George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Henry Knox, 7 February 1781

From Brigadier General Henry Knox

New Windsor, 7 Feby 1781


In pursuance of Your Excellency’s instructions to me, dated the 7th ulto, I proceeded to the States of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and delivered the dispatches with which I was charged, to the Governors and to the President to whom they were addressed.1

The legislatures of Connecticut and Rhode Island unfortunately were not sitting. The Governor of the former State, by having the powers of the assembly in its recess respecting the exigenc[i]es of the war delegated to him, jointly with a certain council, supposed that it would be unnecessary to call the legislature on the matter of my mission, and that his council would be competent to do every thing necessary on the occasion; for which purpose he proposed to call them together the next day after I had the honor of conversing with him, which was on the 11th ult.

Governor Trumbull fully coincided in sentiment with me in respect to the gratuity of the three half johannes, in preference to any pay in paper money, as a matter that would be more effecacious to quiet the minds of the troops and render them happy in this exigence; and also as a measure which the New England States could execute with as much ease under present circumstances as the three months real pay in paper. He was clearly of opinion, that to attempt to obtain both the gratuity and three months pay, would be to attempt more than could be performed, consistent with their present exertions in order to put their finances on a tolerable footing. The Governor pledged himself to exert his utmost interest to have the gratuity and deficiency of clothing given to the troops immediately, and requested me to impress on the Governors, and official gentlemen in the other States, the necessity and propriety of New England adopting similar measures. I believe the Governor religiously performed his part, and I am happy to believe I did not fail in mine.2

At Lebanon I saw His Grace the Duke De Lazun, who pressed me to write an account of the revolt of the Pennsylvania line to General Count De Rochambeau. This I intended to have done when I should have reached Providence, as a matter which I presumed would be agreeable to Your Excellency⟨‘s⟩ sentiments. It was only anticipating it a few hours, therefore in conformity to the Duke⟨’s⟩ sollicitations, I wrote to His Excellency Gen: Rochambeau the letter marked No. 1.3

Governor Greene, of Rhode Island, immediately called the legislature of that State to meet him at Greenwich the 18th ulto.4

I was more happy in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to find the Assemblies of those States convened. To them I represented, in the strongest terms I was capable, the distresses of the Army in general—of the troops of their lines in particular—and of the probable means that would conciliate the affections of the soldiers and render them quiet and happy. I take the liberty to annex, in paper No. 2, a summary of the arguments which I urged to these assemblies as far as they applied to their troops, and these were the principal arguments which I urged to the States respectively.5

Massachusetts were pleased to adopt the measures proposed, as appears by their acts contained in the paper No. 3.6 New Hampshire also adopted the measures as far as the circumstances of their troops required. That is, they agreed immediately to grant a gratuity of twenty four silver dollars per man to their soldiers inlisted for the war, and coats sufficient to complete their line.7

The State of Rhode Island thought proper to adopt a different mode, as appears by a copy of their proceedings hereunto annexed (No. 4) and certified by the Secretary of that State. But I hope, as their quantity of hard money will be as much as that of the other states, the effects will be equally good.8

The Council of Connecticut determined upon nothing final, but appeared to intend to follow the example of Massachusetts. They were to meet at Hartford the 5 instant on this business. The Governor informed me he had but little doubt that they would adopt similar measures to Massachusetts; but if they should decline he would immediately call the Legislature, when he presumed the matter would be made certain.

I have the pleasure to assure Your Excellency that all ranks of people, as well unofficial as official, from the private farmer up to the Governor, in the four states through which I passed appear perfectly well principled in the contest and fully determined to make every sacrifice of property and personal ease to ensure a happy termination to the war. The universal sentiment was, That the Army ought to be supported, and should be supported, at every reasonable expence.

The business of obtaining recruits for their battalions proceeds with great vigor and spirit—for three years only indeed—but the prejudice or sentiments of the recruits, who generally are the farmers sons of the country, are against engaging for an indefinite term of time. I believe it would be easier to engage the recruits from New England for seven years, than for the undefined term, for the war.9

I hope I have executed this business agreeably to Your Excellency’s ideas, and if so, a line of approbation would render happy Your Excellency’s most obedt humble servant.

H. Knox.

LS, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Samuel Huntington, 13 Feb. (first letter), DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169. The fourth paragraph appears only on the LS.

GW replied to Knox on 9 Feb. from headquarters at New Windsor: “I have received the report of your proceedings in compliance with my instructions to you of the 7th Ulto—all of which have my intire approbation and merit my warmest acknowlegements for the zeal and judgment so conspicuous in them. The result of your applications, I hope will be as satisfactory as it will be beneficial to the troops. The states whose determinations you report have done themselves honor by their liberality, and by their ready attention to the objects of your mission. I doubt not Connecticut will be not less generous or less attentive. Accept [my] assurances of … esteem and friendship” (Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; GW wrote the words “Ulto” and “so” on the draft, the latter word replacing “equally”).

1See GW to Knox, 7 Jan., and n.1.

2For Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr.’s reports on this matter, see his letters to GW of 31 Jan. and 5 February.

3The enclosed copy of Knox’s letter to Lieutenant General Rochambeau, dated at Lebanon, Conn., on 11 Jan., reads: “I proposed to myself when I should arrive at Providence to either repair in person to Newport, or by letter inform your Excellency of a very disagreeable event which has happened in the American Army in New Jersey. But his Grace the Duke De Lazun thinks it will be best that I should write at this place, and he will forward it by the conveyance of his military posts.

“The non commissioned officers and privates of the Pennsylvania line, cantoned in the vicinity of Morris Town, formed a most dangerous mutiny, which soon became so general as to defy all force which the officers were capable of opposing. The officers in the first stages of the mutiny did every thing possible for men to do, and some of them were killed and wounded in the exertions of their duty—but all in vain. The revolted troops seized upon the artillery of the line, six pieces, broke open the magazine, plundered it of the ammunition and marched from their quarters in regular military order.

“The mutineers gave out they would march to Philadelphia to obtain a redress of their grievances, which they termed to be Improper detention after expiration of the time for which they were engaged, and arrearages of pay and clothing.

“This unhappy affair happened on the night of the 1 Inst., and on the night of the 4th, which was the last account His Excellency Gen. Washington had recieved of them when I left Head Quarters, they had halted at Princeton, about 36 miles from the place they marched from. The position they have assumed is critical, it being in the vicinity of the enemy, who will not fail to take every possible advantage of their situation. There being but few regular continental troops in Jersey, except the Pennsylvania line, force cannot be opposed to them with success. Lenitive measures only will answer, and the circumstances are so urgent that they must be applied immediately, or there will be danger of the enemy’s tampering with the revolted troops, who however have been uniform in their declaration, that they would oppose the enemy to the utmost of their power.

“This was the state of the case when I left Head Quarters on the evening of the 7th instant. His Excellency General Washington will doubtless inform your Excellency of this affair in detail, as soon as he shall be able to form a tolerable conjecture of its issue.

“I am upon extremely urgent business to the four New England States which deprives me of the honor of paying my respects to Your Excellency at present. On my return to Camp, which will be in 14 or 15 days, I propose to have that happiness” (DLC:GW; see also Rochambeau to GW, 20 Jan, and n.1 to that document). For the Pennsylvania line mutiny, see Anthony Wayne to GW, 2 Jan., and the source note to that document.

5The enclosed copy of Knox’s letter to John Lowell, dated at Boston on 16 Jan., reads “An honorable gentleman of the house having requested the grievances of the Massachusetts troops to be stated specifically, I shall endeavor to do it with as much accuracy as the materials I am possessed of will admit.

“The non commissioned officers and soldiers of Massachusetts, in common with the troops of the other states, labor under a total want of pay for a year past—want of coats—that is, equal in number to two thirds of the men in the field—and want of provision.

“In addition to these things, they have another grievance, peculiar to themselves and which adds extreme bitterness to the rest. They complain that the bounties which were given them as an inducement to enter the service were deducted from their depreciation of pay. And until th⟨e⟩ measure shall be repealed no peace or contentment can be expected in the Massachusetts line.

“The revolt of the Pennsylvania line may possibly infuse new ideas and induce them to extend their expectations further. From the critical situation of the revolted troops, it is probable that policy will dictate a compliance with their own terms; and from circumstances it is probable that part of those terms will be a new bounty, by way of a donative, which was expected would be equal to three half johannes. This being the case, the faithful troops who are posted at West Point and its dependences will, as their hardships are in some capital instances similar, expect similar gratifications with respect to the donative.

“This method appears much preferable to advancing any thing on the scale of pay to the troops; because hard money, advanced as pay in this exigence involves a kind of necessity of continuing the pay in specie, which probably the Country will be unable to do. Any paper money given at present ⟨woud⟩ perhaps be unequal to the expectations of the soldiery, and might interfere with the arrangements of Congress.

“The Massachusetts line will expect in the spring to be well clothed, and better paid and fed in future—and, what will render supreme satisfaction, they hope and expect that the ac⟨t⟩ deducting the bounties from the depreciati⟨on⟩ of pay will be repealed; and that in future all payments and contracts be made in such money as has a known value throughout the world, or in the currency of these States of equal value.

“The above is a summary of what I had the honor last evening of mentioning to the Legislature on this subject” (DLC:GW).

6The enclosed document, dated “Commonwealth of Massachusetts In the House of Representatives” on 16 Jan., reads: “Whereas, by a resolve of the General Court of this State, on Jany 7 1780, the committee appointed to settle with the Massachusetts line of the army; and determine the sums due to the soldiers of the said line, were directed to make deductions on account of bounties received by any of the soldiers, from the towns for which they were engaged, or from any individual, and whereas it now appears that it was not the design and intention of many of the towns of this State that such bounties should operate to the reduction of the pay of the soldiers who received them, or that they should in any respect be accountable therefor in future:

“Therefore Resolved, That the said resolve of the 7 day of Jany 1780 be so far reconsidered, as that the committee who are appointed to settle the soldiers accounts, and determine the sums due to them, be, and hereby are empowered and directed, in the next adjustment of such accounts, to carry to the credit of each soldier (who now is or shall be engaged for three years or during the war) all such stoppages or deductions as were made in consequenc⟨e⟩ of the resolve above mentioned; and to all other soldiers, or their heirs, from whom such deduction has been made, as soon as the circumstanc⟨es⟩ of the Commonwealth will admit, in such way as the General Court shall hereafter determine.

“Resolved, That there be allowed and paid, out of the public treasury of this Commonwealth, to each non commissioned officer and private soldier of the Massachusetts line of the army of the United States who were engaged to serve during the war, on or before the second day of December last, the sum of Twenty four dollars in silver, or gold equivalent thereto, as a gratuity to such non commissioned officers and private soldiers, and as a testimony of the sense this Commonwealth entertains of their faithful services. And that a sum sufficient for this purpose be immediately sent forward to the army, there to be paid into the hands of such non commissioned officers and privates, by such person or persons as the General Court may appoint for that purpose.

“Resolved, That Ebenr Wales Esqr. and Amasa Davis be directed to procure, by contract of otherwise, fifteen hundred coats, and (as soon as may be) send them forward to the Army, for the use of such non commissioned officers and privates of the Massachusetts line as are not sufficiently provided with clothing, there to be distributed by such person or persons as the General Court may appoint for that purpose. And that the said Ebenr Wales Esqr. and Capt. Amasa Davis lay the account of their expenditures before the General Court for allowance and payment, and shall receive such consideration for the said service as the General Court shall think to be reasonable—and that the amount of the said costs be carried to the account of the United States.” According to notations on the document, the resolutions were read and concurred in by the senate the same day and approved by the governor (DLC:GW).

7See Meshech Weare to GW, 20 and 31 January.

8The enclosed undated document, headed “State of Rhode Island &ca,” reads: “The General Assembly, at the session especially called and held in January A.D. 1781, ordered six thousand pounds lawful money, in silver and gold, to be issued from the treasury of this State, in part for making up depreciation to the officers and soldiers belonging to this state, in the service during the war. That what of said monies already are or shall be in the general treasury, by the first day of February next, be delivered to Col. Israel Angell, to the full amount of one quarter part of the depreciation money due the non commissioned officers and soldiers as aforesaid, to be paid to them by Colonel Angell, in proportion to the sums respectively due to each.

“That one years interest be allowed on the sums found due to each on account of depreciation up to January 1780. And that for the payment of the remaining sum due for depreciation, and said interest up to August 1780, a committee is appointed to sett off to each so much land and buildings within this State as shall be equal in value, in hard money, to the sums respectively due each officer and each non commissioned officer and private as aforesaid—giving to each a title to such lands, &ca in fee simple.

“At a former session the General Assemb[l]y appropriated a debt due to the State of Seventy five thousand pounds, old continental currency, to the payment of part of the depreciation money due as aforesaid, for which Col. Angell had an order, of which part hath been paid. And at the abovementioned session, the Assembly ordered the balance to be paid to Col. Angell, out of the general treasury, for the purpose aforesaid” (DLC:GW).

9The new congressional establishment of the Continental army set the terms for recruiting (see General Orders, 1 Nov. 1780).

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