Camp February 7th 1783
This letter, which begs of your Excellency the favour of a perusal begins with a confission of a fault, even while in the verry Commission of it; for indeed I confess, I do not think myself entitled to the freedom I now venture to take; but what will not a Man hazard when hope rouses him from despair!
Alas how often has my honest avarice of the approbation of the good and worthy, been ready to expire with the groans of a dying character! Nay how long have my fond hopes, of Contributing something to the cause of virtue and my Country, been buried deep in despair; My hopes however now Revive and like a desperate Man who can lose nothing but possebly may gain something, they dare to look forward, even to some industrious honour and virtuous repute. But lest these exclamations may run too far without being plain and expressive in their designs, I will beg leave, immediately, to say that I have often been deeply penetrated with a painful sense of the lost and ruined character of the Chaplains of the Army! In saying this I do not mean to Arrest the personal characters of my brethren in Order to exculpate and sanctify myself; for I believe that form of Confession which will suit one of us will not be very improper for the whole department. I have a long time been fully convinced that no men in the Army have been more criminally deficient in their duty than we have been; yet at the same time I hope I shall not be blamed for saying that the Coldness and inattention of many of the Officers, who Command Brigades, deserve some blame also. But I am certain, notwithstanding this, that the Chaplains of no Army in the World have had either so much encouragement to perform their duty, or so much Respect from their Commanders in Chief, as the American Chaplains have had both from your Excellency, and from Congress.
In order to support our reputation in the Army, and to strenghten our hands for the faithful discharge of our duty, Sir, you have condescended to honour us with invitations as personal as respect could dictate and as public as General Orders could announce. It is, however, too much a truth, in my opinion that our Conduct has wearied your patience, though it is very great, and placed us in the estimation of the Army so much below contempt as not to be accounted worthy of the honour even of being punished! the distress & bitterness of grief, urges me to say, what in an other situation my diffidence would not Suffer me even to think! but before I go any farther I will plead guilty, and promise reformation so far as my efforts can effect it. Had it not been an established principle with me that there ought to be Chaplains in All Armies, and especially in the American Army, I should long before this time have deserted the life of a Camp, and have sought an honest character wherever there was a prospect of obtaining it.
I now drop this painful subject, I change my ground, and instead of troubleing your Excellency aney longer with my complaints and confessions, I appear in the character of a petitioner: and I think I can with more boldness offer my petition when I consider that whatever will effect the Chaplains of the Army will equally affect and govern myself—Confiding then in your goodness and generosity, I beg, and if I ask any thing amiss, I will hope to be pardoned since all that I mean to request is dictated, I think, by an honest zeal for the good of the Army and the recovery of our Clerical reputation; I do therefore request that only one third of the Chaplains be permitted to be absent from the Army at the same time, and then only by particular permission, obtained from Head Quarters, when it is their regular tour of absence, and does not prevent this previlege from extending itself equally to every Chaplain. It is also requested that the Chaplains be directed to visit the Hospital each one in his weekly tour of that duty.
As soon as the public Building is capable of receiving the Troops it is desired that they may be ordered to attend every Sunday. Did I not fear it would be too presuming, I would venture to believe that the whole Army, or however as many as may be spared from other duties, can, in four Assemblies, attend divine Service on the same day.
Shall I say that the second Brigade Massech[usetts] can Constitute one Assembly and meet at ten O.Clock—the New Hampshire and New York may Constitute a seacond Assembly and meet at twelve OClock—A third assembly may be made up of the New Jersey and the Maryland troops, and the third Brigade Massachusetts; they may meet at two O.Clock—General Patterson’s Brigade being on the ground and requireing no length of time to return to their quarters, can better constitute the last Assembly of the day at four OClock. But I stop, I am affraid I have taken too much liberty. However as this letter is of a private nature and only attempts to communicate what I wished to express in your presence, this freedom may be the more pardonable.
In a word, I beg that your Excellency, will be pleased to point out some mode to the Troops for their regular and constant attendance on devine service every Sunday, and for the more steady attendence of the Chaplains with the Army.
Will your Excellency be pleased to order the Chaplains who are Absent, to return to their Brigades; or direct the officers Commanding Brigades to call them into Camp as soon as possible. With the most ardent wishes for your felicity of every kind, and I cannot allow any body to wish your happiness with more sincerety and warmth of heart then I do—I am Sir Your Excellency’s Most obedient Most devoted Humble Servant.
DLC: Papers of George Washington.