George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Collins, 16 February 1781

From John Collins

Springfield [Mass.] Goal
Feby 16th 1781

please Your Excellency

It is with the greatest reluctance I trouble Your Excelly With repetitions, but my distress’d condition compells me to it. being destitute of A Relation in this Country to espouse my cause, nor Support Sufficient for an Existance, but lodged in A cold Goal, not possess’d of a Blanket, to cover me with & not a farthing to purchase one.

When I wrote to Your Excellency the 24th of January last, as also the 3d Instant, I mentioned, in one of my letters, that I could not presume to say how my conduct may be represented to Your Excy by those that I am persuaded would destroy me guiltless1—Since which I understand, that Mr Cheever had informed Your Excellency by letter in decr Last, that I was a Great defaulter, and broke my trust in a private life, as well as in public, this I had by Information.2 Your Excellency knows best whether he has wrote so or not—it being every persons interest to Support their own characters and mine ought to be as dear to me as theirs are to the highest monarchs on Earth—And in Vindication thereof, I beg leave to Inclose Copies of the Certificate & depositio⟨n⟩ Sent to me from my former Employer, & the Authority of the town of Wethersfield, which was the first home I made at this Side of the atlantic3—Your Excellency will please to perceive that on the 2d day of decr 1775, I quited Mr Leonard Chester’s Service, Inlisted as orderly Sergt the fifth following at Said Wethersfield and Joined Col. Saml Wyllys’s Regt at Roxbury, the 25th following as may appear by Col. Wyllys’s Abstracts. have Served one Year in Said Regt to acceptance, And Joined the ordnance Stores on the first of Jany 1777 and discharged the duties Assigned me with applause rather than disgrace till the 26th day of August last which was the day I medled with the four Bbs. Saltpetre, it being Represented to Mr Cheever by designing men that I was making interest to superceed him, oblieged him to take the advantage of me And prosecute his evil designs though I lodged the Saltpetre in A public officers hands, and informed Mr Cheever of it who was Glad of the opportunity to distress me. Alas I am distressd at his discretion, though he is the means of my misfortune, by keeping me out of my pay & Subsistance for 14 months back though triffling it is it would prevent my disgrace. he had the money & would not advance it to those in distress—if it be in the powe⟨r of a ma⟩n to Accuse me with any other charge or fraud in the Execution of my Business, I am quite willing to Suffer at the discretion of the Candid, and beg Your Excellency will please to order some method to be taken that may tend to my relief Either by a Court of Justice or otherwise, as Your Excy pleases to Command.

Having an item of the darkness of Mr Cheevers letter to Your Excy Respecting me when Confined, oblieged me to beg leave to inclose my ⟨c⟩haracter at large during my recidence in wethersfield. and if requi⟨red or⟩ if it can be of any service to me I am perswaded I can have an equal character at this place where I am Station’d Since april 1777—E⟨xcept⟩ the year that I served in the Connecticutt line I am Satisfied that my character stood as fair as any Youngr in the regt fought at Harlem Heights the 16th of Sepr 1776. as also in the Month of october on the Expedition Against Mountezuer’s Island under Col. Jackson was in the first boat that landed.4 these duties I voluntarilly discharged which the officers of the Regt will aver5—With all due Respect I beg leave to Subscribe myself Your Excellencys, Most obedt & Most Hum. Servt

John Collins Late D.C.M.S.

ALS, DLC:GW. Collins wrote on the cover: “the postmaster at Hartford if his Excy is on the move, will please to Govern himself accordingly.”

1The letters Collins wrote GW on 24 Jan. and 3 Feb. have not been found.

3In his deposition dated 1 Feb., former merchant Leonard Chester of Wethersfield, Conn., asserted that Collins “came to live with me on or about the 25th day of July 1774 & continued with me, till the 2d day of decr 1775—& that while he was in my service—I found him willing to Serve & oblige capable of improving, industrious—attentive to his orders & noted for his Honesty” (DLC:GW). In a certificate dated 1 Feb. at Wethersfield, seventeen signatories claimed that Collins “during his residence with us … was ever esteemed by us as a very Honest faithful & deligent Young man, one that attended to his own proper Business & was peacable with all Men and we believe he obtained & deserved this Character with all who were Acquainted with him.” Another man, who “had not much acquaintance” with “Collins while he lived in Wethersfield,” still called him “an Honest & faithfull man” (DLC:GW).

4For the engagement at Harlem Heights, N.Y., see GW to John Hancock, 18 Sept. 1776. For the raid on Montresor’s Island, N.Y., see General Orders, 24 Sept. 1776, n.2.

5Collins was tried and found guilty by a court-martial on 1 March 1781 (see General Orders, 23 March; see also William Shepard to GW, 7 March, and Cheever to GW, 10 March, both DLC:GW).

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