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Lot 189: Washington, George. Letter signed as Commander of the Continental Army, 2 February 1777.

Historical Auction 84

by Profiles in History

April 18, 2016

Calabasas, CA, USA

Live Auction
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  • Washington, George.  Letter signed as Commander of the Continental Army, 2 February 1777.
  • Washington, George.  Letter signed as Commander of the Continental Army, 2 February 1777.
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Description:

189. Washington, George. Letter signed (“Go: Washington) as Commander of the Continental Army, 2 pages (8.25 x 13 in.; 210 x 330 mm.), front and back, Morris Town, 2 February 1777, written to Nicholas Cooke, the first Continental governor of the state of Rhode Island. Professionally reinforced in areas at folds on verso; otherwise, in fine condition.

Fortifying the depleted ranks of the Continental Army in the winter of 1777, Gen. Washington has strong words for the governor of Rhode Island, who has resorted to bribery fill his quota of enlistments:

“I do not know in what light the Adoption of these Measures may appear to your State; To me [they] appear to be fraught with every Evil, manifestly injurious to the Common Cause, and an indirect Breach of the Union. My duty therefore as Commander in Chief of the Armies of the United States compels me (however disagreeable the task) to remonstrate against such mode of proceeding…”

Washington writes in full:
Sir, In a Letter which I did myself the honor of writing to you on the 20th Ulto. I could not help expressing my Sentiments of the Impropriety (as it appeared to me) of raising Troops on a Colonial Establishment, and thereby setting up a kind of separate Interest, before your Quota of the Continental Army, was completed. At the time of my writing that Letter, I was unacquainted with the terms on which these Colonial Regiments were to be raised. I little thought that the pay of these Men was to be greater than of those in the Continental Service. I foresaw indeed Inconveniences enough without this, but the banefull Influence of advanced Pay and Bounty already begins to Shew itself in numberless Instances, and the poisonous Effects of them have reached this Army. I do not know in what light the Adoption of these Measures may appear to your State; To me, the Contradistinctions which they are setting up, appear to be fraught with every Evil, manifestly injurious to the Common Cause, and an indirect Breach of the Union. My duty therefore as Commander in Chief of the Armies of the United States compels me (however disagreeable the task) to remonstrate against such mode of proceeding (unless coercive measures are used to bring forth your quota of Continental Troops) and to add, that if the defence of any particular State is the governing Object of its Policy, it can be no Recommendation to me, or Inducement to Congress to bestow any extraordinary attention to the defence of Such State.
You will do me the Justice to perceive, Sir, that I am grounding my Complaint upon an Information That this Continental and Colonial Officers are recruiting in discriminately; The first at Forty Shillings, the other at Three pounds per Month; the former for hard and dangerous Service, far distant from home perhaps, the latter for easy and Secure duty at, or near, their firesides. If my Information is wrong, and you are pursuing coercive or vigorous measures to complete the Continental Regiments required of your state in a Short time, my Remonstrance drops of Course, and I have to ask your pardon for the trouble I have given you; If right, the Error of the Policy is too obvious to need further animadversion upon it; Sufficient it is to me, to warm you of the Danger, and urge the Completion of the Regiments for Continental Service. The United States have a just Claim upon you for these Men, and will have but too good Cause to complain if they are deprived of them by your attempts to raise others. The Importance of the Subject will apologize for the Freedom & Candour of my Sentiment, especially when I assure you that with very great Esteem and Regard I have the Honour to be, Sir, Yr. Most obed. Hble Serv., Go: Washington”

Washington’s stunning victories at Trenton and Princeton in late December, 1776 had turned the tide of popular opinion in favor of the Revolution, and significantly raised morale within the ranks. Perhaps more importantly, the victories proved to Washington that his ragged Army could indeed fight against the best-trained professionals, and he spent the winter at Morristown ruminating over these new lessons learned while trying to fill his thinning ranks. Given that most Continental enlistments were set to expire on 31 December 1776, Congress authorized a new round of recruiting in the fall of 1776 based on the population of each individual state. The new enlistment period was set at three years, a compromise between indefinite terms of service as preferred by some, and the standard one-year enlistment under which the army had previously been organized. Governors of each state were responsible for fulfilling their quota of recruits, and sending them immediately to Ticonderoga, Morristown, or Boston (along with other regional headquarters in South Carolina and Georgia). In a clever recruiting tool, Rhode Island, along with many other states, had promised to supplement the pay of its enlisted men. Washington strongly opposed this trend, warning that in the long run it would unbalance recruiting and foster jealously. Congress agreed to forbid the practice on 12 November but some states continued to offer incentives. Rhode Island also attempted to entice recruits with promises of duty stations close to home – an attractive alternative, as many able bodied men were justifiably fearful of leaving their families and property with the threat of English Regulars roving the countryside. Such “home service” was embodied in a brigade of Rhode Island state troops then being formed. Though this effort conflicted with the work of Continental recruiters, the brigade later helped to contain the British forces in Newport. An excellent letter from Washington, written during the winter of 1777 as he reorganized the Continental Army into the flexible force that would march on to victory some four years later at Yorktown. $35,000 - $50,000

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