George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 16 April 1792

From Henry Knox

War-department, April 16th 1792.


I have the honor to submit you a private letter from General Wilkinson, to Colonel Biddle with a view to exhibit the opinion he entertains of Hodgdon1—The more I reflect on the state of the quarter master’s department, the more anxious I am, that a successor to Hodgdon should be immediately appointed. After the most diligent search, in quest of a suitable person for the office who is acquainted with the characters and resources of the western country together with other proper qualifications, I cannot find any one so competent in my judgment on the whole as James O’Hara.2 I have the honor to be, Sir, with the highest respect, Your very humble Servt

H. Knox
secy of War3


1The enclosure was probably Gen. James Wilkinson’s letter from Fort Washington to Clement Biddle of 13 Mar., which reads: “I have duly received your favor of the 10th Ultmo & the doubts which that Letter conveys of General St Clairs continuance in Command, fill me with anxiety, for I anticipate that should a new Hand be appointed from the atlantic, He will come out with Ideas of false practice, false Opinions, an Ignorance of the Country in which he is to Act, & of the Enemy against whom he Acts—To foretel the Issue does not require a Spirit of divination—But whatever may be the arrangement, I have no doubt that I shall fulfil the duties of my Station, the hopes of my Friends, & the expectations of my Country.

“Hitherto my Command has been an unpleasant one, for I found this Garrison, torn & agitated by the most violent, indecent & invidious factions, I urged the propriety & the necessity of conciliary Conduct, but my Council was disregarded & my Overtures rejected—Majr [David] Zeigler on the one part & Col. [Samuel] Hodgdon the other, each had their adherents & were inflexible—I at once determined to leave these Gentlemen to their own direction, and to preserve the public Interests & Military Order—previous to my arrival the Major on Grounds which I conceive disgraceful to common sense had proffered a resignation to the Secy of War, & in consequence demanded of me permission to retire—I agreed to his request because I found he hourly fanned the flames of discontent & dissatisfaction, & informed Him he should have a short leave of absence to wait on the Secy of War—But having received on the 8th Inst. an order from the Secy of War, which required a vigorous exertion & finding at that time that the command of the 1st Regt would in case of the Majors absence devolve on an Ensign, I informed Him I was under the necessity of retracting the Permission, & that he must hold Himself in readiness for Command—he replied to me & heard the Order, the detail Issued, and the order for the March of the Detachment, when to my Surprize He refused duty & sent me his Commission; I remonstrated against his Conduct in the most amicable terms & with the most friendly admonition, but found Him as obstinate as a German Boor, & finally have consented that he should quit Service—He will ascend the Ohio with Capt. [Jonathan] Hask[e]ll who is detached to Muskingum, & from thence will push to Philadela under the delusive Idea, that He will there be able, by the influence of his Friends & ex parte representation, to destroy Hodgdon, He is a most insensible Blockhead, as seditious as any old Sargent, & destitute of every Ray of duty beyond the police of a Company & the Minutiæ of the parade—I suspect withal that He wants veracity & sincerity, and altho, he lives in my Family free of expence, & that we preserve the best appearances, I have some cause to suspect, that he is Enemical to me, because I will not gratify his resentment by putting Hodgdon into the Guard House—and I make this communication to you that you may be enabled to correct any Misrepresentation, which may come from Him.

“Our Friend [Josiah] Harmar since his unfortunate propensity to drink, has introduced & established the most disgraceful & pernicious habits in the 1st Regt, acting without check, restraint, or controul, he has sacraficed every thing to the capricious will of his officers, and I found them as petish & impatient as indulged Children—Hodgdon is an irritable, unaccommodating Character, & does not in my opinion possess comprehension, Capacity or resource for the office he fills, but at the same time, he is a Man exact in his Accounts, scrupulously tenacious of the public property, & I verily beleive possessing great Integrity—As the head of an important department, He is intitled to protection & respect, & has received it from me—my propriety of conduct in this Instance, has given much offence to a Capt. [Mahlon] Ford of the Artillery, a Gentleman of waspish, testy humour—The Capt. a few Days since, when officer of the Day, in violation of every principle of his Duty, & of military subordination & dicipline, made an outrageous & indecent attack upon Hodgdon, at the threshold of my Quarters, & in the face of the Soldiery—for this unofficerlike Conduct, I have put Him in arrest & shall bring Him before a general Court Martial, so soon as the public Service permits, in the mean time the Capt. continues to denounce the heaviest vengeance against poor Hodgdon, who has this day applied to me for protection—these are disagreable occurrences, but I shall not suffer them to interfere one Moment with the public good” (NNGL: Knox Papers). Apparently enclosed in Wilkinson’s letter was Samuel Hodgdon’s letter to Wilkinson of 13 Mar. soliciting his protection from Captain Ford, who had continued to make threats against him (NNGL: Knox Papers).

2For an identification of James O’Hara and his appointment as quartermaster general, see GW to the U.S. Senate, 17 April, n.1.

3The title and signature are in Knox’s writing.

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