “recd 11th Jany—12 o’Clo.” on the docket of the LS addressed to him. For replies, see Trumbull to GW, 13 Jan.; Greene to GW, 22 Jan.; and Weare to GW, 20 Jan.; see also Hancock to GW, 5 February.

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