George Washington Papers

General Orders, 16 February 1781

General Orders

[New Windsor] Friday February 16th 1781

Parole Countersigns.——

The Light companies are immediately to be augmented to fifty rank and file each with an additional serjeant and are to rendezvous the 19th at Peekskill prepared for a march—They are to be completed in shoes—The former directions concerning the greatest care in the choice of the men are repeated1—the Adjutant General will inspect the companies when formed and exchange all the men who have been indifferently chosen.

At a division court martial held in the Connecticutt line by order of Major General Parsons the 12th instant—Colonel Samuel B. Webb President

Joshua Taylor soldier in the 3d Connecticut regiment was tried for “Desertion joining the Enemy and taking up arms in the british service.”

The Court are of opinion that Joshua Taylor was duly inlisted and therefore guilty of the several charges exhibited against him being breaches of Section 6th Article 1st of the rules and articles of war and do sentence him to suffer Death more than two thirds of the Court agreeing thereto.2

The Commander in Chief confirms the opinion of the court and orders it to be put in execution at such time and place as Major General Heath shall direct.3

Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

An altercation on this date between GW and his long-time aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton resulted in the latter’s departure from GW’s staff. On 18 Feb., Hamilton wrote to his father-in-law Philip Schuyler: “Since I had the pleasure of writing you last an unexpected change has taken place in my situation. I am no longer a member of the General’s family. This information will surprise you and the manner of the change will surprise you more. Two day ago The General and I passed each other on the stairs. He told me he wanted to speak to me. I answered that I would wait upon him immediately. I went below and delivered Mr. Tilghman a letter to be sent to The Commissary containing an order of a pressing and interesting nature. Returning to The General I was stopped in the way by the Marquis De la Fayette, and we conversed together about a minute on a matter of business. He can testify how impatient I was to get back, and that I left him in a manner which but for our intimacy would have been more than abrupt. Instead of finding the General as usual in his room, I met him at the head of the stairs, where accosting me in a very angry tone, ‘Col Hamilton (said he), you have kept me waiting at the head of the stairs these ten minutes. I must tell you Sir you treat me with disrespect.’ I replied without petulancy, but with decision ‘I am not conscious of it Sir, but since you have thought it necessary to tell me so we part’ ‘Very well Sir (said he) if it be your choice’ or something to this effect and we separated.

“I sincerely believe my absence which gave so much umbrage did not last two minutes.

“In less than an hour after, Tilghman came to me in the Generals name assuring me of his great confidence in my abilities, integrity usefulness &c and of his desire in a candid conversation to heal a difference which could not have happened but in a moment of passion. I requested Mr. Tilghman to tell him, 1. that I had taken my resolution in a manner not to be revoked: 2. that as a conversation could serve no other purpose than to produce explanations mutually disagreeable, though I certainly would not refuse an interview if he desired it yet I should be happy he would permit me to decline it—4. that however I did not wish to distress him or the public business, by quitting him before he could derive other assistance by the return of some of the Gentlemen who were absent: 3. that though determined to leave the family the same principles which had kept me so long in it would continue to direct my conduct towards him when out of it. 5. And that in the mean time it depended on him to let our behaviour to each other be the same as if nothing had happened.

“He consented to decline the conversation and thanked me for my offer of continuing my aid, in the manner I had mentioned. …

“I always disliked the office of an Aide de Camp as having in it a kind of personal dependance. … I believe you know the place I held in The Generals confidence and councils of which will make it the more extraordinary to you to learn that for three years past I have felt no friendship for him and have professed none. The truth is our own dispositions are the opposites of each other & the pride of my temper would not suffer me to profess what I did not feel. Indeed when advances of this kind have been made to me on his part they were received in a manner that showed at least I had no inclination to court them, and that I wished to stand rather upon a footing of military confidence than of private attachment. You are too good a judge of human nature not to be sensible how this conduct in me must have operated on a man to whom all the world is offering incense” (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:563–68).

On this date, Hamilton also wrote GW’s former secretary James McHenry: “The Great man and I have come to an open rupture. Proposals of accomodation have been made on his part but rejected. I pledge my honor to you that he will find me inflexible. He shall for once at least repent his ill-humour. Without a shadow of reason and on the slightest ground, he charged me in the most affrontive manner with treating him with disrespect. I answered very decisively—‘Sir I am not conscious of it but since you have thought it necessary to tell me so, we part.’ I wait till more help arrives. At present there is besides myself only Tilghman, who is just recovering from a fit of illness the consequence of too close application to business. …

“We have often spoken freely our sentiments to each other. Except to a very few friends our difference will be a secret; therefore be silent. I shall continue to support a popularity that has been essential, is still useful.

“Adieu my friend. May the time come when characters may be known in their true light” (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:569). For more on the incident and its aftermath, see Chernow, Hamilton description begins Ron Chernow. Alexander Hamilton. New York, 2004. description ends , 151–55.

On this date, Hamilton wrote an unidentified correspondent: “The General requests to see you at Head Quarters today, as he wishes to give you some directions previous to your setting out for Albany. … Will you be here to dinner?” (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:562).

1For the directions, see General Orders, 17 and 18 July 1780.

2For this article of war, see General Orders, 21 Jan. 1781, n.2.

Joshua Taylor (d. 1781) enlisted for three years in the 2d Connecticut Regiment in March 1777 and deserted the following month.

3Maj. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons began a letter to Maj. Gen. William Heath from the winter encampment of the Connecticut line on Sunday, 18 Feb.: “I perceive by the general Orders that Taylor is to be executed next Thursday, we have no Chaplain present perhaps it would be advisable to order Mr. Lockwood or some Chaplain on the Point to visit him” (MHi: Heath Papers). Heath’s aide-de-camp Henry Sewall wrote in his diary entry for 20 Feb.: “Filled out and countersigned a death warrant for the execution of one Taylor, soldier of the Connecticut line, condemned for deserting to the enemy” (Maine Farmer [Augusta], 12 Oct. 1872). The death warrant called for Taylor’s execution “between the hours of Eleven and Twelve oClock A.M.” on 22 Feb. “at Some Convenient place near the Connecticut Hutts by hanging him by the Neck” (MHi: Heath Papers).

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