George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 20 January 1781

From Major General William Heath

West Point Jany 20th 1781

Dear General

The last evening I was honored with yours of the 19th inst.1 I am happy to hear Your Excellency is determined again to rouse the eastern States, & urge the necessity of their forwarding provissions; but I fear before any benifit can be derived from this, unless the Cattle are now on the road, our case will be deplorable if not desperate. The Q.M.G. must devise some means for getting down the beef salted in bulk at Poughkeepsie. Teams may transport it to, or nearly to Constitution Island, & we must devise means to get it over to the Garrison. The period is also arrived, when the flour must be conveyed in baggs on horses, as was settled when the Q.M.G. came to West Point with Your Excellency for that purpose;2 & I will hope that it will be in the power of this State to afford some temporary releif.

Some time since, the proceedings & sentence of Court Martial, on one Oliver Richards of the Massachusetts Line, was sent to Head Quarters, on a sheet that contained the tryal of an Officer. Your Excellency was pleased to take cognizance of the latter which came out in orders. Colonel Scammell informed me, that if Your Excellency did not take up the other sentence, he would send the papers back to me. Nothing has been mentioned in the orders respecting Richards; he has been in Confinement since the 18th Ulto.3

The enclosed was just now handed to me by Lt Colo. Com[mandan]t Sprout, of the 2d Massts. regt.4 He inform me the Sergeants presented it with great decency of deportment, & observed that if there was any thing improper in the mode, or in any expression, contained in it, it was what they did not intend, that they most sensibly felt the greivances they mentioned, wished to make a decent representation, & beg a redress. I have desired Colonel Sprout to inform them, that every means in the power of the Officers, has, & will still be excerised, to make them comfortable, & to obtain for them every thing to which they are entitled, as far as the ability of the Country will admit. They observed to Colonel Sprout that they much disapproved & detested the conduct of the Pensylvanians5—The State bounty to which they allude, is the 300 dollars, promised to them above twelve months since.6 I beleive they have all received 100 dollars, some two, & some the whole of it. I some months since represented to the Legislature of the State, the policy & necessity of paying the whole of it. I will represent the matter to Govornor Hancock,7 and as the State of Massts have lately called for a return of the number of men, inlisted in their respective regiments, as preparatory to a settlement of the accounts of the Officers, who have received monies from them. I apprehend the State will as soon as the settlement is made order the payment of such part of the bounties alluded to as are yet due—Is it allowable for the Officers belonging to one State to inlist men belonging to another?8 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Your Excellencys most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

P.S., every thing respecting the intended enterprise, has as yet gone on well, hope it will be crowned with desired Success.9


LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers. The postscript, in Heath’s writing, appears only on the LS.

2GW and Q.M. Gen. Timothy Pickering had last visited West Point together on 11 Jan. (see GW to Heath, 10 Jan., n.1).

3For the discovery of the court-martial papers in the case of Oliver Richards, see GW to Heath, 11 February.

One of the recruits raised in Massachusetts to reinforce the Continental army for six months, Oliver Richards (born c.1756), of Newburyport, joined Col. Ebenezer Sproat’s 12th Massachusetts Regiment as a private in July 1780.

4Sproat assumed command of the 2d Massachusetts Regiment on 1 Jan. 1781. The enclosed petition from the sergeants of the 2d Massachusetts Regiment to Sproat, dated 17 Jan. at West Point and signed by twenty-two sergeants, reads: “we the Subscribers of 2nd Masstts Regt being Engaged in the Service of the United States, during the present war with Great Britain, being Confident of the Righteousness of the Cause we are Engag’d in, would be Verry Sorry to do or Speak any thing that might be Detrimental, to the same; or what would not Contribute to our, and our Country’s Advancement:

“but would Humbly beg leave to Lay before your Honour the present Greviences we Labour under in this Servitude, hoping for an Address.

“1st Our State Bounty we have not as yet Receivd, tho been Lawfully required & Demanded.

“2.ndly Our wages we have been kept out of Beyond all Reason!

“3.rdly, Our Cloathing has certainly been kept from us (which is now due) Either by Disaffected men, or Neglect of Others, be it as it will we Suffer for the Same.

“4thly Our Provision is Certainly Extreamly Short by what means we are Unable to Say but this we know it is Inconsistent with Human reason to think men can live on Such Allowence.

“we Say no more than to Humbly desire your Honour to have us righted In those points as far as in your Power lies, and If your Honour pleases would be Glad of an Answer to this” (DLC:GW).

5For the mutiny of the Pennsylvania line, see Anthony Wayne to GW, 2 Jan., and the source note to that document.

6For the bounty, see Heath to GW, 30 April 1780, and n.4 to that document.

7Heath wrote Massachusetts governor John Hancock on 22 Jan. (MHi: Heath Papers).

9For this “enterprise,” see GW to Heath, 19 Jan., and notes 3 and 4 to that document.

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