WASHINGTON, George. Letter signed ("Go:Washington") as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, to John McKinley, "the Honble. President of the State of Delaware," text in the hand of Washington's aide, Robert Hanson Harrison, Head Quarters, [White Marsh, Pennsylvania], 8 November 1777. 2 pages, folio (13 1/8 x 8 in.), integral blank, recipient's docket, center fold reinforced, small marginal repairs, otherwise in very good condition, with a very bold signature.
PREPARATIONS FOR VALLEY FORGE: THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF PLEADS FOR DESPERATELY NEEDED CLOTHING, SHOES AND BLANKETS: "THE DISTRESS OF THE ARMY...IS GREAT"
An eloquent, measured, but forceful letter explaining the dire distress of the Continental army and urging that the state and its citizens collect--by force if necessary--the necessary supplies to sustain the Army through the approaching winter. From his headquarters at White Marsh, where the army had remained for the past several months, prior to moving to its winter campsite at Valley Forge, Washington writes: "The approaching season and the scanty Supplies of cloathing in public store, have induced me to send Lt. Col. [Charles] Pope to procure, if possible, a suitable Quantity for the Troops of your state. The distress of the Army in this instance, is great, and will daily increase, if some relief is not obtained. I do not know, whether your State may have turned its attention to this Object, or what provision it may have made. If it has and there are Supplies on hand, it will be a happy circumstance, but if not, I must intreat the earliest interposition of your aid, that a sufficient collection may be made."
"Besides the necessaries, which I hope will be derived from the State, I have instructed Col. Pope to obtain all he possibly can by purchase from the Inhabitants and Individuals, in which, I trust, he will have your countenance and every assistance. I need not detail our Wants; they are general, and extend to every species of cloathing and to Blankets, but to the latter, and to Shoes and Stockings, in a peculiar manner. I assure you, Sir, these requisitions of mine are not the result of Choice but of the most urgent necessity...Col. Pope is acquainted with the condition of the Troops, and will explain it. As the circumstances of your State, in point of Manufactures, are equal to any and far superior to those of most of the Thirteen, I flatter myself, that the supplies from thence will be ample for their soldiery, and that they will in some measure exceed for the benefit of the Army in general. Those who are able and attached to the cause, ought to contribute from motives of generosity and a regard to the service; And such as are disaffected, should be compelled. The latter is authorized by Congress and in a few instances the power has been exercised..."
McKinley, Delaware's Governor, was at this date a prisoner of war; George Read, the Vice-President, was acting executive. Washington made similar pleas for assistance to the Board of War and to Congress itself, but in the end, little aid was forthcoming. Despite the veiled threat at the end of the present letter, Washington remained extremely reluctant to resort to the forcible seizure of supplies from the civilian population, and when his tattered army arrived at Valley Forge in early December, the shortages facing the army embraced not just clothing, shoes and blankets, but food, forage and even medical supplies.
Published (from the the Letterbook transcript) in Writings, ed. J.C. Fitzpatrick, 10:20-21.