George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Elijah Hunter, 9 December 1789

From Elijah Hunter

Mountpleasant Decbr 9th 1789

Dear Sr

I have Been for Some time Past in Greate Contemplation whether I Should Trouble your Excellensy with a Line by way of Remembrance, Respecting Some of the Transactions of the Late war or Not, Which I hope you will Not Take amis, if you Should Not Think it worthy your Notice to answer.

I must also Beg leave to appologise For Languge and Stile To address Such a Character in Life as yourself, For I am Not a Profit Nor a Profits Son Neither was I Brot up at the Feet of Gomalea,1 But through Divine assistance I Shall be able to Lay Before you Matters of Fact which I Shall only appeal to your Self For the Truth of.

In the First Place In the winter 1779 when your Excellensy had your Quarters at the Rarritan in Newjersy you may Remember I Came to you with a Letter from Genl McDogal—Informing you that Governor Tryon had Sent a Packet of Letters to me and others to be Distributed and one to myself Insinuating with me to alter my Sentaments and Promising me the Protection of Govermt and its Emoluments in Case of my Being discoverd in Giving them Inteligence These Letters with a Letter From Genl McDogal of my Character you had Before you as I was then a Total Stranger to you.2

I was also Sent by you to Philadelphia To Congress Mr John Jay Being then Presedent who I was well acquainted with, and you Requested me to Call on you In my Return which I Did.

you then Sr Requested me to Countenance a Corespondance with the British,3 I then Made Some appoligy that I was unequal to Such a Task and the Resque was Greate, and that I must Become an obnoctious Character on Both Sides, which I Daily Experience to be True, Instances of which if opertunity offerd Could Site you to—But your Excellensy usd Some Forcable arguments to Excite me To undertake by assuring me the Protection of the States and in Case of our obtaining Independasy that Such Persons who Stood forth at Such a Cretical Moment would Not be Forgot by them, and that it Might be of More Servise than Five hundred men in the Field at my own Expence—and that I had Taken an active Part In my Countries Cause, and that it Become Every Man to Take Such a Part for Gaining our Independansy as Providenc Pointed out, upon thes Conditions, with Nearly the Same from the Then Presedent of Congress I Concluded on the Business and your Excellensy Gave me the Statement of the army and wrote by me to Genl McDogal4 and also you may Remember that you made an appology to me that it would be attended with Considerable Expence out of Pocket But the Funds were Low and that you Could Not Furnish with Cash for that Purpose, Neither have I Recd any During the war, Except Two half Joes, I Re[ceive]d from you at a Time at Newinsor when I Brot up Four Men By your Express Request to be as Pilots on the Sound which Cost I was to and Did Give them for their Expensis. But if Independansy was obtaind that No Doubt I Should be amply Rewarded I upon these Conditions with I Trust a Zeal for the Cause I went on with Chearfulness and Kep up a Continual Correspondance with them which Soon Became So General That it Took up all my Time To Ride To Head Quarters and So to Meet those who were Imployed Between the Lines This was Kep up More or Less to the End of the war. Now Sr as to the advantages arising from this Inteligence I must Leave to yourself But This I have To Give me Some Satisfaction I have Recd from your Excellensy From west-point a Letter wherein you Returnd me your Thanks for the Information Re[ceive]d by yourself & the Different officers of Ports and also I have a Satificut From you upon your Departure from Newyork Left with genl McDogal To Secure my Character and Recommend me to whom it might Consern Such Like ones I have from Different officers.5

But Sr as to the Intelegence which was Given by me I will Site To Two Instanses Paticulor as No Doubt your Memory may Fail and as I Conseave it was Important I Shall only mention them Two one of which when the Enemy Came up the North River and Took Verplanks Point and Stony Point with an Intent on West Point and to Make an attack on Connecticut at the Same Time In order to Draw our Troops from the Highlands and also another Instance when Majr Talmage was attacked—at Poundridge which I Gave Talmage Possitive Information Two Days before it happend and the Time when Exactly as I Dont Doubt you will Remember by the Letters which Passed Between you and Talmage about the Matter the other Instance the Information was Given to Genl McDogal Pointedly and the Enemies Design which at First he Could Not Beleave But in a Few Hours Provd the Fact which he has alwaeys acknowledged with the Greatest Gratitude the Many other Instanses would be To Tedious to Mention Genl McDogal a Few Days Before his Death To Two Persons of Character who he Supposd might be of Servise to me in a Future Day Told them that the States were under Greate obligation to Capt. Hunter and was Sorry that he Could Not Se that Full Satisfaction was Made him But it was out of his Power to Do more and Requested as I understand that Those men might Mention this from him In Case it Might Be Nessesary.

But Sr Sometime Previous to this Genl McDogal Through his Influance as a Temporary Releaf obtaind from the Treasurer of this State about Eight Hundred Pounds in Satificuts which was at about 3/6 Pounds and that as I was a Capt. Malitia and So was Considerd as Being in Servise and the Reason why this was Done was Because I Did Not Chose to apply to Congress as that must be In Such a Publick Manner that my Situation must be Laid open to the World and which has been the Reason why I have Never Made application Since and in Peticulor Since the New Goverment has Taken Place—as all Debates are Made Publick.

But Sr when I Consider the Justness of my Claim and the Character of the administrator of Goverment and that it is him who I must appeal to as a Living witness of the Truth of these Things, Gives me Courage to Lay the Matter Before you and also another Motive when I Consider that Many Persons who Now Reseave Large Sallar⟨ies⟩ from Goverment who have Never Resqued Life Nor Property In the Servise of the Country and are Now Injoying the Liberties and Emoluments of it, which I as a Siteson am obliged to Pay my Dues and Taxes to Defray the Expence and What I have Recd has Not amounted to half of my Pock⟨et⟩ Expence I have Sr a Family To take Care of which is Near and Dear to me as Perhaps to any other man, Therefore in Duty to them as well as the Justness of my Cause I Cannot Rest the Matter in Silence any Longer.

I Cannot with Justise omit Mentioning Two Persons who were also Imployed in the Same Servise under my Deretion and your order and approbation who have Not Re[ceive]d one Cop[pe]r and Both Now in Low Surcumstance one of which was a Man of Some Property and Good Character who has Been undone by the war and has Long been Confind in Goal But through my assistance I have Got him out and For Further Peticulors on Many Different Subjects I Shall omit at Pres⟨ent⟩ and Now Dear Sr if what I have Mentioned Should be by you thot worthy your attention Should be Glad if you Could Let me Know whether it would be agreeable For me to Call on you For Further advise on the Matter and That a Line Left With Malankton Smith of Newyork who I Expect will be the Bearer of this or to Samuel Frankling & Co. who will Forward it to me by my Sloop who will Return from Newyork on Friday Next.

Now Dear Sr I Shall Leavve the Matter to your wise Consideration Praying that you may be Led in to all Truth and the God of the universe may bestow on you all that grace wisdom and understanding that you Need For to Direct you in the Greate Important Trust Reposed in you For without that you Cant Do anything, acseptable to him and that you may Finish your Course with Joy and at Last Receave a Crown of Glory Laid up In heven for those who Love the Lord Jesus Christ and his appering which God Grant may be the Happy Lot and Portion of us all for Christ Sake which is the Sinseare Desire of your Humbe Sert6

Elijah Hunter

ALS, DNA:PCC, item 78.

Elijah Hunter of Bedford, Westchester County, N.Y., served as a lieutenant and captain in the 4th New York Regiment in 1775 and early 1776 and transferred to the 2d New York in November 1776. He apparently declined the appointment to the 2d New York and retired from the army. According to a statement made by Hunter in 1783 he was approached early in 1779 by Sir Henry Clinton, “Requesting me to Change my Sentiments and assist the British in giving them Information Respecting the army and State of affairs in the Country” (Hunter to GW, 11 Mar. 1783). At that point he approached Alexander McDougall and John Jay, president of Congress at the time, offering his services to the United States as a double agent, claiming he had access to such prominent British officers as Clinton, his aide John André, and Frederick Haldimand (Hunter to GW, 21 May 1779). Both McDougall and Jay passed the information along to GW, Jay stating that he had known Hunter for many years and found him “an honest Man, and firmly attached to the american Cause.” In late March GW met with Hunter and somewhat reluctantly approved his proposal to spy for the Americans. Although he had some reservations about the use of Hunter as an agent, his suspicions probably pertained less to Hunter personally than to his views of double agents in general, since he felt “Their situation in a manner obliges them to trim a good deal in order to keep well with both sides; and the less they have it in their power to do us mischief, the better; especially if we consider that the enemy can purchase their fidelity at a higher price than we can” (McDougall to GW, 21 Mar. 1779, Jay to GW, 28 Mar. 1779, GW to McDougall, 25 Mar. 1779). Operating under the code name “H. E.,” Hunter apparently delivered relatively extensive information on British plans and movements to his superiors during the war (GW to Hunter, 12 Aug. 1779; Hunter to GW, 11 Mar. 1783).

1Rabban Gamaliel Ha-Zaken (the elder), the first president of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, taught the apostle Paul, who is quoted in the New Testament in the book of Acts 22:3 as saying, “I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day.”

4See GW to Hunter, 12 Aug. 1779.

5See GW to Hunter, 12 Aug. 1779. By March 1783 Hunter was planning to return to his farm in Bedford and approached GW for a certificate attesting to his services during the war (Hunter to GW, 11 Mar. 1783). GW’s reply stated that “the Recommendations given in your favor by Mr Jay then President of Congress & Major General McDougall were such as induced me to repose great confidence in you, and to my own knowledge, after being employed in the manner abovementioned you obtained such intelligence, either by yourself or your Correspondents, of various things which passed within the British Lines, as was of considerable consequence to us” (GW to Hunter, 11 June 1783). There is also a draft of another certificate concerning Hunter’s services, dated 1 Dec. 1783, in DLC:GW.

6On 24 Feb. 1790 Hunter again wrote to GW: “you May Remember that Not Long Since I wrote your Excellensy and Stated Some Peticular Facts Respecting Some Transactions of the Late war and as I was Informed by the Person who Deliverd it that your Excellensy had forgot Me and that if it was True that I Should of applied at an Early Period which will appear that I Did if you Take Notise of what I wrote. you also Mentioned to the Person that you had Given Genl McDogal Cash to Settle with those in that Servise which I Never Recd one Farthing of Nor any to My Knowledge which ware Imployed at my Request which were Two who I mentioned In my Letter one of which has Never had any Thing But has Spent his Property and Resqued his Life.

“I Now Transmit to your Excellensy a Number of Papers For your Perusal and an accompt of what the State has Done on My Behalf and that was Done Not as an Adequate Compensation But a Temporary Releaf.

“Now Dear Sr I think that if you upon Examination of these Papers Should Find that I have Done the Servise therein Mentioned with the Greate Expence which I have Been at for upwards of Four year Both in Victicalling and Sending Expresses and Going myself Both to Head Quarters and with Flags to Newyork and the Danger I Put myself in and that I Do ⟨affirm⟩ by the advise and Desire of your Excellensy, at the Rarraton in Newjersy I Never Should of undertaken the Business Now Sir I must appeal to yourself—whether any Man would Resque his Life and Fortune upon Such unsertain Ground and at Such a Cretical Period and at the Close of Such a Contraversy and Git about £832 Satificuts when all my Expenses was in hard Cash. I Shall Now Leave the whole Matter to your wise Consideration. . . . You will Dr Sr Excuse me if I Should Say that it is the Greatest Grief to me when I Understood that you had Forgot there Being Such a Man, as me, it is Clearly acknowledged by Genl McDogal that Trough my Information the Posts in the Highlands were Preservd and many other Important Informations I Could Refer you to and Even from your own Letters one wherein you are Pleasd to Mention your Thanks. . . . Now Sr in my Two Letters I have In Breef Stated the Facts and must Now Leave the whole to your wise Consideration” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

On 25 Feb. GW replied: “I have received your letter of yesterday with its enclosures, which are herewith returned. The Gentleman who delivered my message to you, which you say was given in answer to your former letter, mistook the purport of it. It was not your person, or character I had forgotten, but the transactions in detail to which you alluded.

“It is not possible for me, with any degree of propriety, to tread back ground I passed over seven years ago, when no application has been made to me in all that time; and when my accounts with the public closed with the resignation of my Commission—especially too, as it appears by the papers handed to me, that you have been paid, agreeable to your own charge, for the services you are now desireous of bringing again to view. To obtain which appears to have been the design of the certificates adduced. The effect of which, to the best of my recollection, was the kind of reward you seemed, at that time, to have had in contemplation.

“As you were employed principally by, or through, Genl McDougall, who, I well remember, had two hundred Guineas put into his hands, with which to pay those who were used as secret Agents, I always supposed (if more than recommending you to the State of New York, which seemed to be your great if not only object, was expected) that this money or a part thereof would be applied.

“From this view of the matter you will readily see that I cannot take any other steps in it than what have been already effected” (copy, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

No indication has been found that Hunter either applied for or was granted any further compensation under the new government although one of his Revolutionary War accounts for commissary expenditures was settled in 1792. See DNA: RG 217, Records of the General Accounting Office, Miscellaneous Treasury Accounts, account no. 2671.

Index Entries