George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the New York Legislature, 14 February 1781

From the New York Legislature

Albany February 14th 1781.


Reflecting with a most sincere satisfaction on the marks of confidence which you have so repeatedly bestowed upon the Government of this State, we esteem it incumbent on us to afford your Excellency the perusal of a Letter which we have addressed Congress; Copy whereof we have the Honor to inclose.1

Minute as we have been in a detail of our distresses, they fall far short of those we at this instant actually experience. Since we dispatched the Letter to Congress, petitions have been presented to us, from every Quarter of the Frontiers, claiming protection and intreating us if we cannot afford it in some degree, immediately, and during the Campaign more affectually, to advise them of it, that they may take the advantage of the Snow to remove their Families and Effects to the Interior part of the State: Whilst these applications were under consideration, in order to devise the means of relief for those unhappy people, the Enemy have commenced their barbarities and butchered some of the Inhabitants in Tryon County, numbers of whom, impelled by apprehensions too well founded are already moving and the remainder preparing to follow.2 In the dilemma to which this Calamity has reduced us, we wish, in order to prevent a total depopulation of the best part of our remaining Territory, to have it in our power to assure the Inhabitants that the two regiments of our state-Line will be destined for the Frontier-service, and we therefore take the Liberty to request your Excellency to enable us to give these assurances, and to be informed from you whether this, or any other equal force, will remain for the protection of the Northern and Western Frontiers, as nothing but the fullest conviction that such severe Calamities will follow from withdrawing these Troops, as will be replete with ruin to the Common Cause, could have induced us to this request; We trust in your Excellency’s Candor for a favorable construction of our Intentions, as any interference in your Command is the furthest from our wish.

A want of ability to raise a competent body of Troops for the defence of the Frontiers, and a conviction of the necessity of at least doubling their number, induces us to intreat your Excellency to afford us whatever further Assistance you may have in your Power.

Were it necessary to urge any motives to a Gentleman, who so emminently turns his attention to the Common Weal of the Confederacy we might state many to evince the Importance of perfectly securing the Country in Question, we are convinced it is not; relying in the fullest confidence that all will be done for us, that with propriety can be expected.

The want of some Artillerists and field Artillery, when the Enemy penetrated into the Country in the last Campaign was an evident disadvantage; we could therefore wish for such a portion of them as your Excellency may Judge adequate to the service.

The frequent calls on the Militia in the course of the last Campaign has exhausted all our Stock of Ammunition and as we have not the means of obtaining any, except from the public Magazines, permit us to intreat your Excellency to direct a quantity to be expedited to this place for the use of the Troops, & the Militia who may be called into the Field.

The commanding Officer here will doubtless inform your Excellency, that the Troops in this Department are destitute of Provisions of Meat kind, that on the sixth instant there was Beef at Fort Schuyler only for fourteen days, and that the Troops in this City and Schenectady are billeted upon the Inhabitants for want of that Article of Provision—As a present relief We have advanced all the Money in our Treasury, amounting to about 1200 Dollars of the new Emission, to our Agent to purchase Beef.3 From this however we expect little Success, as there are no Beef-Cattle within the State, and should the Agent succeed in making purchases to the Amount of the Cash it will produce at most only a temporary supply. We therefore take the Liberty to suggest to your Excellency the necessity of an Order from you in favor of the Deputy Commissary of Issues in this Department upon the Magazine at Richmond in Massachusetts, or any of the purchasing Officers in the other States, bordering upon this, for a supply of Beef for the use of the Troops in this Department; which, if granted, the Bearer will convey to the Deputy Commissary of Issues who is now in this Place.4 By Order and in Behalf of the Legislature I have the Honor to be with the most perfect Respect & Esteem your Excellency’s Most Obedient Servt

Geo: Clinton

LS, DLC:GW. New York governor George Clinton penned the complimentary closing.

1The enclosed copy of a letter, extending to sixteen manuscript pages, from Clinton to Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, is dated 5 Feb. at Albany. Writing by order of the New York legislature, Clinton sought to “detail the various incidents which have conspired to reduce this State to a most alarming degree of debilitation, distress and poverty, and to point at the Measures we conceive necessary to avert the impending ruin with which this Continent is threatned, and thereby to gain an happy Accomplishment of the end we all have in view Safety, peace and Independence.”

Clinton concluded: “We have already been prolix but the occasion is pressing and Important, It involves not only our Weal or ruin but in an extensive degree that of the whole Confederacey, every movement of the Enemy since the Contest [began] clearly indecate of how much importance they consider the possession of this State to them should they gain it from that moment the Eastern States will have a Western as well as Eastern frontier to protect, and as the Savages will croud to the British Standard the Barbaritiees and devastation already committed by them on this State will be but a miniature picture of what will be experienced by our Neighbours, all Intercourse between the States to the right & left of us will be intercepted & Calamities dreadfull even in contemplation would be the portion of us all, we therefore intreat the serious attention of Congress to our situation, and as one means of preservation we request the whole of our Line which we mean at all events to compleat, of Infantry for the protection of our Northern & Western frontiers together with an addition[al] competent Force, Effectually to secure the main passes, and provision made for those Indian Allies who hitherto meritted by their Zeal much better treatment than they have experienced—But sir we conceive the distresses and embarrassments which this State in particular and many of the others experience, are not to be imputed to those causes only which we have assigned. others of a more alarming nature actually exist, they exist in the Government of the United States, this we conceive incumbent on us to manifest by examples of General notoriety—We are well informed that Congress in the course of the last year gave assurances to our Generous ally that we should draw into the field a force competent to the prosecution of any Operations that might be deemed expedient that this force would be well appointed and supplied and added assurances that provisions would be furnished for any fleet and Army which he might send to Cooperate with ours, on the 9th of February the resolution for compleating the Army was passed, and on the 25th That for furnishing the Supplies, but sir neither the one or the other was ever complied with, at no time have we had, if our information may be depended upon beyond twenty five thousand men in the field, and if ever we had that number; It was for a short space only, but weak as our Military force was it was still too numerous for our supplies, for hardly a weak passed in which the Army was not destitute of Provision for one or more days, what then must have been the consequences had the French Fleet and Army been in a Condition for Operation? evidently disgrace on our part and Chagrin and disappointment to the Prince who aids us in the Contest We would wish to adduce another instance—By the Requisition of the 25th Feby last 50,000 rations of Flour exclusive of rice and 80,000 rations of Beef per day are required for a year—It is notorious that during the whole Course of the year, we have not had an Army in the Field in any wise equal to this consumption—If therefore the several States had furnished their Quotas there must at this time be considerable Quantities in Store—There are however no Magazines; the Enemy have destroyed none and the Army to say no worse has been very scantily supplied: what then is the certain inference? That there are great Deficiencies: and whence the cause? clearly to a want of Power in Congress to inforce its Laws and compel each State to its duty, or to a neglect of exertion if it has the power, if it has not the power the States with respect to each other are what Individuals are supposed to have been in a state of nature, and those that make the greatest exertions for the Common benefit of all have only their labour for their pains, and that too without effectually serving the common Cause[.] we shall not sir presume to give our Opinion on the Question whether Congress has adequate powers or not? but we will without hesitation declare, that if it has them not, It ought to have them and that we stand ready on our part to confer them but certain it is that extensive powers have been excercised by Congress, they have made War, absolved the Inhabitants of these States from their Allegiance to the Crown of Great Britain, emitted Money, entered into alliances, sent and received Ambassadors, and invested a Military Officer with dictatorial Powers, no Objection has that we know of been made by any State to any of these Measures, hence we venture to conclude that other States are in sentiment with this, that these were powers that necesarily existed in Congress and we cannot suppose that they should want the power of compelling the several States to their duty & thereby enabling the Confederacy to expell the Common Enemy.

“We have Sir the fullest confidence in the candor of Congress for a just interpretation of our motives to this address—We are the seat of War and immediate Witnesses of its distresses—The danger to us is immenent and therefore reflections on the present increasing calamity of the Country affect and alarm us—We would not wish to be understood as pointing a censure at any particular State—remissness tho in different degrees is chargeable on all—The strength and resourses of the Country are sufficient & nothing is wanting but the exercise of a supreme Coercive power properly to draw them forth and combine them.

“The Messenger who carries this has directions to wait for an answer as our public business is at a stand and it will be impossible for us to determine upon Measures for procuring supplies or for making any kind of Provision for the Army until we are favoured with the Sentiments of Congress especially upon the propositions for supplying our Treasury with cash” (DLC:GW). Congress read this letter on 14 Feb. and referred it “to the committee on the letter from the president of the senate and speaker of the house of assembly of that State” (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 , 19:145; see also 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 , 19:95).

2During the first half of 1781, sixty-four Indian war parties totaling almost 3,000 warriors carried out attacks on the frontiers of New York and Pennsylvania, as well as in the Ohio country (see Graymont, Iroquois in the Revolution description begins Barbara Graymont. The Iroquois in the American Revolution. Syracuse, N.Y., 1972. description ends , 245).

3For this money, see Philip Schuyler to GW, 12 March 1780, and notes 3 and 4.

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