George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Wilkinson, 11 October 1780

[Trovose] October 11th 1780


I had this moment the honor to receive your Letter of the 5th Inst., and should instantly obey your Excellencys Commands was I possessed of means necessary for the Purpose; I shall go to Philadelphia Tomorrow morning & as soon as my private credit or the public funds can furnish me the small sum necessary to defray my traveling expences, shall set off for your Quarters: In the mean time I must beg leave to trouble your Excellency with the inclosed copies of my Official transactions, and I hope it will appear therefrom that I have not been defective in Duty. I am ignorant of the measures which the Board or War or their agents (the absolute [Providous] of Clothing) have adopted since the Return of which I inclose a copy, was made, having [not] ever been honored with any communication on the subject; tho, I am very apprehensive that their confidence in the Capital supply exported from France has suspended every object of domestic Provision; The articles of Clothing which I have since received being inconsiderable, a transcript of Mr Moylans Issues since this Return deducted from the Quantity represented therein will exhibit our Situation: I have heard that Congress furnished the Board of War with £20,000 Stg some time ago for the purposes of the Clothing Department but when, where, how or for what Articles this trifling Sum has been appropriated I know not, however I hourly expect to receive the proceeds, which at best will afford us but little releif, if we are absolutely disappointed in our European expectations; I am sorry to inform your Excellency that I am equally uninformed with regard to the steps taken by the different States, but I dread from the arrangment of our finances & the distracted state of our civil Polity that their exertions, if they have made any, are feeble & insufficient.

I have this Day received a Letter of the 23rd Ultmo from the Maryland State Clothier at Petersburgh requesting to know when he might apply for Clothing, & representing the wretched Condition of the regiment of that Line, which from the total loss of baggage in the affair near Camden are reduced to the distressing situation, however as they have the advantage of a temperate Clime I shall write Governor Lee requesting him to make the best provision he can for them & will let him know that we have no prospect of being able to furnish any supply from this Quarter.

By advice from Springfield of the 13th Ultmo I find that my Deputy at that place had no prospect of geting forward the small quantity of Winter Clothing there on Hand, every department having exhausted its credit & being monnyless, when this evil is removed I hope we shall be able with the remnants which may be scraped together & the [strands] at New Burgh, if they should prove of good quality, to collect Woollens sufficient to make 700 or 1000 Suits, buttons can be easily obtained & if I can by any means pick up thread & lining, I think, as the only resource, that they can be made up by regimental detachments of Taylors, who may immediately go to work either at Morris Town or New Burgh.

The Hide Department has not escaped the Fate of the other branches of the civil staff; The want of a few essential regulations in the present System, has originated a diversity of opinion respecting its merits, this Circumstance & the total absence of Money has thrown it into much disorder & confusion; we must not therefore expect the substantial assistance from this source which we have hitherto experienced: the inclosed copy of a Letter to the Board of War will shew your Excellency the footing on which I have held myself & now stand with the Department. My Circumscribed office being literally Commissarial, I can be answerable only for the equal & seasonable distribution of the Articles I receive, and this must depend in a great measure on the Qr M. Generals Department: whilst my Friend Mr Moylan attended to & discharged this Duty satisfactorily, I conceived that my presence would be most essential here, in order to make representations to Congress & the Board of War, to attend the frequent calls of the latter, to obtain Monies, whilst to be had, for the Commissaries of Hides and to keep my Papers properly arranged. if I have not wrote your Excellency so often as I ought to have done, I hope I shall be excused when I protest upon Honor, that I have been influenced by the conviction of the Presumption [   ] [im]pertinence & Gasconade of intruding immat[erial] concerns of Office on Moments imployed in [   ] of National Importance, and I have the honor to be Your Excellencys much Obliged & ready Hble servant

James Wilkinson

DLC: Papers of George Washington.


Copy of a letter to the Board of War

Morris Town Jany 4th 1780


The active and laborious duty to which I am personally exposed for want of Authority to employ such assistants as emergencies render necessary has prevented my appraising your Honble Board of matters which claim instant attention—Just before I left Philada I rec’d thro Mr Secry Stoddert a request from your Hon’ble Board to take the direction under your instructions of the Hide departt and altho this undertaking exposed me to additional perplexity and trouble not enjoined by the Office under which I act my desire to promote the public Interest of Comfort of the Army induced my chearfull acquiescence. In consequence thereof & on the presumption of ample Authority I have called on Mr Hetfield for a settlement of his Accounts & have forbid in the mean time his disposing of any more Hides, as I have detected great irregularity confusion & incapacity in his Office and am very fearfull of great fraud, indeed had I power I should instantly arrest from his hands every Visible property of the States & compel an immediate Settlement. but I find from the instructions above refered to which I have since rec’d from Mr Stoddert that the Measures I have adopted on this Occasion are vain & ridiculous, as the Commissaries of Hides are in those instructions placed on a most liberal footing, independent of other Authority than your Honble Board, Judges of their own conduct and are only to take the advice & instructions of the Clothier General on common occasions at their own discretion—I shall therefore wave any further procedure in this Case & Unless I am invested with power to suspend principles & remove such subordinates as I may detect in improper or dishonest Conduct subject on appeal to the final decision of your Honble Board I must beg leave to decline any other connection with the Dept. than what is specified in the Act of Congress of the 25th of July—I hope the Honble Board will do mi the justice to believe that I am not actuated herein by a thirst of Power or a desire of disunion with the dept., on the contrary I shall be happy to employ the information and knowledge I have obtained of the Business for the public emolument—but I must acknowledge so much of self love as to decline that Connexion which would involve me in the honor or disgrace of the Office without having Authority to enforce such Measures as I might deem Necessary to promote the former purpose, I think my duty to remark to your Honble Board that altho’ your instructions might in the hands of Men of delicacy Capacity & Industry answer the purpose sought after yet should their exertions depend on persons Who want those refinements the public will be subject to vast imposition & abuse, for there realy is not under its present establishment in the whole Circle of public Offices one which is so open to peculation as the Hide Depart. it is therefore my Opinion that the Characters of Conduct of the principals, and what I find more important, of their Subordinates should be frequently scrutinized & their Accots ought to undergo a particular Examination at least once in Six Months, not by the Commissioners of Accounts who cannot possess the Necessary Materials or knowledge for the Occasion but by the powers which governs them—at present I can discern no check or restraint on the Dept. and I am sensible they have been much needed in the instance of Mr Hetfield, tho I think it my duty here to diclare that I believe he has acted with good designs and that his own imprudence or incapacity & an implicit confidence in Mr Stansbury has involved him his present Situation.

On my late arrival at New Windsor I found that Mr Stansbury out of the 2000 Hides ordered to Mr Henry by the Honble Board, had Sent on not quite four hundred of these at the Mercy of Private Waggons; I immediately applyed for Teams to carry on the remainder but could not obtain them nor is there at present any prospect of bringing them forward for such is the difficulty of Transport on this Communication that we have not yet been able to bring up the small Quantity of Clothing remaining on hand at Newburgh.

When I undertook the Clothing Office I found it necessary in order to extricate the Dept. from the prodigalty & distraction with which it was conducted, to have no sort of retrospect to antecedent issues, which had been almost Universally directed by no other Rule than the wants instead of the just due of the Soldiery & I perceived it was indispensable both for regularity of accounts & for equal Justice to the Nation & the Army that a given period for the Commencement of the Issue & the principle on which they were made should be established, I applied to the General on the Occasion who confirmed my wishes, by directing that the Clothing Issued by me should be on Account of the present Year, my Accounts have been opened accordingly & as soon as the Continental Bounty is issued to the Troops stopages will commence which besides a great Salvage to the public will have various other good effects, all the Clothing which I have rec’d with the States supplies which we could obtain Information of were found, on a Calculation made before the Commencement of the General issues to fall vastly short of the Continental bounty, the General therefore excluded every Man who was not enlisted during the War or for the present Winter & altho’ we have practised this & every other possible care & Œconomy I find that the Coats & Vests are deficient at least 1/5 the Breeches & Overalls collectively 1/2 the Shirts, Hose & Blankets 3/4 under these Circumstances the Situation of the Troops beggars all description—Tis not my Business to quote particular Instances of Wretchedness nor will I wound the sensibility of the Honble Board thereby, but I will take the Liberty to remark that the Manly perseverence & virtuous resignation of the Soldiery under the compound Calamity of Starvation & Nakedness transcends past examples & exceeds credibility.

If it is practicable I shall in person attend your Honble Board before the 20th Inst. and will then lay before you the particular State & Conduct of my Department. In the Mean time &c.

J. Wilkinson


Extract of a Letter to the Board of War,

Phia August 8th 1780


I have the honor to inclose you a general State of the Clothing now on Hand agreable to the latest reports of my Deputies, & I must beg leave to call your particular attention to the Article of Shirts, the supply of which has been so inconsiderable as to keep the Troops constantly destitute of this essential part of their bounty—Since my last general State of the Department we have made few other, than contingent Issues a return whereof is at present very unimportant, however if it is required it shall be forthwith made out—If the French Fleet have brought any Clothing to NewPort, I conceive it will be proper in order to avoid accidents or abuse to bring it forward to New Burgh or Springfield, or at least to get it into Continental Possession—I am sorry it is not in my Power to make you acquainted with the Circumstances of the State supplies, as I have never been able to obtain the necessary Information from their respective Clothiers—I am &c.

J. Wilkinson



Extract of a letter, August 10th 1780


I beg leave to communicate to the Honble Board that I have received a letter of the 22nd Ultmo from Col. Brodhead containing a requisition for the ensuing Winters Clothing & representing that the Woollens forwarded to him last fall are mostly worn out, and I must at the same time inform them that I have received no account of the appropriation of that considerable supply—My Ignorance of the Establishment or Object of that Department disqualifies me for making any calculation of the Provision necessary at this Juncture, and as the Office of Providore is not comprehended in my Duty I beg leave to submit the affair wholely to the Honb. Board.

I again repeat my request that I may be furnished with the Account against my Deputies, comprehending the Articles they have rec’d from Messrs Mease & Measam, as necessary to the settlement of my Accounts. I am &c.

J. Wilkinson

Clor Gnl


October 8th 1780


Being informed that Congress have it in Contemplation to reform the various Staff Departments, I think it my Duty to lay before your Excellency my Objections to the Arrangement of the Clothing Department; and at the same time I must beg leave to offer for your examination a plan on which I conceive the office may be conducted with the greatest Oconomy & effect.

By the present establishment all domestic supplies depend on the Board of War & the States. they being severally Authorized by Congress to purchase on Continental Account; the latter for the particular advantage of their respective Troops & the former for the general Interest of the Army. In my Opinion the most essential branch of the Department requires immediate attention as it is evidently fraught with the most destructive consequences, when we reflect that the average Price of Clothing here is at least 500 per Ct on the European cost. we must certainly condemn all domestic Purchases but if Misfortune, disappointment & consequent emergencies make it indispensable, we certainly should study to do it on the most Oconomical plan. The Number of Agents & their Subordinates which are found Necessary to [execute] the present mode of Provision are alone a grevious Tax on the Country, but the Capital Injury Originates in the competition consequent on a variety of Purchasers who never act in Concord & therefore cannot [   ] sacraficing Public Interest to Individual Avarice, This Fact was illustrated in Philadelphia last fall & Winter when the Virginia, the Delaware, the Pensylvania & the Jersey Sub. Clothiers with the Continental Agent were at the same point of Time purchasing for their seperate Interests out of a common Fund: The Natural dependence between the States & the Continent which this composition of Interests involves will I fear prove the source of disappointment & perplexity as long as it is continued; the locality of four States incapacitates them for making any Provision with certainty [conducive for] Oconomy & the remoteness of others may render the transport of all distinct supplies or refreshments for their respective Troops, difficult, precarious, expensive, [& perhaps] seasonably impracticable; this disadvantage was experienced by the No. Carolinians whilst serving with the grand Army & the [Eastern] troop will be liable to the same inconvenience if they should in the progress of the War operate to the Southward.

The Clothing thus provided is made up under the direction of the respective Purchasers & is delivered by the Board of War to the Clothier General & by the States to their respective Clothier[s], and is Issued in a strict conformity to the Ordinance of Congress of the 23rd March 1779 as is possible, but it is impossible from the following Camps to carry that System into execution, viz. 1stly because partial Issues are frequently made without the knowledge or order of the Clor Genl or his Assistant. 2ndly Because the State Clothiers are seldom (& many of them never) [   ] the Army and their representatives in Camp are capable of giving little or no Information respecting their Proceedings.

3rdly Because exact Returns can never be obtained from the Sub. Clothiers of the goods they receive from their respective States, for knowing that such supplies are to be directed from their proportion of the general Stock they expect by [   ] the Quantity in their Returns, to increase their Proportion out of the Continental Store: hence it follows that the Troops of some States are well Clad whilst others who have not the same local advantages are half naked—Besides we are daily obliged to Issue in detail to the Additional Corps detachments & and these pointed infractions of the Ordinance are inevitable from the desulatory Nature of the service, for it is impossible that a Sub: Clothier, were he ever so Intelligent & attentive, can attend to supply the frequent minute wants of all Permanent drafts & detachments which are made, or of Men operating hundreds of Miles from each other. The Troops at Fort Pitt are not within reach of their respective Clothiers, nor is there any Superintendant of Clothing in that Department, so that the supplies which I have forwarded to that Post, were by Order of the Board of War addressed to the Commanding Officer and how they have been disposed of or appropriated I know not, having never received a [   ] of a Pen on the subject, except an acknowledgment of their reception.

I beg leave to call your Excellencys particular attention to the 6th Article of the inclosed plan: In Attaining the bounty I have left out several superflous & unnecessary Articles & have added others which will be found on examination to be absolutely necessary for the Health Comfort & appearance of a Soldier; the reformation proposed in the line of Issues is highly essential, for if we persist in admiting additional drafts & Levies, who scarce know their Duty before the term of Service expires, to [share] the bounty Clothing tis not in the Power of the Clothier General to which the torrent of dissipation which the Department has not been Subject to, or to discharge the Duty we owe the deserving Soldiers; to confirm their [   ] of this operation I beg your Excellency to reflect that seven Months Men, whose time begins to expire in January constitute the bulk of our present Army and that should they be comprehended in the approaching distribution of Winter Clothing, the greatest part of it will be swept away and the Men destined to encounter future hardships will be left almost naked & unprovided. The 7th & 8th Articles of the Plan merit equal regard with the preceding it is indispensible that a specific Period be fixed for the commencement of the Annual Issue for without this regulation the Wants, instead of the just due, of the soldiery is the only Rule on which the Issues can be made & of course an Account can never be closed, defeciencies supplyed or stopages made: Public Oconomy & private Justice require that the practice of Issuing in detail at Philadela Boston &c. should be restrained, for the extraordinary supply which is often obtained on those occasions by Personal application is extremely Injurious to those meritorious fellows who prefering the service of their Country to every other consideration are now reduced from the Toil & Hardship attending incessant Duty. If the inclosed or a Similar plan was established with double the Salaries proposed, it would be comparatively Oconomical, for if I am not Mistaken it will be found on examination that the Commission of one Agency alone has amounted to at least £ 2000 Sterling per Anm: When I took charge of the Department I found it without Method or Order involved in utter confusion; my indeavours have not been wanting to introduce the system dwelt on in this Letter, but I am sorry to acknowledge that the formation of the Arrangement & the embarrassments already enumerated have baffled my efforts, I have however the satisfaction to reflect that my attempts have been serviceable—Since I entered the Office I have studied every Oconomy in my Power, I have at no Time employed more than thirteen Persons in the Department Clerks, & Labourers included and those on Terms by no means adequate to their Subsistence; In every Personal consideration I rely on the Justice of Congress & I shall be content with their division. I beg leave to mention that I took charge of the Office when no Person would accept it, since which time I have upon honor declined every Species of Private Business. I have the honor with great respect Your Excellencys Most Obedt & mot Hble Servant

James Wilkinson

Clo. General


c.11 October 1780

A Plan for regulating the Clothing Department.

1st That all State Purchases of Clothing on Continental Accounts, and all State regulations or Appointments in the Clothing Department established under the recommendation or Authority of Congress be abolished on the first Day of January ensuing at or before which time the Sub. Clothiers are to deliver to the Clothier General on his orders all Clothing procured at Continental expence which they may have on Hand, taking his receipt for the same, a duplicate whereof to be transmited to the [Chamber] of Accounts.

2nd That an Assistant Clothier General be appointed by Congress.

3rd That the Clothier General receive all Clothing imported by Congress, that he direct & superintend all Domestic Purchases, & for this Purpose he shall draw money from the Continental Treasury on an Estimate comprehending the Annual disbursements of the Department.

4th That (so long as domestic Purchases are continued) the Board of War appoint four purchasing Agents, viz.—one at Baltimore for Maryland & the Southern States, one at Philadelphia for Pensylvania & Jersey, one at New London for Connecticut, New York & the State of Rhode Island, and one at Boston for Massachusetts & New Hampshire—who are to be under the immediate Control of the Clothier General & to prevent the possibility of competition they are to confine Purchases & contracts strictly to their respective districts.

5th That in future the confederate Army of the United States established during the War or for the term of— years, receive the annual Bounty Clothing from the Clothr General Regimentally, & that the Clor General keep regular Accounts against the respective regimental Clothier accordingly.

6th That all Non Commd Officers, Soldiers, Artificers & Waggoners who are or may hereafter be Inlisted during the War or for the Term of [  ] years, be annually furnished the following Articles in lieu of the Bounty prescribed in a Resolution of Congress of the 6th September 1777, viz.

One Regimental Coat full made.

One Cloth hat

One pair of Cloth Breeches & two pair of Woolen Hose or One pair of Cloth overalls & two pair of Woollen Socks.

One Felt Hat or Leathern Cap.

four shirts

two pair of Linnen overalls.

One Leather or Worsterd stock.

four pair of strong Shoes.

One Blanket

One pair Shoe Buckles every two years.
One Stock Clasp

The Dragoons to receive two pair of Boots & a pair of Spurs instead of the Shoes & Buckles with a Horsemans Cloak in addition and that no Non Comd Officer Soldier Artificer or Waggoner who is not engaged for the War or during the term of — years be furnished any Article of Clothing by the Clor General.

7th That the Issue of the Annual bounty commence in future on the 10th Day of November for the Winter & the 1st Day of May for the Summer Clothing and that the Clothier General take particular care to have the Clothing equally & impartially distributed when it is found incompetent for the whole Army.

8th That in Order to prevent the confusion, Injustice & dissipation consequent on detail Issues from a variety of Posts, the Clothr General in future Issue from no point whatever but the Stores of general Issue annexed to the Army or Detachments thereof, and therefore the Commanding Officers of Corps are to be answerable that all Non Comd Officers & Privates who leave Camp or Quarters whether on furlough or Command be properly equiped for the occasion.

9th That the Clothier General settle the Accounts of the Regimental Clothiers annually in September or November previous to the commencement of the general Issue, that he certify to them respectively the arreages which may be due the soldiery, and notify the Paymaster Genl of all Surplusages specifying the corps to which they were advanced in order that defeciences be compensated & stopages be made agreable to the Acts of Congress in those Cases provided.

10th That the Clothier General be allowed to appoint & employ for the Conduct of the Magazines at Springfield, New Burgh & Philadelphia each, & for the store of general Issue annexed to the Army, a Deputy, Clerk & Labouror; for the Western Department a Deputy, and for the Southern Department a Deputy with such Subordinates as the Nature of the Service may require, the appointment in that Quarter to be made with the concurrence of the Commanding Officer & to be reported to the Board of War.

11th That the Officers of the Clothing Department be, when possible, taken from the Line of the Army & that they be all owed such pay in addition to the Emoluments of their Commissions as may be agreed on by the Clor General & approved by the Board of War, and that the pay of Persons employed in the Department who are not taken from the Army be as follows viz.

The Clothier General per Annum £ [  ] Specie
The Assistant Clor General Blank
A Dept. Clor General
A Dept. Clor General conducting as private Department
An Agent Clothier

And That the Clor General be under Obligation to allow no more than current Wages to Clerks & Labourers.

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