George Washington Papers

Circular to the States, 22 January 1781

Circular to the States

Head Quarters New Windsor January 22nd 1781.


I have received the disagreeable intelligence that a part of the Jersey Line had followed the example of that of the Pennsylvania; and when the advices came away it was expected the revolt would be general. The precise intention of the Mutineers was not known, but their complaints & demands were similar to those, of the Pennsylvanians.1

Persuaded that without some decisive effort at all hazards to surppress this dangerous spirit it would speedily infect the whole Army, I have ordered as large a Detachment as we could spare from these Posts to march under Major Genl Howe with orders to compell the mutineers to unconditional submission—to listen to no terms while they were in a state of resistance, and on their reduction to execute instantly a few of the most active, and most incendary Leaders.2 I am not certain what part the Troops detached for this purpose will act, but I flatter myself they will do their duty. I prefer any extremity to which the Jersey Troops may be driven, to a compromise.

The weakness of the Garrison,3 but still more it’s embarrassing distress for want of provisions made it impossible to prosecute such measures with the Pennsylvanians, as the nature of the case demanded—And while we were making arrangments, as far as practicable to supply these defects an accomodation took place which will not only subvert the Pennsylvania line, but have a very pernicious influence on the whole Army. I mean however by these remarks only to give an idea of the miserable situation we are in, not to blame a measure which perhaps in our circumstances was the best that could have been adopted—The same embarrassments operate against coercion at this moment, but not in so great a degree; the Jersey Troops not being from their numbers so formidable as were the Pennsylvanians.4

I dare not detail the risks we run from the5 scantiness of supplies6—We have received few or no cattle for some time past, nor do [we] know of any shortly to be expected—The salted meat we ought to have reserved in the Garrison, is now nearly exhausted, I cannot but renew7 my solicitations with your state to8 every expedience for contributing to our imediate relief. With perfect respect, I have the honor to be Your Most Obedt and Hble, servant.

Go: Washington

LS, in William Colfax’s writing, addressed to New Hampshire council president Meshech Weare, Nh-Ar: Weare Papers; LS, in David Humphreys’s writing, addressed to Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., Ct: Trumbull Papers; LS, in Humphreys’s writing, addressed to Massachusetts governor John Hancock, M-Ar; LS (partially burned and incomplete), in Humphreys’s writing, addressed to New York governor George Clinton, N-Ar: Clinton Papers; LS, in Humphreys’s writing, addressed to Rhode Island governor William Greene, NjP: De Coppet Collection; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW signed the cover of the LS addressed to Clinton, which is addressed to him at Poughkeepsie or Albany. Trumbull docketed the LS addressed to him: “recd—28th inst ⅌ Express.” GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman docketed the draft: “Circular to Four Eastern States and to New York.”

On the LS addressed to Clinton, the portion of the letter with the date is burned. It is docketed “23 Janry 1781,” and Clinton gives it that date in his reply to GW of 26 January. For other replies, see Trumbull to GW, 31 Jan., Weare to GW, 2 Feb.; and Hancock to GW, 5 February. No reply from Greene to GW has been found.

1See Frederick Frelinghuysen to GW, 20 Jan., and Israel Shreve to GW, same date; see also Anthony Wayne to GW, 2 Jan., and the source note to that document.

3GW refers to the garrison of West Point.

4On the draft, which is in the writing of GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton, the following text is struck out at this point: “From these events one inference is to be drawn which every state in the union cannot too seriously realize—that unless effectual measures are taken to place the army upon a more satisfac⟨tory⟩ footing, its dissolution and the ruin of our cause will be the inevitable consequence—I have long foreseen the terrible crisis to which our affairs were tending, and I have not been remiss in apprising the states of the danger.”

5The word “present” follows this word on all the other LS and the draft.

6“With flour we are only fed from day to day” appears after this word on the LS addressed to Clinton. A notation on the draft states that this addition was intended for that LS only.

7The extant text of the LS addressed to Clinton ends at this point.

8The word “exert” follows this word on the draft and on the LS addressed to Greene, Hancock, and Trumbull.

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