George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Philemon Dickinson, 12 January 1781

From Major General Philemon Dickinson

Hermitage1 12th Jany 1781


I did myself the honor of forwarding to your Excellency, two Packets from the Committee of Congress; which contained every occurrence worth communicating, & prevented my addressing your Excellency sooner.2

Upon receiving, the disagreable Intelligence respecting the Pennsylvania Line, I imagined the Enemy would have taken the advantage of those disturbances, & have thrown a body of Troops into this State—I therefore thought it prudent, to make some disposition to receive them, as well as to answer, another obvious purpose. Whilst the Pennsylvanians lay at Princeton, I formed a large body of Militia between them & the Sound,3 a second, at the Baptist Meeting House in Hopewell, a third at Crosswichs—& a fourth at South Amboy—This last body, was composed of the Monmouth Militia. Since their removal to Trenton, I have order’d More Troops from the Meeting House, & Crosswichs, to move on to Princeton—where I intend visiting them this Day.4

The moment an accommodation takes place; between the Committee & the Insurgents, I shall dismiss the Militia, unless I should receive your Excellency’s Orders to the contrary—or the Enemy (which I do not now expect) should make a descent into this State.

The two Spies were executed yesterday pursuant to their sentence, on a Gallows erected just above Paddy’s Ferry in Pennsylvania—The execution was delayed some time, for want of a rope & hangman—but at last, the service was performed, by a Negro Boy of Paddy’s I was glad to hear, this necessary business was ended.5 The great work is not yet begun, altho’ Commissioners are appointed, & preparations making6—From the best Information I can procure, I am of Opinion; That about three hundred of them, wished to join the Enemy. They still persist in retaining their Arms, untill discharged—which is so absurd a demand, it can never be complied with—nor can I think, they seriously expect a compliance.

I wish the matter was finally settled. The difficulty of supplying the Militia with Provisions, is very great, I use my utmost exertions, to draw supplies from our County Contractors, but the scarcity of Cash pervades every Department, & gives me but little reason, to expect much support from that quarter.

Whatever Orders, your Excellency thinks proper to give, shall be executed,7 by Your Excellency’s Most Obt Servt

Philemon Dickinson


1Dickinson had purchased his estate, which he named “the Hermitage,” from the Rutherford family in 1776. In 1784, he expanded his frame house on the estate, situated near Trenton along the Delaware River, to include a large stone-and-stucco addition. Martha Washington visited Dickinson and his wife, Mary Cadwallader Dickinson, at the Hermitage in 1791 (see Tobias Lear to GW, 22 May 1791, in Papers, Presidential Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series. 19 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1987–. description ends , 8:202–5).

2Dickinson likely forwarded letters from the Continental Congress Committee on the Pennsylvania Line to GW, 7 and 9 Jan., and their enclosures. Dickinson commanded the New Jersey militia called out to defend the state during the mutiny of the Pennsylvania line (see Anthony Wayne, Richard Butler, and Walter Stewart to GW, 4 Jan., n.5; see also Wayne to GW, 2 Jan., and the source note to that document).

3Dickinson refers to Arthur Kill (Staten Island Sound).

5For the trial and execution of these spies, see Continental Congress Committee on the Pennsylvania Line to GW, 10–11 Jan., and notes 3 and 7 to that document.

6For the commissioners appointed to determine the Pennsylvania mutineers eligible for discharge and settle their claims, see Continental Congress Committee on the Pennsylvania Line to GW, 10–11 January.

Index Entries