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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Benjamin Hawkins and Hugh Williamson to Alexander Martin
Hawkins, Benjamin, 1754-1816; Williamson, Hugh, 1735-1819
August 01, 1783
Volume 16, Pages 852-855

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Princeton, August 1st, 1783.


Our private Letters of the 24th of June, 5th, and 19th of July, with the enclosures will inform your Excellency pretty generally of the subject to which they relate. We shall now state the reasons which induced Congress to remove from Philadelphia to this place. The report of the Committee of Congress which is herewith enclosed states the general cause; but there are reasons not mentioned by the Committee which gave the meeting a very serious air. These we shall try to explain. From your general acquaintance with Civil History you must have observed that the cases are numerous in which armies have overturned the liberties of a nation whom they had been hired to defend. More than half of the Empires now on the face of the Earth have been formed, not like ours by the choice of the people, but by the swords of a mutinous or victorious Army. We had nothing to fear from the disposition of our Army, provided they could have been paid; but we believe there never was an instance of an army being kept together who were so ill paid as ours, much less of their being disbanded without pay. Congress have long viewed the present as a dreadful crisis which must prove truly alarming to the peace and liberties of our Country, unless effectual payment could be made to the troops. The conduct of some of the States put it out of our power to borrow money and we need not add, that the States have not enabled us by their own exertions to pay the army nor any other creditors. In the late address of Congress to the States you will see papers, by which you will observe, that a very dangerous flame was nearly kindled in the main Army. It was happily put out or covered by the exertions of our General, whose conduct on that occasion will furnish one of the brightest parts of his history. Congress however had much reason to believe that the flame was suppressed, not extinguished. In the barracks of Philadelphia there were two or three hundred soldiers

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of the Pennsylvania Line; they had been employed as guards to the British prisoners & some of these Troops had formerly been concerned in a mutiny; and it was unfortunate that they were too near a great Body of Citizens, many of whom were ill affected to the American Government and many of them being public creditors hardly conducted towards Congress because the Interest of the Certificates was not paid lately as usual. Matters were circumstanced in this manner when Congress resolved to grant furloughs to the war-men, or troops enlisted for the War who had been equally clamorous about discharges and pay. Of the Maryland line few of whom are natives of America, near two hundred arrived at the barracks of Philadelphia from head quarters on their way home on the 12th of June; On the next Day a paper was handed to Congress signed by persons styling themselves a board of Serjeants making certain demands with which Congress could not possibly comply, expressly declaring that they would no longer be fed by promises and requiring an answer before night. Congress immediately desired the Secretary at War to take measures for preventing the progress of the mutiny in the barracks. On the next day the Maryland Troops took up their March; but one of their Officers before he left town mentioned it to a member of Congress that he had reasons for saying the mutiny did not originate among the privates nor Serjeants. Congress had too much reason to believe this charge to be well founded.

On the 19th of June a Letter was handed to Congress by the Supreme executive Council of Pennsylvania which they had just received from Colonel Butler at Lancaster, in which he stated that the Troops under his command had mutinied and that near one hundred of them were on their way to Philadelphia under the command of their Serjeants. It was clear from the dates and other circumstances, that the mutiny in Lancaster had happened in concert with that in Philadelphia; It was at the same time reported that the mutineers counted on being joined by Armand’s Corps who lay a little to the Westward of Lancaster, many of whom were foreigners together with Maryland dragoons and others. In this critical conjuncture Congress appointed a Committee and instructed them to confer with the executive of Pennsylvania on the practicability of taking effectual measures to prevent the mutineers from coming to

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town. The Executive seemed to think it was best to let them come to Town, where they could do no harm. The Committee not well satisfied with this opinion sent out the assistant Secretary at War, who without force could not stop the progress of the mutineers and on the 20th they arrived at the barracks. On the 21st the troops from Lancaster supported as was expected by those from the barracks surrounded the State House. In the Committee report you have a pretty full detail of what followed.

To say nothing of the extraordinary conduct of the Executive of Pennsylvania, Congress considered the circumstances as very critical. Troops which had been discharged or furloughed were hourly coming to Philadelphia & joining the mutineers & we knew that they might be joined by many who were known to be seditious before any assistance could arrive from headquarters to check them. We expected however by an adjournment of Congress to another place we should give them such a sudden and unexpected alarm as to disconcert their whole plans & thereby prevent any violent measures as well as that it would rouse the Supreme Executive of Pennsylvania to a sense of their duty. Congress was surrounded on Saturday but it was Tuesday afternoon that they adjourned. On the evening of that day the story of the adjournment was reported in the Barracks with these additions, that a large detachment from the main Army was in full march to town & the Jersey Militia ordered out. It was soon clear to the Officers who had fomented the mutiny that they should be disappointed in their plans: The soldiers discovered that danger was at hand. On the next day the Officers (Lieutenant Sullivan of the horse, a young Irishman, & Captain Corbrey, deranged,) escaped, and the Soldiers submitted.

It will certainly be admitted that the situation of Congress is not a very desirable one. They are sent from home to seek for lodging in a place where they have neither controul nor Jurisdiction, in a place too, where they are hourly exposed to the importunities or insults of creditors whom they cannot pay and to the bayonets of a mutinous Soldiery whom they cannot discharge. After all we shall count ourselves happy if by any measures, we can prevent the evils always expected and attendant on the discharge of armies till our Constituents can feel their own independence and importance, their own national honor and safety, and adopt any means for supplying

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the public Treasury, the only measures by which disorders of this nature can be effectually prevented.

On the whole we flatter ourselves your Excellency will think with us, that the respect we owe to the Sovereign State we have the honor to represent, required that we should leave a city in which protection was expressly refused us, even though there had not been other motives more closely connected with the public safety.

We have the honor to be, &c.,
His Excellency Governor Martin.