George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Denning, 24 October 1780

Treasury Office 24th October 1780


James Duane Esqr. & myself left the city of Philadalphia in July last on our way to the State of New York, we passed thro’ several posts where magazines for the Army were Established, particularly Pitts Town & Hacketts Town, we were shocked to see the unpardonable negligence of the persons who had the care of those posts, while we lamented the want of flour in the Army, and even should the article of flour Escape total loss by hogs &c. it must come to our brave Troops in a condition almost unfit to use, wet, mouldy, musty & rotten, it was easy to conceive that if the flour was housed every danger of this kind would be avoided and there were barns in the vicinity & even publick Store Houses, but houses for the Gentlemen in the department could occupy a large House at Pitts Town while the flour for the Army must lay exposed to the weather & to [perrish], I conceived it my duty to enquire into the cause of this destruction; as a Commissioner of the Treasury my Oath of Office made it indispensibly so, and Mr Duanes earnest solicitation was another inducement. I therefore called for the person at Pitts Town who had the flour in charge, or rather who had the care of the post, he was a youth by the name of Dunham his inexperience perhaps was the cause of making very trifling replys to questions of great public importance, in short no Satisfaction could be obtained from him but that he did the best he could, how an officer having the care of the provisions for an Army could reconcile to himself to delegate that care to an inexperienced Lad was hard for Mr Duane and myself to determine, but so it was—We passed on to Hacketts Town, where there was every appearence of neglect & destruction, the barrells of flour tumbled indiscriminately about, heads out, hoops off, the casks open & flour wasting, in short no man could pass it by who had the public interest or the supply of the Army at heart, [Soon] I again inquired and was informed by the person who appeared to have the care, that he had repeatedly wrote to the Issuing Commissary for Guards & assistance but could obtain none, and insisted that he was very ill used by him, these were his expressions, a Cooper was present who informed me that he was convinced in the State the flour then was it must all be ruined in case of rain—this was in the evening and Mr Duane & my self were detained all the next day by the rain in which this flour lay in the State I have mentioned and Mr J. Stewart of Hacketts Town has assured me since, that the casks were many of them half buried in the manure of the Cowyard, in which it lay, and he has sent me an affidavit proving this fact which is enclosed. I do not know Colo. Stewart nor could I have taken the steps I did of representing these facts to Congress with a design to injure any innocent person, some must be guilty of inattention & neglect, on them the blame with its force should fall. the reason of my writing this to your Excellency is that Colo. Blaine informed me that Mr Stewart is busily engaged in collecting proofs of the innocence of his Deputies, then to try them and charge me with a malicious report to Congress. I am fortunate Sir if this is his design of having the Testimony of Mr Duane who was a witness to the facts represented to Congress and Mr Stewart of Hacketts Town assures me that he can procure affidavits of facts that will be very essential in case Mr Stewart means to defend his department against the truths I have asserted, And that the deputy of Hacketts Town actually sold flour for damaged that was so good that his and other Families made good Bread of it. The difficulties of procuring supplies for the Army is great, if after they are procured they are wantonly distroyed by negligence or otherwise, every honest man must allow that those whose duty it is to inquire into those abuses should be vigilent in doing so, Mr Stewart may be a very good Man, but it is a duty he ows the publick to see that his deputies do their duty, and not when an inquiry is made to fly in the face of the facts to Justify their conduct, and he should recollect that there are other posts in as bad a condition as those complained of. Colo. Bedlow of New Windsor informs me that the flour at that place has [mutilated line] have faltered on what should have been preserved good and wholesome for the brave Men who are contending for the liberties of Mankind. The Post at Chester in the State of New York was in the same condition—all this con[   ]iandd. I lament the weakness of human nature that none have been honest or firm enough to prevent this devastation by a proper representation long ago. I do not however offer these as charges now. my object was not Mr Stewart or his deputies, but his department, and by the resolution of Congress, which passed on my letter, and which has been published. I have my hopes that those employed in that important department will be stimulated to their duty in future. I remain with Every sentiment of Respect Your Excellencys most Obedt & Most Hble Servt

Wm Denning

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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