George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Harrison, 16-c.20 February 1781

From Benjamin Harrison

Philada Feby 16th[–c.20] 1781

My Dear Sir

I arrived at this place five days ago, sent by our Assembly to make application to congress for immediate assistance in men, arms, ammunition cloathing, and was also directed to wait on You on the same subjects;1 on Wednesday last2 I laid before a Committee of that body the business I had in charge as fully as it was in my power to do without answers to letters I had written to the Governor of N. Carolina and Gen: Green, requesting of the one the situation of his Government as to the necessaries for carrying on the War, and of the other his wants and a return of what regular troops he had fit for duty, and from whence they came, these letters were written in the most respectful terms and with an assurance that the only motives that actuated me were the general good, however as answers are withheld, I suppose the enquiry was look’d on as improper, tho’ I cannot yet by any means think so,3 Our Assembly on taking a full and acurate view of the Southern War, and of our own Situation, on whom very much of its success depends, are justly alarmed; they find the Country greatly exhausted in the articles of provisions, arms, and military stores of all Kinds, and that there is but little prospect of assistance in these particulars from the adjoining States, except as to provisions from N. Carolina, and even these we have but too much reason to fear will be furnished in but scanty proportion—The greatest part of the ammunition sent to the South went from Virginia, by which means we are left with but about 47000 wt of powder of all kinds, and much of that must be worked over before it can be used, several thousand stands of arms have also gone on, but very few of them have been returned, and those in such wretched order that they are useless to us for want of artificers to repair them; from this summary state of the matter You may easily conclude that our own safety forbids us to disfurnish ourselves any farther, as from the frequency of invasions of late we have abundant reason to conclude that the Enemy mean to over-run us when ever opportunity shall offer;4 but our wants and distresses do not end here, we have still a greater wch seems to be almost insuperable, what men we have in the field are so naked that they can render but little service, many of them have been ordered into winter Quarters, and the remainder must soon follow, unless a supply can be had, every method has been tried by the Assembly and Executive to furnish them but with very little success, not more than 300 Suits of cloaths and about as many blankets have been obtained, tho’ we have made use of impress where it was necessary. The Assembly have passed a Bill for raising 3000 men I think we may expect at least 2500 from the law;5 but without cloaths &ca they will also be useless, next to congress we look up to You for assistance not doubting but You will do every thing within Your line to forward the Service.6

Since the above Congress have taken into their consideration the subject of the Southern defence, and have agreed on several resolutions which I understand have been forwarded to You, I hope they will not derange any plans that You may have formed, for You may depend on it less will not save the Southern States.7 If the supplies expected by congress should arrive to the Eastward we hope You will devise ways to get the proportion assigned us sent on, for without Your interposition but little of them will probably fall to our share.8 I should most certainly have waited on You at Camp if Your journey Eastward had not prevented me,9 where I could have explained our wants and difficulties more fully than I can by letter, but it being impossible for me to wait Your return, I use the only method now left, that of inclosing to You the several papers I have with me wch will throw some light on the Subject.10 I wish You every felicity and success and am with the Most perfect Friendship and Esteem Dear Sir Your most affect. & obt Sert

Benja. Harrison

ALS, DLC:GW. Harrison did not send this letter until 25 Feb. (see Harrison to GW, that date).

1For this action by the Virginia legislature, see Thomas Jefferson to Harrison, 29 Jan., in Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 4:466–68.

2The previous Wednesday was 14 February.

3Harrison’s letter to Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene has not been identified, but Greene had replied to Harrison on 20 Jan. (see Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 7:162–63). Harrison’s letter to North Carolina governor Abner Nash has not been identified.

4The most recent British expeditions to Virginia had been launched in October and December 1780 (see Greene to GW, 31 Oct., n.4, and GW to Samuel Huntington, 27 Dec., n.2).

5For this act, raising 3,000 men to serve for the duration of the war, see Steuben to GW, 17 Dec. 1780, n.9.

6Harrison evidently wrote the remainder of the letter on or after 20 Feb. 1781 (see n.7 below).

7See Huntington to GW, 20 Feb. (first letter). On 13 Feb., Congress had appointed a committee to confer with Harrison. On 20 Feb., the committee’s report was read in Congress and the delegates passed the resolutions enclosed in Huntington’s letter to GW. 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 , 19:142, 176–78.

8Harrison refers to the supplies expected from France.

9GW had postponed his planned trip to Newport (see his letters to Rochambeau, 15, 24, and 27 Feb.). He departed on 2 March (see GW to Rochambeau, that date).

10GW replied to Harrison on 27 March that no additional Continental troops could be sent to the southern department (MiU-C: Clinton Papers).

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