Description[Revolutionary War]. George Washington Letter Signed "Go: Washington." Four integral pages, unfolded to 15" x 12" (sight), Morristown [New Jersey], January 8, 1780. The winter of 1779-80 was the hardest experienced by the Continental Army during the entirety of the war (according to sources it was the coldest winter recorded in 400 years). In January 1780, General Washington and his army, some 7,000 souls, were at winter camp in Morristown, New Jersey. Starvation was rampant and the soldiers were in dire need of sufficient clothing. Desertions were a daily occurrence. In an effort to feed his men, Washington contacted the magistrates of the local counties imploring them to collect food from the locals. In addition, the general sent this circular letter, written in the hand of Lt. Col. Robert Hanson Harrison, Washington's military secretary until 1781, to the commanding officers (approximately ten in all) of some of his regiments regarding the present situation. This particular example is addressed to Lt. Col. Francis Barber, Fifth New Jersey Regiment, in full as written:
"The present distresses of the Army with which you are well acquainted have determined me to call upon the respective Counties of the State for a proportion of Grain and Cattle according to the abilities of each. For this purpose I have addressed the Magistrates of every County to induce them to undertake the Business. This mode I have preferred as the one least inconvenient to the inhabitants, but in case the requisition should not be complied with we must then raise the supplies ourselves in the best manner we can. This I have signified to the Magistrates. I have pitched upon you to superintend the execution of this measure in the County of Gloucester which is to furnish Seven hundred and fifty Bushels of Grain and One hundred and fifty head of Cattle. You will proceed there with all dispatch, and calling upon the Justices will deliver them the inclosed address, enforcing it with a more particular detail of the sufferings of the troops the better to convince them of the necessity of their exertions. You will at the same time delicately let them know that you are instructed in case they do not take up the Business immediately to begin to impress the Articles called for throughout the County. You will press for an immediate answer and govern yourself accordingly. If it be a compliance, you will concert with them a proper place for the reception of the Articles and the time of delivery, which, for the whole is to be in eight days after your application to them. The owners will bring their Grain and Cattle to this place, where the Grain is to be measured, and the Cattle estimated by any two of the Magistrates in conjunction with the Commissary (who will be sent you for the purpose*) and Certificates given by the Commissary specifying the quantity of each Article and the terms of payments. These are to be previously settled with the Owners who are to chuse whether they will receive the present Market price, which, if preferred, is to be inserted, or the market price at the time of payment. Immediately on receiving the answer of the Magistrates, you will send me word what it is. In case of refusal you will begin to impress till you make up the quantity required. This you will do with as much tenderness as possible to the Inhabitants, having regard to the stock of each individual, that no family may be deprived of the necessary subsistence. Milch Cows are not to be included in the impress. To enable you to execute the Business with more effect and less inconvenience you will call upon Colonels Ellis, Hugg and Morris and any other well affected active Men in the County and endeavor to engage their advice and assistance. Should you have occasion of a few Men to assist in the execution of the business you may call upon Major Lee for a small party of Dragoons. You are also authorised to impress Waggens for the transportation of the Grain. If the Magistrates undertake the Business, which I should infinitely prefer on every account, you will endeavor to prevail upon them to assign Mills for the reception and preparation of such Grain as the Commissary thinks will not be immediately useful in Camp. I have reposed this trust in you from a perfect confidence in your prudence, Zeal, and respect for the Rights of Citizens. While your measures are adapted to the emergency and you consult what you owe to the service, I am persuaded you will not forget that as we are compelled by necessity to take the property of Citizens for the support of an Army on which their safety depends, we should be careful to manifest that we have a reverence for their Rights, and wish not to do any thing which that necessity and even their own good do not absolutely require. *Saml. Hugg or Israel Morris near Gloucester"
Folds are weakened with points of separation at the intersections resulting in very minor loss of paper. Some light fading of the text (which remains legible) along some of the folds. Areas of slight waterstaining in the form of small spots in places and more prominently at the lower edges. Matted with two engraved portraits of Washington and framed (with both sides of the letter still visible) to an overall size of 23.75" x 30.25".
A version of this letter, addressed to Lt. Col. William de Hart, is found in The Writings of Washington, Volume 17, Oct. 1779-Feb. 1780, pages 360-362. The letter offered here differs slightly from the letter found in The Writings with regard to location, amount of food provided, commissary agents, etc.
The prospect of mutiny ran high throughout the bitterly cold months. With the passing of winter and the dawning of spring, hopes were high that food would become more readily available, but sadly, the opposite was the case. By mid-May, the shipment of meat had all but ceased (due in part to human error). Men on the front line in Connecticut all but abandoned their posts and were forced to remain at the point of the bayonet. The fate of the Revolution held in the balance. Two days later, however, a shipment of pork arrived with thirty head of cattle. The crisis had been averted, at least for the time being.
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