George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Jacob Johnson, 24 February 1781

From Jacob Johnson

Garrison Wyoming [Pa.] Febry 24th 1781.


I have wrote Genll Parsons (with whom I have Some particular acquaintance) & now take leave to make this address to Your Excellency;1 whom I had in mind to wait upon, at New Windsor, when lately I passed by that way—But Your Excellency (at that time) was retird to the Jersey;2 Haveing no opportunity then—And being delayd beyond my expectation here—Are Some of the Reasons, why this written Memorial comes to Your Excellency; not only for my selfe; but on behalfe of the Garrison at Wyoming; and the Inhabitants in, & about sd Garrison.

Shewing; that whereas, Your Excellency, pursuant to a Resolve of Congress, Decemr 12th 1780, Having judged the Post at Wyoming Necessary; consequently reli[e]ved the Garrison there &c.3—Now may it please Your Exellency, Since this Post is of such Importance, & Consequence, as Your Excellency rightly judged it to be—Your Excellency will be pleased further to consider, whether it may not be of equal necessity, & utility, to appoint, & Order a Continental Chaplain, or Gospel minister, to officiate here for the Sake of the Standing Garrison; And suffering distressed Inhabitants, & Militia, who have usually done Duty—And on Emergencies, & Invasions of the Enemy, have united in defending the Garrison, & Inhabitants on this Ground.

And more especially, Since neither the Soldiery of this Garrison, or the Inhabitants of this ground (the Latter of which amount to, 6, or 7 hundred Souls) have had the Dispensation of the Gospel, going on three Years: Nor have they any Rational prospect, of such an Inestimable blessing; except Your Ex[c]ellency, Congress, or Board of war, see fit to appoint, & Order a Continental Chaplain, at this most important, tho’ suffering, & distressed Out-Post.

Many are the weighty Arguments, & cogent Reasons, to4

The true import of this Address, & Memorial, to Your Ex[c]ellency. The Scituation of this out Post; and the Nature of the thing it Selfe, Speaks, with the loudest Voice: and most silenceing conviction—Were Your Excellen[c]y, Continental Congress, or Board of war, to be here, for Sabbaths, or mounths, or Years, and hear nither Sermo⟨ns⟩ or Prayers; And See nither Sabbaths, or Assemblies—In what Part of the world, would your Excellency, Congress or Board of war Imagin they were, transported to? Surely not, any Parts, of Christian America! where Congress, had any Influence, goverment, or Order: No Surely, General Washington, the Board of war, were wholy Strangers to this Incognito: of what? Surely, not of these united states, of America—But is this a Truth? however, Shocking! that cannot be denyd? And is it no longer incognito? but lately discoverd; at Wyoming: within a hundred, & twenty miles of Philidelphia! and about so far, from Genll Washingtons Headquarters, at New Windsor! Is this sufferable! is it tolerable in a Christian State! no, surely—But what Remedy? Is it reasonable, a Minister of Christ, Should preach the Gospel, here at Wyoming, without any Reward, except in the next world? I am Sure, a minister of Christ (tho’ his Governing motive, to preach is a Reward, in the coming World) yet that in Reason can’t be, the governing motive of Congress, or of your Excellency, in calling, & expecting them to preach: If so, let the pay, of all the chaplains, in the several Departments, be stoped; & then, I will immediately stop my hand, in addressing, this memorial, to your Excellency. But if not, let Wyoming (alias Wilksbarre) & the Garrison there, come into Remembrance, before your Excellency, Congress, & these united states of America. Your Excellencys most Obedt Humle sert

Jacob Johnson

ALS (incomplete), DLC:GW. Only the first and last pages of the manuscript are extant (see n.4 below).

Jacob Johnson (1713–1797), a 1740 graduate of Yale, served as pastor of the Congregational Church in Groton, Conn., from 1749 to 1772. In the latter year, he became the first pastor of the Congregational Church in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., a post he held until his death. Johnson made missionary journeys to the Six Nations and was heavily involved in the land disputes between Connecticut and Pennsylvania settlers in the Wyoming Valley.

GW replied to Johnson from headquarters at New Windsor on 22 March: “Your Memorial of the 24th of Feby addressed to me, was lodged at Head Quarters, while I was absent on a Journey to Rhode Island, from which place I have but lately arrived.

“In answer to your request to be appointed Chaplain of the Garrison at Wyoming I have to observe; that there is no provision made by Congress for such an establishment; without which, I should not be at liberty to make any appointment of the kind, however necessary or expedient (in my opinion), or however I might be disposed to give every species of countenance & encouragement to the cultivation of Virtue, Morality, and Religion” (Df, in David Humphreys’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; the draft is docketed 23 March, which probably was the date of the unfound recipient’s copy). For GW’s trip to Rhode Island and his return, see his letter to Rochambeau, 2 March, and to Chastellux, 21 March (DLC:GW).

Johnson replied to GW from “Garrison Wyoming” on 22 June: “Having been absent, for some time, from this Place—I more lately, receiv’d Your Excellencies Letter—In which, Your Excellency is pleasd to let me know, there is no Provision made by Congress, for the appointment of a continental Chaplain here, at this Post.

“I shall onely observe, like as M. T. Ciscero did in one of the first of his Orations; when pleading the Cause of Archias; who was (if I remember right) a Grecian Poet: accused by Sylla, & Syllenus, of assumi[n]g, to act in Character of a Roman Cytezen; when, as his accusers alledged, that He was not enrolled, among the Cytizens of Rome. The Orater plead, that tho’ Archias, Was not enrolled, among the other Cytizens of Rome, there was nevertheless, all the Reason in the World, that He Should be; And that the Reason of Law; & Custom, amounted to nothing less, than the thing it Selfe.

“If I am not more mistaken, than the Roman Oritor: tho’ there be no Provision made by Congress, for the appointment of a Chaplain here, at Wyoming; There is all the Reason in the World, there Should be. Or at least, Congress Should refer it to your Excellency, to Judge of the necessity of Such an appointment.

“In a more late Resolve of Congress, it was refer’d by Congress, to Your Excellency, to determine whether a Continental Garrison was necessary, at Wyoming. Your Excellency Judged it necessary—I would humly refer it to Your Excellency: or if your Excellency please, to Congress, to judge, whether Some Provision ought not in Reason, & Equity to be made, that may Serve for the public Interest, & Honour of the Redeemers Kingdom as well as the Protection, & Defence (under the Divine Auspices) of these States of America.

“However, I will urge nothing, for my own Sake: but rather take occasion (as St Paul did) to glory; that I preach, the Gospel freely.

“Onely desireing, Your Excellency, & American Congress, to make no difference, with respect to me, & Chaplains that officiate, in the Continental Army.

“Let all Preach the Gospel freely—& I am content with my Lot—But ’till that become a Custom, I submit the Cause, to the voice of Reason, & common Sense (Your Excellency, & Congress, being Judges) whether Right be done (yea; or Nay.) in the common Cause of America: And in that So much greater, & more glorious Cause; of the Redeemers Kingdom … P.S. I have Since, wrote Congress, on the Subject; Receivd a verbal answer, from the President, that the Petition could not be granted (I.E.) Rather in suspence (as I understood it) than negatived—Should take it as a favor, Your Excellency (whose judgment determin’d the necessity of a Garrison) Would please to Signify your mind, Respect to preaching the Gospel—yea—or—Nay—whether as a Personal Gift: or Debt of Continent” (ALS, DLC:GW). No reply from GW to Johnson has been found. Johnson’s letter to Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, dated March 1781, is in DNA:PCC, item 41.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 B.C.) was a renowned Roman orator. For an eighteenth-century rendition of his oration “For the Poet Archias,” see Cicero’s Selected Orations, Translated into English … For the Use of Schools, as well as private Gentlemen (London, 1756), 287–305.

1Johnson’s letter to Maj. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons has not been identified.

2GW was at Ringwood, N.J., on 27 and 28 Jan. during the period of the New Jersey line mutiny.

3See GW to Alexander Mitchell, 30 Dec. 1780. For the resolution, 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 , 18:1147–48; see also Huntington to GW, 16 Dec., and n.1 to that document.

4A fragmentary “en—” concludes the first page of the manuscript. The remainder of the text appears on the final page of the manuscript.

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