George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Arthur St. Clair, 7 January 1781

From Major General Arthur St. Clair

Morris Town [N.J.] Jany 7th 1781


Your Excellency has heard of the shameful Defection of the Pennsylvania Line, and I am very much concerned to inform You that as yet, there is no Prospect that we know of of any Desire appearing in them to return to their Duty. I happened to be in Philadelphia the Day the Accounts of it arrived there, and set out early next morning in Company with the Marquis de la fayette to make trial of what Influence we might have, but tho’ we were suffered to come in to Prince Town and there was an Appearance of Satisfaction in the Countenance of the Troops, we were not allowed to have any Communication with them. a Comittee of Sergeants, and who are doubtless at the Bottom of the whole, have got the Business into their own hands and no Person is allowed to speak to the Soldiery but thro them. Their Demands are no less than an almost total Dissolution of the Line—They are to the best of my Recollection, the Discharge of all those who have been enlisted in the Year 1777 & 78 and who received the Bountys of 20 and 120 Dollars, immediate Payment of their Arrears & Depreciation, and a general Indemnity. General Wayne in Answer to those Demands made them such Promises, as ought to have satisfied reasonable Men, looking only for redress of Grievances, wether real or imaginary; but they were rejected:1 so that I have no Doubt but Emmissarys from the Ennemy are amongst them, and believe that nothing but Force will reduce them to Reason—unhappily—however there seems to be no Disposition in the Militia of this State to come to that Method, and it was the Opinion of the Governour, and such Members of the Legislature as we saw at Trenton, that they should be suffered to pass the Delaware. This I informed Governor Reed of from that Place that he might have time to take the proper Measures but they seem disposed to keep Post at Prince Town.2 Whilst we were at the last Place Colonell Laurens came up, and we verry soon after received a Notice that our being in Town was very disagreeable, and desiring us, for our own safety, to retire, and our stay was afterwards limited to an hour and a half—As we had no Prospect of being of Service, we set off, least they should think of detaining Us. We have since heard that they have made General Wayne, Colonells Butler and Stewart Prisoners but the most alarming Circumstance is their having organized themselves and appointed all the necessary officers.

There are still a few Men at the Hutts to whom I have sent this Morning with an Assurance that they will be considered principally in whatever may be done for the Line at large, and have directed that they may be collected and marched to Persipenny to render their Communication with the Revolters more difficult, and have given Directions for removing the remaining Artillery and Ammunition to Suckasunny.

We were unfortunate to miss Major Fishbourne, and have no knowledge of Your Excellencys Intentions, I thought it probable that you might have come down to this Place, if that is not your Design I beg I may be favoured with Your Excellencys Instructions,3 and am with the greatest Respect Sir Your most obedient Servant

Ar. St Clair

I have not learned that any Movements of the Ennemy indicate an Intention to enter Jersey yet I cannot persuade myself that they will not endeavour to avail themselves of this Disaster. tho perhaps they may defer it untill it [is] certain that Force is nec[e]ssary.4

After Major Fishbournes departure from Prince Town from a Desire expressed by the Comittee to confer with some [of] the Council of Pennsylvania General Wayne sent an Express to Philada requesting some of that Body to meet them—they were expected to arrive Yesterday.5


1For the demands of the Pennsylvania mutineers and Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne’s answer, see Wayne, Richard Butler, and Walter Stewart to GW, 4 Jan., n.1.

2St. Clair’s letter to Joseph Reed, dated 4 Jan. at Trenton, reads: “The Marquis and myself, with several other officers, arrived at this place about 3 o’clock. The mutineers … are at Princeton, where they arrived last night, and this day has been spent in negotiating betwixt them and General Wayne, Colonel Richard Butler, and Colonel Stewart. … These are the only officers they allow to have any communication with them, or to pass within their posts … They have, as yet, done very little injury to the inhabitants, and profess that they do not mean any; but they begin to talk of their neighborhood to New York, which makes it justly feared that there are amongst them some emissaries of the enemy. This circumstance induces Governor Livingston to think that it would be prudent, in case they persist, to suffer them to pass the Delaware, as it would then be out of their power to go to the enemy; and, if force should be necessary, a part of the militia of this State might be thrown over to co-operate with those of Pennsylvania in their reduction” (Smith, St. Clair Papers description begins William Henry Smith, ed. The St. Clair Papers. The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair: Soldier of the Revolutionary War; President of the Continental Congress; and Governor of the North-Western Territory with his Correspondence and other Papers. 2 vols. Cincinnati, 1882. description ends , 1:532–33).

4Gen. Henry Clinton, British commander in chief, had already moved troops to the western end of Long Island (see Wayne, Butler, and Stewart to GW, 4 Jan., source note). On 5 Jan., he ordered them to move closer to New Jersey. British major Frederick Mackenzie recorded in his diary entry for 6 Jan.: “The British Grenadiers and Light Infantry, passed over from Denyces about 9 o’Clock last night to Staten Island. The Commander in Chief came up from thence at 10 last night. He went down again about 12 this day, after having had a consultation with Generals Knyphausen and Robertson. The Hessian Grenadiers passed over this Morning, and marched with the British towards Amboy.” Mackenzie’s diary entry for 7 Jan. reads: “Our troops are cantoned at Richmond and on the roads behind it, on Staten Island. They are in readiness to move on the shortest notice, in order to seize on any favorable opportunity which may offer in the present critical situation of affairs” (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 , 2:444–46).

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