George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 8 January 1781

From Major General William Heath

Garrison West Point Jany 8th 1781

Dear General

I have been honored with yours of yesterday, have instructed Lt Colonel Hull conformably & ordered 100 men from the New Hampshire Line to reinforce him.1

I have also ordered 100 men under the command of a Major, to march this morning towards Pompton, to cover the Public Stores at Ringwood. The Major is instructed on his arrival, at the most convenient & advantageous place for that purpose, to give notice to the Commanding Officer of the Jersey Line, of his being in that Quarter & to aid that Line if any emergency should render it necessary.2 I hope tranqu[i]llity will soon be established in the services, that this Detachment may return.

I have written to the Commanding Officer at Kings Ferry, to be in the most perfect readiness for instant defence, and to the Guard Boats to Keep the most vigilant look out.3

Enclosed is a letter received the last evening from Lt Colonel Hull, it is principally respecting a set of Plunderers, whose Conduct is repugnant to the Laws of humanity honor & arms4—I have once some time since, represented the matter to Govornor Clinton, he detests the pra[c]tices, but no effectual remedy has been yet pointed out5—As both the P[l]underers & plundered are Subjects of the State, if any Officer interferes, he subjects himself to a civil prosecution. Major Talmadge not long since informed me that two were commenced against him. I beg leave to submit the matter to your Excellency to be laid before Governor Clinton, or other as you may think proper.6

I forward four News Papers sent me by Colonel Hull—they contain something curious.7 I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers.

1Heath’s letter to Lt. Col. William Hull, dated 7 Jan., relaying GW’s authorization of an attack on a Loyalist outpost, is in MHi: Heath Papers. Heath’s order of the same date to Brig. Gen. John Stark to make ready a 100-man reinforcement under the command of a major is also in MHi: Heath Papers; see also GW to Heath, 7 January.

2See Heath to Benjamin Throop, 8 Jan. (MHi: Heath Papers).

3See Heath Job Sumner, 8 Jan. (MHi: Heath Papers).

4The enclosed letter from Hull to Heath, dated 6 Jan. “Near Pines Bridge,” reads: “Inclosed are a Number of Papers as late as the 3d inst.—Mr Gist is now with me and has a Warrant from the Govenor to take the Cattle & Sheep from below the Croton—Shall march tomorrow Morning at day Light and give him all the Assistance in my Power—My Detachment has been three days without Flower, and I find those sent to relieve a part of it in the same Situation—There is a little Wheat below the Lines, which I must endeavor to have brought up, thresh’d and ground, if my Supplies from Mr Forsith fail.

“In making the Collection, shall endeavor to leave sufficient Quantities of Provisions for the Subsistance of the Families.

“I am constrained, Sir, by the Duty which I owe to my Country & to Humanity to lay before you the distressing and wreched Situation of the Inhabitants below the Croton.

“In my Relation, shall omit every Injury they receive from the Enemy and confine myself to those only which are perpetrated by a Set of lawless Ruffians, who under the Sanction of being Friends to their Country disgrace the Name, by Conduct which the most savage Barbarians would condemn.

“These Villians, influenced by an inordinate Thirst for Plunder, divest themselves of every humane Feeling and stick at no Measures to accomplish their horrid Designs—Not only the most abusive Threats, but beating bruising, hanging untill the miserable Wreches are almost lifeless, and indeed every Torture which their wicked imaginations can invent, are Crimes frequently practiced to force them to deliver up that Property which they do not possess—These Villianies often remain unknown, or they threaten their Lives if they make the Discovery.

“Should they indeed exhibit their Complaints, no Redress can be obtained as the Inhabitants for the most part are excluded from the Privileges of civil Law.

“However good the Intention of the Legislature might have been in framing this Law, yet fatal Experience shews that the Consiquences of its Operation are far from being salutarey—Under these Circumstances, what Mode of Conduct aught to be pursued? Aught we to suffer such Enormities to pass unpunished? So long as these People are suffered to continue in their present Situation, aught they not to receive some Protection? When the particular Circumstances of any part of our Country are such that civil Institutions cannot have their proper Effect, or where proper Regulations are wanting, which is the most dangerous for military Authourity to interpose and redress their Greivances, or to leave them to the Calamities, resulting from Anarchy, and a lawless Banditti? Does not Humanity to the distressed, do not the eternal Laws of Justice & Equity call on any Power in being to prevent Crimes which disgrace our Country and tarnish the Reputation, we have already acquired?

“For this purpose, I would propose, that for the present no single Person be permitted to pass below the Lines, without a written Pass, from the Governor, two civil Magistrates, a Genl Officer, or the Commanding Officer on the Lines—That no two Persons in Company, or Party of Militia be suffered to pass without the like Pass from the Governor, Genl Officer or commanding Officer on the Lines, and being obliged to report to the Officer on the Lines on their Return.

“As the Lines are very extensive, these Regulations could be easily evaded, it would consequently be necessary to fix on some Mode of Punishment for the Transgressors—Whenever therefore any Persons passed below by Stealth, and abused and plundered the Inhabitants, would ⟨it⟩ not be proper to apprehend them, below the Lines, have their Cause investigated by a Board of Officers, and give them the Punishment due to their Crimes? Was I sure, I should not receive the Censure of my Genl or be called to answer before military Tribunal, I would endeavor to see that Justice took place among the Inhabitants, and risk any civil Process, which could be brought against me” (DLC:GW).

5See Heath to George Clinton, 1 Nov. 1780, and Clinton to Heath, 3 Nov., in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 6:365–66, 373–74.

6No reply from GW to Heath has been found. New York governor George Clinton was at or nearby GW’s headquarters at New Windsor (see GW to Samuel Huntington, 6 Jan. 1781).

7These newspapers have not been identified (see also n.4 above).

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