Item Details

George Washington signed letter

Morristown, NJ (military Head Quarters): 11 Feb. 1779.

GEORGE WASHINGTON. Letter Signed as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army to Brigadier General James Clinton, Head Quarters [Middlebrook, NJ], 11 February 1779. 1 p., 13½" x 8¼". A fine Revolutionary War letter concerned with two matters of highest importance to Washington at this date – an expedition against the Iroquois and recruitment for the Continental Army. Based in western New York, the powerful Iroquois were aligned with the British during the American Revolution, and they joined Loyalist forces in periodic raids along the Pennsylvania-New York frontier. Two such attacks, the Wyoming Valley and Cherry Valley massacres of July and November 1778, heightened a long-standing demand for retaliation and for protection of the frontier, and by mid-January 1779, Washington had decided to send an expedition to try to end the Iroquois threat. He spent weeks planning the enterprise, which eventually called for a column led by General James Clinton to head south from the Mohawk River valley and link up with a larger force led by General John Sullivan coming north from Easton, Pennsylvania. Together, these troops were to move towards Fort Niagara, laying waste to Iroquois settlements along the way. Washington wrote this letter to General Clinton while still formulating his plans for the expedition. The brother of New York Governor George Clinton, James Clinton had joined the Continental army in June 1775, becoming a brigadier general the next year, and at this date, he was stationed in Albany. In a letter of January 25, 1779, Washington had instructed Clinton to protect settlements in the Mohawk Valley that were important for keeping open a line of communication between Fort Stanwix, at the western end of the valley, and Schenectady, an important depot for arms and supplies, to the east. Here, Washington more forcefully reiterates that order because of the potential importance Fort Stanwix was assuming in his planning for the expedition against the Six Nations. "Upon a further consideration of the subject of my letter of the 25th ult[im]o," Washington states, "it appears to me of the utmost importance to secure a communication between Fort Schuyler [Fort Stanwix] and Schenectady - in case any expedition should be formed. You will therefore regard this as your primary object - and make the best dispositions relatively to it, that your force and the nature of the Country will allow." Washington's urgency about this matter is explained in his letter to General Philip Schuyler, written the same day. There, Washington noted that he was considering three different approaches on the Iroquois settlements from the north; in two of these, Fort Stanwix played a critical role. Located in what is now Rome, New York, Fort Stanwix had been built during the French and Indian War. Repaired and strengthened by the Americans in 1776-77, it was the site of an important American victory over British troops in August 1777. The Americans renamed the place Fort Schuyler and, like Washington in this letter, often used that name during the Revolution. However, to distinguish this fort from several other Fort Schuylers, historians have generally used its original name of Fort Stanwix. Washington concludes this letter to Clinton by referring to another matter high on his agenda – strengthening the Continental army. "Inclosed is an extract of General Orders for reinlisting Soldiers who are not engaged to serve during the war – which you will have executed without loss of time," he instructs. To maintain his forces, Washington wanted to reenlist all soldiers who had limited terms of service so they would remain in the army for the duration of the war. Late in January, he won approval from the Continental Congress to offer monetary bounties for this purpose, and he issued General Orders on February 7 which spelled out the details of the offer and how it was to be implemented. It was an extract from these orders that he forwarded with this letter. In March, Washington appointed John Sullivan as head of the overall expedition against the Iroquois, and by the end of May, he had finalized his orders for it, giving very explicit instructions for the devastation of Iroquois settlements. Although the expedition got underway slowly, Clinton's column destroyed several Indian towns on its way to meet with Sullivan's forces. Their combined troops defeated Indians and Loyalists in a battle at Newtown, New York, on August 29, and the Americans then swept through western New York, burning and completely destroying all Iroquois towns, crops, fields, and orchards in their path before the expedition ended in late September. The text of this letter is in the hand of John Laurens, who served as an aide-de-camp to Washington from 1777 to 1779. The son of South Carolina patriot and Continental Congress President Henry Laurens, John Laurens fought ably in many important Revolutionary battles; he was killed at the age of 27 in a late action of the war in South Carolina in 1782. The letter is in excellent condition, fine and clean, with a large, clear Washington signature. The letter is published in Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of George Washington, vol. 14, p. 98; for related information, see also vol. 13, pp. 485-6, and vol. 14, pp. 3-12, 43-4, 71-2, 94-8." vg.

ISBN: none

[Item #ATG00038]

Price: $65,000.00
See all items by
See all items in Historical Documents and Autographs