George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel John Atlee, 10 February 1781

From Samuel John Atlee

Philada Feby 10th 1781


Your Excellencey will recive by this Oppertunity, an Address from a number of the Officers in behalf of themselves and others, captured in 76.

They are preparing a Remonstrance to the Assembly of this State at their present sitting, but wou’d wish your Exellencys countenance in the measure.

To you, Sir, as the Father of the Soldiery they look up, not doubting ample Redress from their Country, shou’d their Representation be back’d by your powerfull Influance.1

I cant help joining the Petitioners, being in the same Predicament with them, notwithstanding my Claim laid in to the Commissioners at White Plains for settling the Arrangement of the Army.

The early Period of the War, and the powerfull Armaments your Excellencey had to contend with, must imphattically plead in favour of the Few, who then composed your comparitively small Force.

Numbers, less unfortunate, tho’ I trust not more deserving, have been provided for, whilst your unfortunate Sons, after nobly contending in the first Stage of the War, and suffering a long and rigorous Captivity, are denied the Rewards they apprehended they were justly intitled to.2

The Arrangment of the Line being now finished and no prospect of a provission therein, they mean to pray the Allowance of retiring Officers &ca, and have therefore requested me to back their address to your Excellencey, fearing without your Paternal Aid, their Application will not meet with the desired Success.

I have therefore taken the Liberty to introduce to your Excellency’s Notice the Addressors,3 amongst whom I beg your Excellencey to consider, Your Most Obedient and very Hble Servt

Sam: J. Atlee


1The enclosed letter from nine supernumerary captains of the Pennsylvania line to GW, dated 6 Feb. at Philadelphia, reads: “To your Excellency as the Father of your Officers, and the Guardian of their Rights and Honor, We the subscribers officers in the Pennsylvania Line are induced to represent our greivances and situation which on the first Veiw we are well convinc’d from your Excellencys known delicacy you will better conceive than we can express, and therefore readily excuse this intrusion on your more important considerations.

“We beg leave to inform your Excellency that we were amongst the first in support of our Countries Rights, and disregarding our domestic calls, encounter’d the dangers and hardships of the feild under your command, were unfortunately made prisoners by the Enemy in the campain of Seventy Six where we suffer’d all the Severity of treatment a cruel and at that time an exulting Foe could inflict with that fortitude and perseverance recommended by you[r] Excellency and which we promised ourselves should obtain the approbation of a gratefull Country and distinguish us as Men superior to Adversity and Misfortune in the Worst of times.

“That during our captivity many resolves were enter’d into by the Legislature of our State, confirming our opinions ‘that we were entitled to all the Rank Pay and Emoluments of Officers in actual service’ and ‘when Exchang⟨ed⟩ should be provided for’ Notwithstanding which in May 1779. After our exchange, Congress were pleased to resolve, that all Officers that were Prisoners or had been exchanged and were not in the arrangement should be dismissed the Service with the trifling gratuity of one years pay advance and a reference to a former resolve of that honorble Body thanking a Number of officers (which it was thought propper to select as Supernumeraries on what occasion we know not) for thier pass’d Services.

“That altho’ all the pay we had ever receiv’d and the years pay advance was verry inadequate to our losses and expences in a long captivity, yet as we conceive it to be a measure adopted to avoid the confusion & difficulties which had taken place in the arrangement; we did not complain, conceiving it not affecting our reputation in particular as the dismission was general.

“But on the last exchange taking place Congress have been pleased on the first of January last to Resolve, that it is the sense of that honorable body that all officers exchanged since the new arrangement should be entitled to the same Rank Pay and Emoluments as if they had been in actual service, thereby making an invidious distinction between those officers exchanged previous to the last arrangement & those since exchanged, partially rescinding the resolve of May the 22d 1779 in favor of a part, where all in the said resolution described are equaly entitled to the benefits and advantages.

“We consider ourselves much injur’d by a dismission and discrimination so peculiarly degrading, without a reason assigned for such a proceedure.

“Your Excellency will please to pardon us for requesting your interferance in behalf of our Rights (when we assure you Sir, Nothing but the greatest Violence done our feelings as Officers and Men of Honor could induce us to intrude our complaints when every Moment of your Excellencies time is engaged in the most important concerns) and that You will please to favor us with your concurrence in an application to the Honorable the Legislature of the State of Pensylvania which is now preparing.” The document is signed by Capt. Daniel Brodhead, Jr., and eight other captains. A postscript appended to their signatures reads: “N.B. Sign’d in behalf of ourselves & others the whole included not exceeding in number fifteen” (LS, DLC:GW). For the resolve of 1 Jan., see Samuel Huntington to GW, 2 Jan., n.2. For the resolve of 22 May 1779, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 14:630.

2Atlee felt that he had been improperly denied promotion to brigadier general (see Joseph Reed to GW, 19 Jan. 1779, and GW to Reed, 9 Feb. 1779).

3GW replied to Atlee and the supernumerary captains on 28 Feb. from headquarters at New Windsor: “I have received your letter of the 6th instant accompanied by one from Col. Atlee of the 10th—I assure you I feel the force of your observations so far as they apply to the general principle of a hardship in the discrimination between the officers reduced by the former and those reduced by the latter arrangement. This difference is certainly unfortunate, for all on whom it fell; but I do not think it could with propriety be rectified in your case without being extended to the whole of the supernumeraries.

“In the vicissitudes of public affairs it often happens that classes of men of equal merit are unequally compensated by their country, and sometimes an attempt to remedy the evil after it has happened may have worse consequences than the evil itself. I do not say this is the case in the present instance, but there is a delicacy in the matter that makes me wish not to interfere in it.

“The terms in which you express your sentiments of mine assure me that you will justly interpret the motives which induce me to decline seconding your application to the Assembly, persuaded that nothing would give me greater pleasure than to promote as far as I could do it with propriety, every measure calculated to produce an equal and generous compensation to men who deserve so much the equity and generosity of their country” (Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

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