George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Parker, 24 October 1799

From Thomas Parker

Camp Near Harpers ferry 24th Octr [17]99


In Concequence of the arrangements that I had previously made I arrived here on the 22nd Instant & proceeded Immediately to Cuting Timber for Huting the Troops.

on making an estimate of the Timber & Boards or plank that will be necessary for Covering the three Regiments, I find It utterly Impracticable to procure a Sufficiency, as the Rivers are Too low to Transport it by water from the upper Country & It Cannot be procured in the neighbourhood. Indeed I doubt much whether a Sufficiency of plank Can be obtained for my Regiment only by the first of December.

under these Circumstances I have thought proper to Submit to you whether It woud not be prudent to order the 9th & 10th Regiments to be provided for where they Can be Better Accomodated as I am Clearly Convinced that the Troops must Lie in their Tents the Greater part of the winter If they are Sent to this place.1

I am Informed that there are Barracks Sufficient for Two or three Regts at Carlisle and that this place is Surrounded by a Rich & plentifull Country.

Mr Mackee the public Agent at Harpers ferry has Used every exertion in his power to accomodate the Troops he perfectly Coincides with me in opinion and will write to you on the Subject.2 with the Highest Esteem and Respect I have the honor to be Sir your Obdt Servt

Thomas Park⟨er⟩

ALS, DLC:GW. Noted below the date line: “recd 26 answd 27.”

1For the beginnings of GW’s direct involvement in the preparation of winter quarters at Harpers Ferry for the 8th, 9th, and 10th regiments of infantry, see Alexander Hamilton to GW, 23 Sept. 1799; for references to the ensuing correspondence regarding that matter, see notes 3 and 4 of that document. Tobias Lear met with Lieutenant Colonel Parker on 8 Oct. to look over the ground at Harpers Ferry, and returned to Mount Vernon on 13 Oct. with Parker’s letter to GW of 9 Oct. (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:370). On 18 Oct. Lear wrote Parker that upon reading Parker’s letter and a copy of a letter that Lear had written to Parker on 10 Oct., GW had expressed satisfaction with the “measures” being adopted to prepare winter quarters at Harpers Ferry. Lear’s letters of 10 and 18 Oct. to Parker are quoted in Parker to GW, 9 Oct., nn.2 and 3. After receiving Lear’s letter of 18 Oct., Parker wrote Lear on 28 Oct.: “Before I Received yours of the 18th Instant I had written to General Washington Informing him that I had arrived on my Ground on the Twenty second & had proceeded Immediately to Cuting Timber for Huting my Regiment. You will see from my letter to him my opinion Relative to the Business; But to provide as far as possable for the other Regiments in Case they shoud Come on—I have left the charge of Huting my Regiment for a few days to my majors & am proceeding thrugh the Country in order to Secure & send on all the plank that can be procured. It is my most sincere wish that the Views of Government Shoud be fully Complied with. But I fear without a speedy Rise of the waters (of which there is not the Smallest prospect at present) that the winter will be far advanced Before the Troops can be Covered” (DLC:GW).

On 26 Oct., shortly before he received Parker’s letter of 24 Oct., GW wrote to both Hamilton and Parker in optimistic terms about his expectations of the prompt construction of huts at Harpers Ferry for the officers and men of the three regiments. Upon reading this letter of 24 Oct. from Parker and another of the same date from John Mackey expressing a similar pessimistic view of the situation (see note 2), GW on 27 Oct. wrote two letters to Hamilton [1] [2], and he sent another, by Tobias Lear, to Parker at Harpers Ferry. Lear was sent to Parker to see to it that everything possible would be done to keep the three regiments together over the winter and to keep them in an encampment at Harpers Ferry.

When Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney finally arrived at Harpers Ferry in mid-November, from Rhode Island via New York and Philadelphia, to resume his duties as commander of the forces in the South, Parker’s men had almost completed the building of the huts on the Shenandoah to house the soldiers of his 8th Regiment. They also had made a start on the huts for the troops of Col. Josias Carvel Hall’s 9th Regiment who were expected to arrive at Harpers Ferry from Havre de Grasse, Md., early in the new year. It had been decided that the 10th Regiment would not come to Virginia but instead would winter in the barracks at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. On 9 Jan. 1800, after GW’s death, Pinckney wrote Hamilton from Shepherdstown near Harpers Ferry: “The great drought has greatly retarded the hutting as the Mills could not work for want of Water, and we have been obliged to haul some of the planks the distance of forty miles. This business is however nearly finished” (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 24:181–83). For other letters written about the encampment at Harpers Ferry between 28 Oct. and 16 Nov. both to and by GW, see GW to Benjamin Ogle, 28 Oct., Lear to GW, 30 Oct., 4 Nov., Thomas Parker to GW, 31 Oct., GW to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, 3 Nov., GW to McHenry, 5 Nov., and notes to all of these documents.

2John Mackey’s letter of 24 Oct. written from Harpers Ferry reads: “At the request of Colonel Thomas Parker, I beg leave to state to you the impracticability of hutting three Regiments at this place under the present circumstances. It appears from General Hamilton’s calculations, which are by no means excessive, that 84,000 feet of plank and slabs would be required to cover their huts. Having already drained for the public Buildings erected here, the principal sources from which plank could be expected, and seeing no prospect of getting any down the Potomac, which is now almost dry, I feel no hesitation in declaring that the Supply of Colonel Parker’s regiment alone can hardly be effected. For this reason, and because Winter is just at hand, I am clearly of Opinion that the 9th & 10th regiments, if they should be urged forwards, must suffer by the winters cold, which is uncommonly severe between these mountains. If notice had been given last August materials for the three Regiments would have been provided” (DLC:GW).

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