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French and Indian War

George Washington to John Robinson, Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, August 5, 1756

extracted from

The Writings of George Washington, Volume II, by Jared Sparks
(Boston: Charles Tappan, 1846), pages 171-178


To John Robinson, Speaker and Treasurer.
Winchester, 5 August, 1756.

Sir,

Fort Cumberland at present contains all our provisions and valuable stores, and is not capable of an hour’s defence, if the enemy were only to bring a single half-pounder against it; which they might do with great ease on horseback. Besides, it lies so remote from this place, as well as from the neighbouring inhabitants, that it requires as much force to keep the communication open to it, as a fort at the Meadows would do, and employs one hundred and fifty men, who are a dead charge to the country, as they can be of no other use than just to protect and guard the stores, which might as well be lodged at Cox’s Fort; indeed better, for they would then be more contiguous to this place, to the inhabitants, and to the enemy, and more serviceable, if we should ever carry an expedition over the mountains, by opening a road where the Indians have blazed. A strong garrison there would not only protect the stores, but also the few remaining inhabitants on the Branch, and at the same time waylay and annoy the enemy, as the pass and repass the mountains. Whereas, the forces at Fort Cumberland, lying in a corner quite remote from the inhabited parts, to which the Indians always repair to commit their murders, can have no intelligence of any thing that is doing, but remain in total ignorance of all transactions. When I was down, I applied to the Governor for his particular and positive directions in this affair. The following is an exact copy of his answer. – “Fort Cumberland is a King’s fort, and built chiefly at the charge of the colony, therefore properly under our direction, until a governor is appointed.” Now whether I am to understand this ay or no, to the plain, simple question asked, - “Is the fort to be continued or removed?” – I know not. But in all important matters, I am directed in this ambiguous and uncertain way.

Great and inconceivable difficulties arise in the execution of my commands, as well as infinite loss and disrepute to the service, by my not having power to pay for deserters. I would, therefore, humbly recommend it to the consideration of the Committee, whether it would not be more for the interest of the country, were I allowed to pay these demands, rather than have them levied in the public claims. Many of our deserters are apprehended in Maryland, and some in Pennsylvania, and, for the sake of the reward, are brought hither. But since they, who apprehend them, are to receive certificates only, that they are entitled to two hundred pounds of tobacco, and those certificates are to be presented to a court of claims, there to lie perhaps till they are quite forgotten, so much dissatisfaction is created, that many, I believe, rather than apprehend one, would aid fifty to escape, and this, too, among our own people.

Another thing, which I should be glad to know, is, whether the act of Assembly prohibits the whole forces, or only the drafts, from marching out of Virginia, and whether it is contrary to law, even to take the drafts out, provided it is done with their own consent. If we cannot take any of the forces out of the colony, the disadvantages, which the country may labor under, are not to be described; for the enemy, in that case, may commit the most unheard-of-cruelties, and, by stepping across the Potomac, evade pursuit, and mock our best endeavours to scourge them.

The inconveniences that arise from paying the soldiers in large bills, are not to be conceived. We are obliged to give the pay of two or three soldiers to one man. He, ten to one, drinks, games, or pays it away; by which means the parties are all dissatisfied, and perpetually complaining for want of their pay. It also prevents them from laying out their pay for absolute necessaries, and obliges them many times to drink it out; for they put it into the tavern-keeper’s hands, who will give no change, unless they will consent to receive the greatest part liquor. In short, for five shillings cash you may at any time purchase a month’s pay from the soldiers; in such contempt do they hold the currency. Besides small bills, if the thing is practicable, I should be extremely glad to receive some part of the money in Spanish and Portugal gold and silver. Many things are wanted for the use of the regiment, which cannot be had here, and may be obtained at Philadelphia; but the depreciation of our money, out of the colony, has prevented my sending thither.

At the repeated instances of the soldiers, I must pay so much regard to their representations, as to transmit their complaints. They think it extremely hard, as it is indeed, Sir, that they, who perhaps do more duty, and undergo more fatigue and hardship, from the nature of the service and situation of the country, than any other troops on the continent, should be allowed the least pay, and smallest encouragements in other respects. The Carolinians receive British pay; the Marylanders, I believe, the same; Pennsylvania is exorbitant in rewarding her soldiers; as to the Jerseys and New York, I am not informed; but the New England governments give more than a shilling per day, our money, besides an allowance of rum, pease, tobacco, vinegar, ginger, and the like.

Our soldiers complain, that their pay is insufficient, even to furnish shoes, shirts, and stockings, which their officers, in order to keep them fit for duty, oblige them to provide. This, they say, deprives them of the means of purchasing any of the conveniences or necessaries of life, and compels them to drag through a disagreeable service, in the most disagreeable manner. That their pay will not afford more than enough to keep them in clothes, I should be convinced for these reasons, if experience had not taught me. The British soldiers are allowed eight pence sterling per day, with many necessaries that ours are not, and can buy what is requisite upon the cheapest terms; and they lie one half the year in camp, or garrison, when they cannot consume the fifth part of what ours do in continual marches over mountains, rocks and rivers. Then Sir, is it possible that our men, who receive a fourth less, have two pence per day stopped for their regimental clothing, and all other stoppages made that British soldiers have, and are obliged, by being in continual action, to lay in triple the quantity of ammunition and clothes, and at double the price, should be able to clear themselves? It is not to be done, and this is the reason why the men have always been so bare of clothes.

And I dare say you will be candid enough to allow, that few men would choose to have their lives exposed to the incessant insults of a merciless enemy, without some view or hope of a reward. Another thing gives them great uneasiness, and that is, seeing to regular provision made for the maimed and wounded. They acknowledge the generosity of the Assembly, and have the highest veneration for that respectable House; they look with gratitude on the care, which has been taken of their brother soldiers; but they say, this is only an act of will, and another Assembly may be much less liberal. They have no certainty, that his generosity will continue, and consequently can have nothing in view but the most gloomy prospects, and no encouragement to be bold and active; for as soon as they become unfit for service by their wounds, they may be discharged, and turned upon on uncharitable world to beg, steal, or starve. In short, they have a true sense of all that can happen, and do not think slightly of the fatigues they encounter, in scouring these mountains with their provisions on their backs, lying out and watching for the enemy, with no other covering to shelter them from the inclemency of the weather, than the trees and rocks. The old soldiers are affected, and complain of their hardships and little encouragement in piteous term; and they give these as reasons for so much desertion. The money expended in paying for deserters, expresses, horse-hire, losses and abuse of horses, would go a great length towards advancing their pay, which I hope would contribute not a little to remove the cause of this expense.

I would not have it understood, however, that I mean to recommend any thing extraordinary; no, I would give them British pay, and allow them the same privileges during their stay in the service, and this as a reward or compliment for their toil, rather than a matter of right. Were the country to give them one suit of regimental clothes a year, without receiving the two pence stoppage, it would be a full allowance, and cause great content and satisfaction. All they want is to be entitled to the privileges and immunities of soldiers, of which they are well informed, by some who have been a number of years in the army. They would then think it no hardship to be subject to the punishments and fatigues. Were this done, and an order given by the Committee empowering me to provide for them, according to the rules and customs of the army, I then should know what I am about. I could do it without hesitation or fear, and, I am convinced, to the satisfaction and interest of the country. As the case now stands, we are upon such an odd establishment, under such uncertain regulations, and subject to so much inconvenience, that I am wondering in a wilderness of difficulties, and am ignorant of the ways to extricate myself, and to act for the satisfaction of the country, the soldiers, or myself. Having no certain rules for the direction of my conduct, I am afraid to turn to this hand or to that, lest it should be censored. If such an order, as I before spoke of, were to issue from your Board, I would then immediately provide upon the best terms a quantity of all kinds of ammunition and clothes for the use of the regiment, and deliver them out to each company, as their wants required, taking care to deduct the value of all such things from their pay. By these means the soldiers would be always provided and fit for duty, and would do it cheerfully, and the country sustain no other loss, than advancing the money for a few months to lay in those stores, as this money would always be restored by the soldiers again.

I have hitherto been afraid to advance any sums of money for this salutary purpose, and have always bought the articles at extravagant prices, and been obliged to send to different parts, ere they could be had, which has also contributed to cause of nakedness of the soldiers. The officers are almost as uneasy and dispirited as the men, doing every part of duty with languor and indifference. When ordered to provide themselves with suitable necessaries, they complain of an uncertain establishment, and the probability of being disbanded, and the things rendered useless. So that I really and most heartily wish for a change. The surgeon has entreated me to mention, his case, which I shall do by enclosing his letters. He has behaved extremely well, and discharged his duty, in every capacity, since he came to the regiment. He has long discovered an inclination to quit the service, the encouragement being so small; and I believe he would have done it, had not the officers, to show their regard and willingness to detain him, subscribed each one day’s pay in every month. This, as they are likely to be so much dispersed, and can receive no benefit from him, they intend to withdraw, and therefore he begs me to solicit the gentlemen of the Committee in his behalf; otherwise he will be obliged to seek some other method of getting his livelihood.

I beg, Sir, with very great earnestness, that the gentlemen of the Committee will communicate their sentiments fully upon all these several matters, and approve or disapprove every thing therein. I only wish to know their intention, and then to act in strict conformity with it.

If the Committee find my account satisfactory and distinct, as I have no doubt they will, it would be conferring a great obligation, if they would make a final settlement to that date, and begin a new account, as it would be the means of keeping matters more clear and intelligible hereafter. Long accounts, and reference to doubtful points, instead of gaining any light, are but darkened and confused by procrastination. The late regulation of our companies will occasion more regularity in the paymaster’s account, and be more satisfactory in every shape, for the future. Besides, the gentlemen of the Committee will find little trouble, of difficulty, in looking over a short account, kept in a regular method, plain and perspicuous, which is the very life of business.

I would again entreat your regard to my request, for these and many other reasons.

I am, dear Sir, your, &c.


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