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General George Washington’s Life Guard Wants Beer, and Washington Wants Information on Supplies for Upcoming Expedition
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[GEORGE WASHINGTON; SULLIVAN’S EXPEDITION]. ROYAL FLINT. Autograph Letter Signed, to Messrs. Chaloner & White, May 3, 1779, Camp Raritan, New Jersey. 2 pp. plus integral address leaf, 7¾ x 12¼ in.

Inventory #24858       Price: $2,200

Complete Transcript

                                     Camp Rariton

                                     May 3, 1779

Gentlemen

            Major Gibbs[1] desires you would send a waggon load of good beer to Head Quarters as soon as you can. The limes[2] & port wine were very acceptable. I have received your favor (without date) that accompanied them.

            My situation here is, at this time, peculiarly disagreeable. The General [George Washington] thinks I have been negligent in getting information. He expresses great uneasiness & has ordered the Comisary General at camp to know why there is not more frequent & correct advice respecting the state of his department. I have no disposition to complain, but I leave you to judge what must be my feelings to be supposed not to attend to my duty. The intelligence I receive from you is ten times more than all the rest I get; and I am so unwilling to confess my ignorance that I have frequently made out estimates at a venture. <2>

            I sincerely wish that you would mention to Colo Blaine[3] the evil consequences of his witholding information so long from me. I make no doubt he has done all in his power to get ready the supplies on Susquehannah, and believe his exertions w[ill] be equal to the purpose. But what [?] induce him to keep us so long in s[uspense?] when he was so earnestly requested [to] advise us from time to time of his success, is out of my power to determine. I hope you will be able to dispatch an express with immediate advice on the subject of the western magazines—order the express to make no delay.

                                                                        I am gentn / in great haste

                                                                        your most obt srvt

                                                                        R Flint

Mes Chaloner & White

<3><4>

[Address:]                                                       Public service

                        Messrs Chaloner & White

                        A C Purchases[4]

Express.           Philadelphia

[Docketing:]

Camp Rariton May 3d 1779

Royal Flint Esqr

To Chaloner & White

Historical Background

Major Caleb Gibbs was the commandant of a group of approximately 180 men in the “Life Guards,” an elite unit whose mission it was to protect General George Washington and the Continental Army’s cash and official papers. An early assassination plot by a group of New York Tories implicated Sergeant Thomas Hickey of the Life Guards, who was arrested, tried by court martial, convicted, and executed. In June 1776, Hickey was the first member of the Continental Army executed following a court martial. In this letter, Flint forwards Gibbs’ request for a wagon-load of good beer, undoubtedly for the Life Guards.

In June 1777, the Continental Congress had divided the commissary department into two departments—purchasing and issuing. The purchasing department was responsible for acquiring provisions, which they delivered to issuing commissaries for salting, packing, storing, and issuing.

As early as February 1779, General Washington had begun to plan an expedition against the British-allied Native Americans in New York. On April 20, 1779, Washington wrote to Commissary General of Purchases Jeremiah Wadsworth (1743-1804) or his assistant Royal Flint to increase the number of men he expected to need provisions on the Susquehanna River from 3,000 to 4,500. Washington continued, “I am exceedingly anxious to know what forwardness the Susquehannah Magazines are in, and if you have not lately received Returns from thence, I must desire you to send an Express immediately, who may carry this additional order, and bring back the Return of what is actually deposited upon the River, and what will certainly be there by the stipulated time....”[5]

Flint had asked Washington for some time away from camp to settle his accounts with the state of Connecticut from his previous service as paymaster for a Connecticut regiment. He explained to the General that he had engaged John Chaloner, one of the Assistant Commissaries of Purchases, “to reside here during my absence.” Chaloner’s “long experience in public business & great assiduity to whatever he undertakes,” Flint assured Washington, “will render him fully capable of performing any service my duty requires.” On April 20, Flint informed Washington that “on whatever services, troops are employed, they may be fully supplied with meat” but offered a more complex report regarding flour. Flint reported that “Colo. Blaine, the Deputy in the middle district, has been carefully examining the extent of his different resources, and will speedily advise me of his success. As we were not free from doubts, of affording a sufficiency of flour, representations of the matter were seasonably made to Congress.... they are not uninformed of our wants and apprehensions.”[6]

On April 24, Flint again wrote to Washington with an update and extracts from recent letters he had received. One extract from a letter from Chaloner and White read, “We have wrote Colo. Blaine of your anxiety to know his success and doubt not his writing you on that subject. We do not think the prospect of flour so gloomy as has been heretofore; nor do we profess to be over sanguine in procuring abundance, but with industry & care we doubt not a sufficiency may be obtained to support us untill the next crop comes in.” A few days later, Flint wrote, possibly to Washington’s assistant secretary James McHenry, “I had accounts yesterday from Phila. that Colo. Blaine was then about the Susquehannah—As he went there for the express purpose of getting ready the magazines of provisions ordered by his Excellency, it may be presumed, he will not fail. His silence respecting the affair is a strong circumstance that he will accomplish his orders; for if he neither effects that business nor gives seasonable notice of his failure he certainly must be answerable for consequences. Advice will come from him to camp by Express the middle of this week.”[7] A week later, Flint still had not heard from Blaine and expresses his frustrations in this letter.

Although he had not heard from Blaine directly, Flint advised Washington on April 30: “By some accounts, just received from Philadelphia, I find the Purchasers have lately had good success, in procuring flour. My apprehensions of falling short in that article are fully removed. I make no doubt, the several armies may be comfortably subsisted, through the campaigne.”[8]

By May 5, Flint had finally heard from Blaine and informed Washington, “On inspecting the inclosed account, it appears, that some part of the flour, which that specifies, was not lodged on the Susquehannah, when the return was made out. By a letter from Colo. Blaine, which accompanied it, I find that those provisions mentioned, as being at York, Frederick & Cumberland counties, are collecting at Harris’s ferry [Harrisburg]; and those in the upper part of Lancaster county, at Middleton [Middletown]; and that they will be all compleat by the 12th instant. Colo. Blaine has promised to be at camp next week; he will give General Sullivan a more particular description of the several deposits; and take directions for making up any deficiencies or correcting any errors, which may then be discovered.” The expedition needed the supplies at Wyoming, more than 120 miles upriver.[9]

On May 23, 1779, Deputy Quarter Master General and Assistant Commissary of Purchases Robert L. Hooper Jr. in Easton, Pennsylvania, told Charles Stewart, the Commissary General of Issues, that “Colo: Blain & his assistants I am well assured exert them selves on every occasion in the discharge of their duty....”[10]

From June 18 to October 3, 1779, Major General John Sullivan and Brigadier General James Clinton led an expedition, ordered and organized by Washington, against Tories and members of the Iroquois Confederacy who sided with the British (most Mohawks, Cayugas, Onondagas, and Senecas). Washington ordered Sullivan and three brigades to march west from Easton, Pennsylvania, to the Susquehanna River in the central part of the state, where they would follow the river upstream into New York. Meanwhile, Clinton moved westward from Schenectady, New York, to Otsego Lake. When Sullivan sent orders in early August, Clinton moved down the Susquehanna destroying any enemy Iroquois villages he encountered. With the armies united at the confluence of the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers by late August, they marched into central western New York, where they had only one major battle, at Newtown, which was a complete Continental Army victory. The expedition as a whole destroyed more than forty Iroquois villages with their stores of winter crops, and forced more than 5,000 Iroquois to seek refuge among the British in Canada. Washington had hoped the expedition might seize Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario, but lacking heavy artillery and supplies, Sullivan and Clinton turned back some seventy miles southeast of the fort and returned to winter camp in New Jersey.

Royal Flint (1754-1797) was born in Windham, Connecticut, the son of a prosperous merchant, and graduated from Yale College in 1773. Early in 1776, Flint was manufacturing saltpeter at Wethersfield and in July was commissioned a paymaster of a Connecticut regiment in the Continental Army. In May 1777, Flint was made Assistant Commissary of Supplies for the Connecticut troops, and a year later commissioned by Congress as Assistant Commissary General of Purchases for the entire army. Flint resigned from that post in February 1780, shortly after Commissary General Jeremiah Wadsworth resigned. After the war, he was U.S. Commissioner for settling the Continental accounts of the Eastern States from 1786 to 1789 and lived in Boston. He then pursued a mercantile career in New York City but failed in April 1792, in part because of the failure in 1790 of the Scioto Land Company, which had purchased land in the Northwest Territory. Flint moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he died in October 1797.

John Chaloner (1748-1793) was born in Rhode Island and became a Philadelphia merchant and auctioneer. Commissary General Jeremiah Wadsworth appointed Chaloner as Assistant Commissary in June 1778 to take possession of any provisions the British left behind when they evacuated Philadelphia. He and James White were assistants to Colonel Ephraim Blaine, the Deputy Commissary for the Middle Department, and many of the responsibilities for supplying Washington’s army while in the Philadelphia area fell upon them. After the war, Chaloner had a business partnership with Charles White and also handled the Philadelphia accounts of Englishman John B. Church, Alexander Hamilton’s brother-in-law.

James White (1749-1809) attended school in France before studying medicine at the College and Academy of Philadelphia (now University of Pennsylvania). He was a merchant in Philadelphia before moving to North Carolina in 1775. He served in three North Carolina provincial congresses between August 1775 and November 1776. During the war, he and John Chaloner were assistants to Colonel Ephraim Blaine, the Deputy Commissary for the Middle Department. Many of the responsibilities for supplying Washington’s army while in the Philadelphia area fell upon them. White was required to live near the Continental Congress, from which he could obtain and dispense funds for the department. After the war, White served in the North Carolina General Assembly and represented North Carolina in the Continental Congress (1786-1788). He represented Tennessee in Congress as a territory (1794-1796), then moved to Louisiana in 1799, where he served as a judge.

Condition

Overall very good; several areas of paper loss (affecting five or so words on page 2) professionally infilled.


[1] Caleb Gibbs (1748-1818) of Massachusetts became captain of the commander in chief’s guard in March 1776, and Congress promoted him to major in July 1778.

[2] Washington’s Headquarters would have used limes both as a good source of Vitamin C to prevent diseases such as scurvy, and as an “ink” to send secret messages. When heat was applied to a document, fibers weakened by acidic liquids such as lime juice browned faster than nearby fibers, making the message visible.

[3] Ephraim Blaine (1741-1804) was a member of the Carlisle committee of correspondence in 1774 and had served as commissary for a Pennsylvania regiment during the French and Indian War. He was appointed Deputy Commissary General of Purchases for the Middle Department on August 6, 1777, and in December 1779 promoted to Commissary General of Purchases.

[4] Assistant Commissaries of Purchases.

[10] Robert L. Hooper Jr. to Charles Stewart, May 23, 1779, Marion Brophy et al., eds., “Supplies for General Sullivan: The Correspondence of Colonel Charles Stewart, May-September 1779,” New York History 60 (July 1979): 261.


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