Letter from General Washington to Joseph Reed



Cambridge, March 3, 1776.

DEAR SIR: Your favours of the 28th of January, and 1st and 8th of February, are come to hand. For the agreeable accounts contained in one of them, of your progress in the manufacture of powder, and prospect of getting arms, I am obliged to you, as there is some consolation in knowing that these useful articles will supply the wants of some part of the Continental Troops, although I feel too sensibly the mortification of having them withheld from me, Congress not even thinking it necessary to take the least notice, of my application for these things.

I hope in a few nights to be in readiness to take post on Dorchester Point, as we are using every means in our power to provide materials for this purpose; the ground being so hard frozen yet, that we cannot intrench, and therefore are


obliged to depend entirely upon chandeliers, fascines, and screwed hay, for our redoubts. It is expected that this work will bring on an action between the King' s Troops and ours.

General Lee' s expedition to New-York was founded upon indubitable evidence of General Clinton' s being on the point of sailing. No place was so likely for his destination as New-York, and no place where a more capital blow could be given to the interests of America. Common prudence, therefore, dictated the necessity of preventing an evil which might have proved irremediable, had it happened. But I confess to you honestly, I had no idea of running the Continent to the expense which was incurred, or that such a body of troops would go from Connecticut as did, or be raised upon the terms they were. You must know, my good sir, that Captain Sears was here, with some other gentlemen of Connecticut, when the intelligence, of Clinton' s embarkation (at least the embarkation of the; troops) came to hand. The situation of these lines would not afford a detachment New-York could not be depended upon; and of the troops in Jersey, we had no certain information, either as to their numbers or destination; What then was to be done? Why, Sears and these other gentlemen assured me, that if the necessity of the case was signified by me, and General Lee should be sent, one thousand volunteers, requiring no pay, but supplied with provisions only, would march immediately to New-York, and defend the place till Congress could determine what should be done, and that a line from me to Governour Trumbull to obtain his sanction, would facilitate the measures. This I accordingly wrote in precise terms, intending that these volunteers, and, such of the Jersey Regiments as could be speedily assembled, should be thrown into the city for its defence, and for disarming the Tories upon Long Island, who, I understood, had become extremely insolent and daring; when behold, instead of volunteers, consisting of gentlemen without pay, the Governour directed men to be voluntarily inlisted for this service, upon Continental pay and allowance. This, you will observe, was contrary to my expectation and plan; yet, as I thought it a matter of the last importance to secure the communication of the North-River, I did not deem it, expedient to countermand the raising, of the Connecticut Regiments on account of the pay. If I have done wrong, those Members of Congress who think the matter ought to have been left to them, must consider my proceedings as an error of judgment, and that a measure is not always to be judged by the event.

It is moreover worthy of consideration; that in cases of extreme necessity like the present, nothing but decision can ensure success; and certain I am, that Clinton had something more in view by peeping into New-York, than to gratify his curiosity, or make a friendly visit to his friend Mr˙ Tryon. However, I am not fond of stretching my powers; and if the Congress will say, "Thus far, and no farther, you shall go," I will promise not to offend whilst I continue in their service.

I observe what you say in respect to my wagon. I wanted nothing more than a light travelling-wagon, such as those of New-Jersey, with a secure cover, which might be under lock and key — the hinges being on one side, the lock on the other. I have no copy of the memorandum of the articles which I desired you to provide for me, but think one dozen and a half of camp-stools, a folding table, plates and dishes, were among them.

What I meant, therefore, was, that the bed of the wagon should be constructed in, such a manner as to stow those things to the best advantage. If you cannot get them, with you, I shall despair of providing them here, as workmen are scarce, and most exorbitantly high in their charges. What I should aim at is, when the wagon and things are ready, (which ought to be very soon, as I do not know how soon we may beat a march,) to buy 3 pair of clever horses of the same colour, hire a careful driver, and let the whole come off at once, and then they will be ready for immediate service.

I have no doubt that the Treasury, by application to Mr˙ Hancock, will direct payment thereof, without any kind of difficulty, as Congress must be sensible that I cannot take the field without equipage, and after I have once got into a tent, I shall not soon quit it. I am, &c˙,