Maj. Gen. Joseph Spencer

The letter of General Joseph Spencer to President George Washington and the Continental Congress.

Dated: Providence Dec 20th 1777


Permit me to Lay before Your Honor, & the Honorable Congress a further Account of the difficulties, that have attended the support of this Army, and that still subsist here relative thereto — when I Arrived here the 1st of January last, and untill some time in August, there was in this State A Regulating Act, fixing the prices of the Articles Necessary to support the Army and while that Act continued in force, my Quarter Master was enabled by this State to take by impress such Articles as was Necessary for the subsistance of the Army, provided he could not obtain them by purchase at the stated prices: when I was informed that, that Act was Repealed on the 25th of August I made application to the Council of War, to know what provision was, or would be made by the State for the Supply of the Army, (as the Regulating Act was Repealed) in case the Necessary Articles could not be obtained by purchase at a reasonable rate, and not Receiving any Written Answer for some time, on the 12th of September I wrote again on the same subject, to the Council of War, a Copy of which I enclose, and on the 15th recd the Council’s Answer a Copy of which I also enclose, by this Resolve of Council, my right to supply the Army with Necessaries by impress, giving the Owners a Reasonable price for the Articles taken seemed to be granted, provided I could not obtain them by purchase, but then the very difficult and important question, what was a reasonable price was left solely to me to decide, in this Situation I thought it would be the most prudent and safe way for me to Instruct my Quarter Master, to purchase what he could at the prices we had formerly given, and what he could not obtain at that price he must take by Impress, paying at the present what was formerly allowed, with Assurance to the Owners, that a Representation of the matter should be made to Congress, and that on hearing the case Your Honors would doubtless allow what was Just and right; on these terms the Quarter Master supplyed the Army untill the beginning of November altho: not without some Complaint amongst the people; Then the Council of War Mannifested their unwillingness to have the Army Supply’d in any other way, than giving the Common prices to the Owners for them, and were desirous that I should take it on myself to supply the Army in that way, and run the risk of the approbation of the Accounts, which I declined to undertake, without some aid and Assistance from them, as it appeared to me that it was very uncertain, wheather we could long obtain Necessary Articles for any sum of Bills, as the contempt of them was daily increasing, and also I apprehended it was too dangerous a Matter for me to Risk the settlements and approbation of such Exorbitant accounts, as I must have to settle, if I supply’d in that way; The Council then by their Resolve of the last of October Ordered that I should be requested to give Orders for purchasing such Necessary Articles as the Army in this State required, at the most reasonable prices, at which they could be procured, and if their should be any deduction made in the settlement of those Accounts, the sd State would pay what was deducted; since which the Quarter Master has supplyed agreeable to the direction of said Resolve; The Quarter Master has given a list of the prices of a few of the principle Articles at which they have been procured since October, and also of the price they ware set at in the State Bill or regulating Act. which I enclose. Your Honors from This Representation will please to direct what further Allowance shall be given for the Articles recd for the Use of the Army, on the Conditions above Mentioned from the 15th of September to the last of October; the prices of the Articles procured for the support of the Army, being three or four times as much as they were untill the repeal of the Regulating Act, it now takes such enormous sums of Cash to supply a little Army, by reason of which and other disappointments, we are now reduced to Extreem want of Cash in this Army.

— When I rec’d the Resolve of Congress of the 18th July, directing me to apply to Mr Hancock D.y. Pay Master for Cash; I imedeately made Application to him Accordingly, but by reason of one Obstacle or another, I have never to this time been able to obtain from Mr Hancock for the Use of this Army but about Twenty Thousand Dollars, and none until the beginning of Nov., which was brought by Mr John Adams, Mr Hancocks Assistant, Mr Adams then informed me, that he would come again at any time that I should appoint, giving him a few days Notice, and that he expected soon a supply, of Cash, Mr Adams also desired me to give Orders to the several commanders of Regts to be ready with their pay Rolls at the time I set for him to come, and on the 16th of Nov. I wrote to Mr Adams to be at Providence the 9th of December for the purpose of paying the Troops and supplying the Army with Cash, I also directed the several commanders of Regiments to be ready with their Pay Abstracts, properly prepared to receive their pay as the pay Master would be here by that time, which preparation they Accordingly made, and several of them came twenty miles for the purpose of receiving their pay, and the very day Mr Adams was expected to pay the Troops, I recd to my very great and distressing disappointment, a Letter from him, dated the 4th Decr Informing that he had no Cash but what was needed at Boston, a Copy of which I enclose, since which I have Recd nothing further from the pay Master and I am at present put to Extreem difficulty for want of Cash, as the Treasury of this State from whence I used to borrow is exhausted, and I am informed their is no Cash to be had in either of the adjacent States, I have informed Mr Hancock that in my Oppinion he ought to let us have a part of the Cash he receives, if there is not Enough for the supply of the Troops at each Department; could I have had had a reasonable proportion of the Cash, Mr Hancock has rec’d it would have given considerable satisfaction, but to be totally Neglected ; unless there is more than is wanted for the Troops in and about Boston Affords us Just Matter of Complaint. — I Esteem it my duty as a Commander to give it as my opinion to your Honors for the safety of this State in particular and the United States in General, it is Necessary that this Army should be more carefully attended to ; there has been for a Year past a very Considerable Army of the Enemy in this State, the summer past, and untill the present time — By indisputable Accounts, the Enemy have been 3600 Strong, Besides the Tory Troops, and Marines belonging to the Ships in the Harbour, with which they are near 4,000; there is now (mostly Arrived within a few Days) twenty Ships and Sloops of War, and 9 or 10 of them of the Line, the Enemy doubtless design to keep Possession of the Island of Rhode Island while the Contest Continues; they can make a very Considerable Army, with their Land and sea force, and it will be a Wonder if they should continue very Long without laying some part of this Country Waste, it will not give us Security that they will not for the future destroy any part of the Country, because they have done so little Mischief the Year past, they have doubtless several times heretofore had it in Contemplation to make a descent on the Main, but have never put it in Execution, in any considerable degree, once they landed in North Kingston with a party of 2 or 300 Men, but were drove off, without doing much damage, and we have full Evidence that a considerable Number Embarked with a design to make a landing some where, but the place uncertain ; on the Night of the 16th of Octr but hearing by a Deserter from us that Night, that our Army designed a descent on the Island the same Night, they disembarked, the Evidence of this we had not only from Deserters and Prisoners, but found a Return of 390 of the 43rd Regiment that Embarked that Night on board the Ships, amongst the papers taken in the Syren Frigate, that run on shore at Point Judith. On the whole, I think prudence requires that an Army should constantly be kept up here for defence, of at least 4,000 Men, and this I understand has been the Opinion of a Committee of the New England States, that lately took the Matter in Consideration — the Army which has been here since may, in General Including Officers, and also the sick, on an Everage (without regard to those called in October for the designed Expedition), amounts to about 2400 Men, as will appear by the Monthly returns sent to the Hon’ble Board of War by this Express — There is in the Army here at present about 22,00 Men 8,00 of them from the state of Massachusetts — and from New Hampshire 260 — the times of the Massachusetts and & New Hampshires are out the first of Jan. — the rest of this Army are of this State — Connecticut have sent none here (except those for the design of making an attempt on Rhode Island) since last May: the calls on them from the Westward & Northward and for guards on their own shores have been so great — The state of the Massachusetts as I have been informed Design to send 15,00 men, but I fear they will not be here timely, to replace those whose times are soon out — This State have Ordered in one quarter part of their Militia: but it is Esteem’d and indeed is excessively hard upon them — They have paid their own Troops, Except about 500 from the beginning —

I beg to observe that from the above State of Facts, it Appears to me very Necessary for the support and Encouragement, of A Necessary Army for Defence to be kept up in this State — that a pay Master should be appointed to reside Constantly here: there would be a full Employ for one; and that he should be supplied by your Honors Orders with sufficient Quantities of Cash, for the support and pay of the Army — as it is of greater importance to have this Army Encouraged and supplyed, than one, more remote from the Enemy — Major Spencer who has served with me some time as Aid-De-Camp will Convey this — to whom I beg leave to refer your Honors for more perfect Intelligence with relation to Matters at this Post. — he has an extract of the doings of the Court of Enquiry mentioned in my last, relative to the failure of the expedition formed Against the Island of Rhode Island, by which I think it appears that it did not fail by reason of any Misconduct or want of zeal in me. —

Permit me after Making the above Representation to Acknowledge that the Difficulties attending the Command of this department, Requires a Commander of greater Abilities, and in the Bloom and Vigour of life: and that I Earnestly entreat your Honors that such a person may be Ordered to Relieve me, and that I may have the Opportunity to settle my Accounts Relative to my Command: and have your Honors leave to resign my Office. — Your Honors will please to inform wheather I am intitled to the Allowance of a Separate Command or not.

I have the Honor to be with all due Respect

Your Honors
Joseph Spencer

Hon’ble Congress

Letter from Gen Spencer
December 20, 1777 — read January 7, 1778
referred to the board of war

The remains and gravestones of Major-General Joseph Spencer and his wife, Hannah (Brown) Southmayd Spencer, were removed from the cemetery at Willington, near the place where he was born to the Nathan Hale Park, and placed beside this monument.