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    Henry Laurens Orders North Carolina to Prohibit Exporting Beef and Port to Feed Washington's Starving Army at Valley Forge

    Henry Laurens Autograph Letter Signed "Henry Laurens / President of Congress". One page, 8.25" x 13", "York Town" [Penn.]; February 13,1778. Laurens writes to Governor [Richard] Caswell of North Carolina concerning an embargo on beef and pork in order to ensure adequate supply for the Continental Army then encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Laurens opens his letter to the North Carolina governor on other correspondence: "I beg leave to refer to a Letter which I had the honour of writing to Your Excellency under the 10th Inst.1 & which will accompany this [not present] - Yesterday Your Excellency's favor of the 11th Ulto. reached me. I immediately presented it to Congress & from thence it was transmitted to the Board of Treasury." More critically, Laurens informs Caswell of the need to embargo pork and beef: "Inclosed herein Your Excellency will receive an Act of Congress of this date [not present] earnestly requesting an immediate restraint to be laid on the exportation of Beef & Pork from the State of North Carolina to which I refer & remain with very great Respect ..." Weak folds reinforced on verso, some chipping at margins slightly affecting a few words of text, else very good.

    On December 19, 1777, Washington's army settled into Valley Forge, strategically located between the British occupying Philadelphia and Congress' temporary seat at York. It took well over a month for the ill-clad and nearly starving soldiers to complete their huts. By the time they were complete, "there had been three complete breakdowns in the supply of food and close to 4,000 men were so destitute of clothing they could not leave their huts."3 Due to the extreme shortage of supplies, the Continental Congress resolved that North Carolina and other states lay an immediate embargo on all exports of beef and pork: "Whereas, there is great danger of the armies of the United States being very much distressed, if the exportation of beef and pork from the State of North Carolina be not immediately prohibited; Therefore, Resolved, That the legislative and executive powers of the State of North Carolina be earnestly requested immediately to lay an embargo on all beef and pork, except so much as may be necessary for the vessel's use for the voyage, and to take the most effectual measures to prevent the embargo from being evaded." (Journals of the Continental Congress, 156.) Governor Caswell went one step further. On February 15, 1778 he personally wrote to George Washington that upon reading "your Excellency's Account of their [the soldiers'] Sufferings I have been happy in purchasing ... Considerable quantities of Salt & Salted provisions ... which are forwarding to Southquay in Virginia from whence they will be ha[u]led over to Suffolk about 16 Miles and so forwarded by Colo. Aylett in the best and most expeditious manner in his power." (Richard Caswell to George Washington, 15 February 1778. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence.) In large part, these embargoes, combined with Washington's appointment of Nathaniel Greene to replace the incompetent Thomas Mifflin as Quartermaster, saved the Continental Army from disintegration that winter. The letter is published in Letters of Delegates to Congress Vol. 9 (1 Feb. 1778 - 31 May 1778).

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    April, 2013
    11th Thursday
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