George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hanson Harrison, 26 February 1781

From Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hanson Harrison

Nanjemoy [Charles County, Md.]1
February the 26th 1781

Dear Sir

On the 26th of last Month, I had the Honor to receive Your Excellency’s Obliging Favor of the 9th, which I should have done myself the pleasure of acknowledging before, but was waiting for an opportunity to send it to Alexandria for the post.2 The mutiny in the Pennsylvania line, though I have heard that it has been accomodated, gives me great concern, both from the danger of the precedent, and as I fear the substantial causes which led to it, have not been removed, and that they will continue not only as to these Troops, but with respect to the Army in general. I feel the anxiety You must have been under, on this delicate & critical occasion—and the many considerations which operated to keep You on the Hudson at the time.3 I am happy to find the New Arrangement has taken place, with so little difficulty. It was a point, about which I was not entirely without apprehensions. I am persuaded it has bettered the Army, at least in some lines, & being so easy in the execution, was a salutary measure.4 The supplies of provision being so scanty, when our numbers are so reduced, is a very alarming circumstance, and from the unhappy state of our finance we have little reason to expect that they will be plentiful. Indeed it is evident to me, while our Money supplies are under so many directions—and depend upon so many different bodies, pursuing different plans & not acting at the same time, our finance must be embarrassed, and of course every thing else.

Arnold, You will have heard, has been up James River & at Richmond, and has ruined, it is said, many families. He took, I am told, Thirty five valuable Slaves from your friend Colo. Harrison and despoiled his House of all his furniture, except a few Beds.5 According to report, he is now at portmouth and intrenching—and whether right or wrong, it is generally expected, that he will be up potowmack. There is no great object at any one point to induce to the expedition; but the expectation of collecting Corn along the shores and other provisions and his love of plunder, may lead him to make One. I regret much that he met with little, or rather no opposition when he went to Richmond. Some Armed Vessels have been within Twenty five miles of this place & they dispatched a small one, with Men concealed under deck, after Captn Boucher lately arrived, which went up the River as high as Crane Island.6

My Friend Humphreys appears to have been in a most delicate situation & to have run the Gauntlet. The enterprise, in which he was engaged, was bold and daring, and I only wish it had succeeded to his and all our minds.7 It is farcical enough that Sir Harry & His Admiral continue proclamating. The little success they had met with, would, at least, have—justified their declining further attempts in this way.8 However, they like th⟨eir⟩ ⟨illegible⟩ hope that a period may arrive when our distresses may possibly occasion some favourable defection and they are determined to be always prepared.

I have been kept here in an irksome situation, with respect to the business which obliged me to leave Camp, both from the nature of it & from the death of Mrs Harrison before she received her part and her dying intestate, as I took the liberty to mention to Your Excellency.9 Those circumstances with the untoward—unaccomodating disposition of too many of her Representatives have continued things to the present moment, in nearly the disagreable state they were, the day She died, and with Others would have compelled me to have left the place, I have had the Honor to hold, the ensuing fall; but I am now to communicate to Your Excellency, and I have taken the earliest occasion to do it, that I have been advised there is a matter under public consideration, so honourable & so interesting to my future prospects & life, that I cannot remain longer in the Army. The matter alluded to, could not take place, while I held any military rank or station. I shall decline any further communication on the Subject, till I have the pleasure of seeing You, which I expect will be in the course of a few days, when I flatter myself I shall have your approbation—to doubt with respect to it, would be to offer violence to your Excellency’s friendship.10 My pay will, in adjusting & settling my Accounts with the public, be only made up to the time I left Camp, as without service I wish for no compensation.

I congratulate Your Excellency, on our late successes at the Southward. General Morgans affair was both important and brilliant—and we have just a report, which appears to deserve credit, that it has been succeeded by the surprise of George Town, by Major Lee, who killed & took the whole Garrison, with some valuable military Stores.11

I thank Mrs Washington exceedingly for her compliments and request She will accept mine in return and have only to add that I am, with the most respectful sentiments of esteem & regard Your Excellency’s Most Obedt Servant

Rob: H: Harrison

P.S. I request the favor of Your Excellency to give the inclosed to My friend Mr Tilghman.12


1The village of Nanjemoy is located about twenty-five miles south of Mount Vernon on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. For a description from 1774, see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:254.

2GW’s letter to Harrison of 9 Jan. has not been found.

3For the Pennsylvania line mutiny, see Anthony Wayne to GW, 2 Jan., and the source note to that document.

4Congress reorganized the Continental army effective 1 Jan. (see General Orders, 1 Nov. 1780).

5For reports on the British raid, see Steuben to GW, 8 Jan., and Thomas Jefferson to GW, 10 January.

6Craney Island, Md., is in the Potomac River about five miles south of Mount Vernon.

7For the unsuccessful secret mission of GW’s aide-de-camp David Humphreys to surprise and capture British general Henry Clinton or German lieutenant general Wilhelm von Knyphausen, see GW to Humphreys, 23 Dec. 1780.

8Harrison apparently refers to a proclamation issued by Gen. Henry Clinton and Vice Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot on 30 Dec. 1780 addressed to “the Inhabitants of the British Colonies on the Continent of North America, now in Rebellion, of every Rank, Order, and Denomination,” with an invitation to commence “Negociations, which may instantly terminate the Miseries of your Country” (Royal Gazette [New York] for 30 Dec.).

9For legal complications following the deaths of Harrison’s father and stepmother, Richard and Elizabeth Dent Harrison, see his letter to GW, 28 Nov. 1780, and notes 2 and 3 to that document.

10Harrison refers to his eventual appointment in Maryland as “Chief Judge of the General Court” (Md. Archives description begins Archives of Maryland. 72 vols. Baltimore, 1883–1972. description ends , 45:349; see also Harrison to Alexander Hamilton, 26 March 1781, in Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:584–86).

11For Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan’s victory at the Battle of Cowpens and Lt. Col. Henry Lee, Jr.’s attack on the British post at Georgetown, S.C., see Nathanael Greene to GW, 24 Jan. (first letter), n.3, and 9 Feb., n.7.

12The enclosure for GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman has not been identified.

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