George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Robert Howe, 16 January 1781

From Major General Robert Howe

West point 16th January 1781.

Dear sir

I have by every Means in my power endeavoured to find how far the fears entertained of the disaffection of the Massachuset troops to the purposed Service was well or ill founded, and not content with my own personal efforts, I have desired officers of address and abilities to exert themselves also.1 It appears to be the opinion of Putnam, Vose, Sprout, Brooks, Porter, Trescot and many others that a dependance May be had upon the good conduct of the men in Any Service your Excellency Shall require of them. I confess I am of that opinion, and tho’ all human events are uncertain, yet I rely So much upon it that I am ready to take my chance with the detatchment if it becomes necessary to proceed with it, and Shall do it with Confidence. the doubts General Heath has Suggested to your Excellency were taken up principally upon a repport of a Sergeant to Co. Newal, But when it is inquired into, the Giant dwindles into a dwarf. I will relate it: Col. Newal was allarmed by a Sergeant who told him that the Men detatched from his regiment had refused to draw the four days provisions ordered them, And this circumstance has been construed into their dislike of the Service. But upon inquiring their murmurs appear to have arisen from the late hour of the Night when they received the Order and a dispute which of them Should go for the provisions which was Settled by themselves & the provisions instantly Sent for. Col. Putnam formed Some pretext to be among them the next day—he inquired Strictly if they had cooked their rations agreable to order, and asked many questions which Might have led to a discovery had their feelings been Much against the Service, But not one word like it was expressed, except from one man lately exchanged and arrived from New york who Said he was willing to fight against Anything but a brother Soldier—this and a Camp girl’s mentioning at a Suttler’s Shop that She did not believe the Men would fight against the pensylvanians is, I believe, the whole basis of this affair.

The day being very bad yesterday and I Much indisposed, I did not go to General Parson’s as I had intended but Sent by express, desiring to be particularly informed of all circumstances respecting the detatchment ordered from his line—he writes that the men never were ordered on any Service which they More willingly undertook.2 All this taken together persuades me there is great reliance to be placed on the good dispositions of the detatchment.

All the Officers Uniting in Opinion that Some Rum now and then distributed would be attended with good effect, indeed would be exceedingly necessary; I take the liberty to request that your Excellency would be So Kind as to give Col. Blaine Some directions thereupon, who tells me it May be obtained by impressment if no other method can procure it. And the necessity of the Case will I think warrant the measure.3 I am, Dear sir, with the greatest respect Your Excellency’s Most obedient and Most humble servant

Robert Howe


1For the supposed reluctance of the Massachusetts troops to serve in the detachment formed for the anticipated suppression of the mutineers of the Pennsylvania line, see William Heath to GW, 13 Jan.; see also Heath to GW, 15 Jan. (first letter). For the composition of the detachment, which Howe was to command, see Heath to GW, 11 January.

2Maj. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons’s letter to Howe has not been identified, but see Parsons to GW, 12 January.

3For GW’s reply, see GW to Howe, 15 Jan., and the source note to that document.

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