George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 14 December 1793

From Henry Knox

War Department December 14th 1793.


I have the honor to submit a Return of the Ordnance, Arms and Military stores in possession of the United States.1

It resulted from the casual circumstances of the late War, that these stores were accumulated principally at the following points, Viz: New London in Virginia 2—Philadelphia—West Point on Hudsons river—and Springfield on Connecticut River; all of which perhaps, excepting Springfield, are improper places for permanent Magazines.

The important characteristics for magazines and arsenals, seem to be perfect security against enemies, internal and external, blended with an easy access by water. The expence of land transportation of heavy articles for a series of years, compared with that by water, renders the latter quality indispensible for a Magazine.

The Situation of New London being destitute of Water communication with the Ocean, is not a proper place for a permanent magazine, and it would seem therefore necessary that some other position should be sought on James River, more suitable for the erection of proper buildings.

It may be questionable whether a populous City is a proper place for the repository of large quantities of Military stores on account of the accidents to which such places are liable by fire and other causes. Hence it is intended that a part of the stores now deposited in Philadelphia shall be removed to some safe position, higher up the Delaware.

West Point on Hudson River, although a precious link in the chain which binds the States together, has on account of the well known navigation of that river, and the easy access from the Ocean, been considered as an improper place for an extensive magazine. For this reason part of the surplus stores have been removed temporarily to Albany.

During the late War a number of valuable brick buildings were erected at Carlisle in Pennsylvania, as well for the reception of stores, as to accomodate a number of Workmen in the Ordnance Department, but these buildings were not much used, after the apprehensions of invasions subsided owing to the expence and delay occasioned by the land transportation. The same causes still prevent their use in any considerable degree.

The situation of the United States would seem to require that three capital Magazines should be established permanently, one for the Southern, one for the Middle, and one for the Eastern States, with such subdivisions as may be deemed indispensible for General use.3

It would also seem to be a dictate of sound national policy that the United States should always possess, one hundred thousand arms placed in their respective Arsenals, and that the battering and field Artillery, and ammunition should be in ample proportion.

It is presumed that all the Cannon, Arms, and ammunition required by the United States might be fabricated among ourselves. It is possible the expence may be greater than if the articles were imported, but this circumstance is not of such moment as to be compared with the solid advantages which would result from extending and perfecting the means upon which our safety may ultimately depend. I have the honor to be with the highest respect Sir, your Obedient Servant.

H: Knox.
Secretary of War.

Copy, DNA: RG 233, Third Congress, 1793–95, House Records of the Office of the Clerk, Records of Reports from Executive Departments; Copy, NNGL: Knox Papers. This letter was communicated to the Senate by Knox on 16 Dec. (ASP, Military Affairs description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:44).

1For the return, see ASP, Military Affairs, 1:45–60.

2New London is about 8 miles southwest of Lynchburg, Va., in Campbell County.

3Congress passed on 2 April 1794 “An Act to provide for the erecting and repairing of Arsenals and Magazines, and for other purposes,” which provided for “three or four arsenals with magazines . . . in such places as will best accommodate the different parts of the United States” (Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends , 1:352).

Index Entries