George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Oliver Phelps, 4 February 1781

From Oliver Phelps

Granville1 [Mass.]
Feby 4th 1781

May it please your Excellency,

I have received your favour of Jany 20th directed to the late superintending Committee2—As this Committee is now no more, I have the honor to answer you: and full gladly do I wish it were in my power effectual⟨l⟩y to supply your wants—Our Assembly, in their present session, have dissolved the late Committee, and by an act of Court (of which I have the honor to enclose you a Copy) have been pleased to appoint me as a superintendant of purchases in their stead.3

I am to inform you; that I depend on⟨ly⟩ on the specific tax for supplies. The weight of taxe⟨s⟩ upon the people for the discharge of debts &c. contract⟨ed⟩ during the last campaign prevents the payment ⟨of⟩ the beef tax in so speedy a manner as I could wish, an⟨d⟩ I cannot promise to supply more than sixty head of ca⟨ttle⟩ by the week, biside what I shall barrel. All the embarressments in the business I foresee will arise f⟨rom⟩ the want of money, with which could I be well furn⟨ish⟩ed I would venture to engage to supply nearly th⟨e⟩ whole army with meat from the Massachusetts.

The Country is by no means exhausted; I only want the means to get hold of its resources—Mon⟨ey⟩ alone must do it: for although I am vested with every power the legislature can endow me withal, yet, fatal will be the consequences of taking cattle from the farmers by impress; it may serve for this year, but the next they will feed no more for market, and famine must ensue—I am fully sensible that your Excellency can never be held responsible for the important posts on North river, or the continuance of the Army in the field, unless you are aided with supplies of food—Yet I tremble for events when I read in your last favour, that unless the supplies required from this State may be depended on, the most tremendous consequences must ensue—We have already done more than we thought it possible for us to do; we are willing, yea more, we are determined, to exert most strenuously every nerve in your favour.

We could wish that a sister State might be aroused to action: and that some kind Divinity would help us to dispel that magic influence, which seems to have possessed them: induce them for a moment to become forgetful of the cursed chiming of Silver and to attend to the extremities of their Country.

I have seen the late regulations of Congress and gladly could I wish they had been for the better. I have wrote Colo. Blaine largely on the subject and have desired him to influence Congress to an alteration of the plan4—I am fully convinced that as to the live cattle, it never can be adopted, so as to afford you the supplies with regularity, for in the towns in this State, where the Quartermaster Generals Assistants are established, there is no pasturage; in addition to this, the persons appointed as storekeepers I have no doubt are able fully to discharge that part of the business which has a relation to merchandize & stores, yet as to the estimating and forwarding of live Cattle, they cannot be supposed to have any knowledge of it.

I shall however, follow these regulations u⟨ntil the⟩ Congress are pleased to determine the matte⟨r. I⟩ only offer it as my opinion that the forwarding the liv⟨e⟩ cattle had much better be done by an assistant of the Commissary General, whom I may have placed as near me as possible, and with whom I may advise as there shall be occasion.5 I have the honor may it please your Excellency, to be with sentiments of the most sincere esteem, your most obedt and faithful humble servant

Oliver Phelps


1Granville is about 14 miles west of Springfield, Massachusetts.

3In its act of 30 Jan., the Massachusetts legislature appointed Phelps “to superintend the purchasing beef … and also to superintend the receiving the beef, or money in lieu thereof, that has or may be assessed, & the grain that is to be paid in lieu of beef, & to direct the delivery of those articles to the proper Officers.” In addition to numerous other instructions set out in the act, Phelps was to obey all orders from GW and the commissary and quartermaster generals “with regard to the delivery of the provisions and forage under his particular care and direction” (DLC:GW).

4Phelps’s letter to Ephraim Blaine, commissary general of purchases, has not been identified.

5On 16 April, GW wrote Phelps that the army had “been greatly disappointed” in “a regular supply of Beef Cattle” from Massachusetts (DLC:GW).

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