George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Timothy Pickering, 14 January 1781

From Colonel Timothy Pickering

Newburgh [N.Y.] Jany 14. 1781. P.M.


This moment has been handed to me the inclosed copy of General Heath’s “Garrison orders” issued at West Point, apparently with a design to regulate the public issues at Fishkill; but which, if carried into execution, will unhinge all public business there, & go near to dissolve my department in the state.1 They were issued, I am warranted to say, at the instigation of Colo. Hazen, whose overbearing disposition aimed at the absolute controul of every transaction at that post. On the 20th of December he issued the extraordinary orders of which a copy is inclosed; calling them, to give colour to his assumed authority, “garrison orders.”2 I expressly forbad the officers in my department paying any regard to them. After some time he obtained a letter from Genl Heath directing him to call on the different departments for returns of all their issues.3 On both these occasions I conversed with Colo. Hazen, and endeavoured to convince him that his demands were improper; and when at Fishkill last week thought I had settled the affair: for he complained that in the issues of provisions injustice was done to his regt & that his sole object was to redress that grievance. To put an end to the difficulty I proposed that when the full rations of provisions, particularly rum & flour which were sometimes deficient (the former generally) could not be obtained, an equitable division should be agreed on between him & the principal of my department at the post, according to which the Commissary should make his issues. With this he said he was content. But I now find he is not to be satisfied with the exercise of his proper rights; and at length by his persevering importunity, has induced Genl Heath to gratify his wishes to a certain degree, by issuing the orders of the 13th inst. before mentioned.

I would not trouble your Excellency (at this time especially)4 with the foregoing detail, if I imagined an application to Genl Heath would remove the difficulty: but he has entertained a mistaken principle in the case. He reprobated Colo. Hazen’s orders, telling him he had no right to interfere with the great branches of the staff departments; but that the subordinate officers, the issuers of public supplies, he had a right to controul.

General Heath’s mistake (for I am clear that it is one) arises from his confounding a civil with a military post. Were Fishkill a mere place of arm[s] and a garrison posted there for its defence, the commanding officer ought undoubtedly to regulate & controul the distribution of every species of stores: for he would be answerable for its safety; and the security of such a post depends on its supplies of provisions &c. In like manner when an issuing officer is appointed merely to serve a military corps, he must be subject to the controul of its commanding officer. But issuing officers at Fishkill stand on very different ground. ’Tis a magazine for stores of every kind—a great thorough fare for passing troops & a variety of persons in the public service. The supply of Colo. Hazen’s regiment is accidental. It is not necessary for the security of the place. A captain’s guard would perform all the military duties of the post.

It has happened very unfortunately that during this whole time Colo. Hughes has been absent, being engaged at Albany & that neighbourhood in business of great public importance. Had he been present Genl Heath would hardly have thought of requiring the deputy quarter master of the state to carry his provision return to be countersigned by Colo. Hazen or perhaps one of his captains. Yet the present general order makes no exception. But if it be not revoked, I am certain that Colo. Hughes on his return will instantly resign. This his assistant and subordinate officers are now ready to do, & his large collection of excellent artificers, who are essential to the department, will immediately leave off working & disperse.

Genl Heath too must have forgotten that by the plan for the Commissary’s department, the quarter-master-general, his deputies or assistants (besides a variety of other public persons) are impowered to give orders for the issues of provisions. I beg leave to inclose a copy of the paragraph referred to.5 Genl Heath’s orders operate as a repeal of this act of Congress.

I speak with confidence on this subject, because Colo. Hazen’s conduct has occasioned my repeatedly revolving it in my mind; & the more I have considered it, the more I have been confirmed that my sentiments concerning it were just. If I am mistaken, your Excellency will correct me. I request you will indulge me with your interference to prevent the mischiefs which otherwise will immediately take place.6 I have the honour to be, with the greatest respect your Excellency’s most obedt servant

Tim: Pickering Q.M.G.

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 93, Records of Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering, 1780–87; copy, MHi: Timothy Pickering Papers.

1The enclosed copy of Maj. Gen. William Heath’s “Garrison Orders,” dated at West Point on 13 Jan., reads: “All provision Returns at Fish Kill are to be presented to Colonel Hazen, or in his absence to the senior officer at that place, to be countersigned, or an order given thereon, and no provisions are to be Issued otherwise, the same mode is to be observed in the Issuing of forage, Fuel, and other public Stores.

“The Issuing Commissary at Fish Kill Landing, will present once a week, to Colonel Hazen, or the senior officer, at Fish Kill, an Account of the provisions & Stores, Issued by him, to whom & by whose orders” (DLC:GW).

2The enclosed copy of Col. Moses Hazen’s “Garrison Orders,” dated 20 Dec. 1780 at “Post at Fish Kill,” reads: “Complaints having been made to Colo. Hazen, of sundry partial supplies of provisions, Rum & forage, by the issuing Commissaries of those departments at this post.

“That an unequal distribution of Quarters, are allowed by the Quarter Master General, his Assistant or Barrack Master, and that many other abuses have crept into the several public departments, at this place.

“It therefore becomes the indispensible duty of the Commanding Officer of this post, not only to examine into the nature and Grounds of those complaints, and any public Grievances, but as far as may be in his power to provide a Remedy, and if possible to prevent such injuries, and causes of future complaints or jealousies amongst the troops, and people employed in the service of the United States, at this post, and its dependencies, more especially as the present exigencies of public affairs, in every Branch or department, requires the greatest Economy and most pointed attention in all officers of every Rank, and denomination, to the general Interest of America.

“Colonel Hazen has therefore thought fit, on this occasion to order that weekley returns from the Head of all and every department of this post and its dependencies, be made to him, or the Commanding Officer of this post, on every monday at 10—oClock in the forenoon, containing all and every of their several & respective Matters or business in Charge Viz.;

“The Physician or Surgeon at this post, will make a return of the sick in the Hospital, or discharged from it, in the course of the week proceeding. The acting quarter master general, of all the public Horses and teams, of any kind fed; and employed at this place, as well as the service on which they are employed, and of all private impressed teams, that may be employed at this post & its dependencies, as well as in genl all other public expences attending his department at this place.

“The several Commanding Officers Of Artificers will make returns of the men under their care and Command, how and where they are employed, and the work done by them.

“The Barrack master, of all the public buildings by whom occupied, and the quantity of wood by him Issued at this post.

“The Issuing Commissary of provisions of all the provisions received by him, from whom, how applied, or to whom Issued, & by whose order.

“The Issuing Commissary of Forage of all the forage which he may receive, from whom, how applied, or to whom Issued, & by whose order.

“Great punctuality, and a necessary accuracy is expected in all these Returns” (DLC:GW).

3This letter from Heath to Hazen has not been identified.

4Pickering alludes to the Pennsylvania line mutiny (see Anthony Wayne to GW, 2 Jan., and the source note to that document).

5The enclosed “Extract from an Act of Congress of the 10th of June 1777” reads: “That no provision be issued to any person but by the written Order of the Commander in Chief, the Commander of any Department, the Quarter Master General, any of his Deputies or Assistants, the Commanding Officer of a Post, describing the person in whose favor such order shall be given; or upon a Return signed by the Commanding Officer of a Corps or Detachment thereof, whether Commissioned, or non Commissioned, or by the Regimental Quarter Master” (DLC:GW; filed under 13 Jan. 1781; see also 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 , 8:443).

6GW’s aide-de-camp David Humphreys replied to Pickering from headquarters on this date at 9:00 P.M.: “I have laid Your Letter of this day before his Excellency, who directs me to inform You that he believes the Orders of Major Genl Heath to have originated from a request lately made, to have a full investigation into the issues of Provision at the several Posts; but that this was not designed particularly for Your Department. Which may yet be put on such a footing in this particular as to give satisfaction in this Article.

“Just after You left Head Quarters Yesterday the General received Letters from the Committee of Congress, advising that the Pennsylvanians were on their March to Trenton, and that an accomodation was likely to take place. His Excellency therefore thinks it will be best to have the Horses remain in their present places, as he expects in the course of the Night, or early tomorrow to receive such intelligence as will absolutely determine what line of conduct he is to pursue” (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 26034). For Heath’s recent inquiry about his jurisdiction over Fishkill, N.Y., see his second letter to GW, 10 Jan.; see also GW to Heath, 12 Jan. (second letter).

On 15 Jan., Humphreys wrote Pickering a letter which reads in part: “His Excellency has written to General Heath on the subject of Your Letter of Yesterday. desiring him to suspend the execution of the Order respecting Your Department till he can see him. as all he (General Washington) had in view was to prevent any impositions on the Public & not to embarrass or impede the service. He will speak to General Heath further on the Matter the first Opportunity he shall have” (DLC:GW; see also GW to William Heath, 14 and 20 Jan., and Heath to GW, 16 Jan.).

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