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That so little has been known of this firm and its operations, even by the most diligent students of the history of the Revolution, is owing to the extraordinary precautions that were taken to conceal the fact that the quartermaster-general and commissary-general of the United States were the silent partners and capitalists. General Greene insisted—as will be shown presently—on absolute secrecy, stipulating that “no mortal should be acquainted with the names of the persons forming the Company,” and engaging on his own part to give no information on the subject even “to the nearest friend he had in the world.”
Several years ago, a portion of the correspondence between the partners and statements of the business of the firm from time to time, came to my notice. Among the letters of General Greene were half a dozen which have escaped the search of his biographers—and of even his detractors. The time when their publication could harm the memory of their writer is past. Washington's estimate of Greene is accepted as the verdict of history. “Persuaded as I always have been,” he wrote, “ of General Greene's integrity and worth, I spurned those reports which tended to calumniate his conduct in the connection with Banks [a contractor for supplies to the army of the South]; being persuaded that, whenever the matter should be investigated, his motives for entering into it would appear pure and unimpeachable." * And if Mr. Bancroft, in his ninth volume, was too sparing of praise, he made amends in his tenth by the admission that “in the opinion of his country Greene gained for himself as a general in the American army, the place next to Washington.” + Next to Washington.' As a soldier, perhaps Washington's equal, but not his equal in discretion and scrupulous avoidance of whatsoever might afford his rivals and enemies even the semblance of a foundation for calumny.
General Greene was appointed quartermaster-general, March 2, 1778. Some weeks before he had consented to accept this post, Congress had sum moned Col. Jeremiah Wadsworth, of Hartford, to Philadelphia, to invite him to take the office of commissary-general of purchases. He consented, on condition of the repeal of all the restrictions and regulations with which Congress had embarrassed the administration of the commissary's department and had compelled the first commissary-general (Joseph Trumbull) to resign.
* Sparks' Writings of Washington, vol. ix., p. 20. In a letter to Mr. Jefferson, in 1786, after Greene's death, Washington wrote: “You will, in common with your countrymen, have regretted so great and so honest a man," and alludes to him as one of “the pillars of the Revolution.” Ibid., ix., 187.
| History of the United States (Centen. Ed.), vi., 409.
Wadsworth was already familiar with the duties of his office. From the beginning of the war he had been one of the commissaries for supplying provisions and military stores for the Connecticut troops, and in December, 1776, he was made commissary-general of the State. He was a prosperous merchant in Hartford, and had been engaged in a considerable trade with the West Indies and the Southern States. The Chevalier de Chastellux describes him (in 1780) as “about thirty-two years of age, very tall and very well made, and of a noble as well as an agreeable countenance.” After remarking that the departments of the quartermaster and commissary-general “had not been exempt from abuses and even blame," Chastellux bears testimony to the high reputation and the universal popularity of Col. Wadsworth, by asserting that “throughout all America there is not a voice against him, and that his name is never pronounced without the homage due to his talents and his probity."
Greene and Wadsworth were brought by their official duties into intimate relations and very soon became warm friends. “Energy, activity, system, and sound judgment," writes Greene's biographer, “ were Wadsworth's business characteristics ; cheerfulness, sympathy, and sincerity, his recommendations as a friend. His vigorous and intelligent co-operation was of great service to Greene in many trying emergencies." *
In January, 1779, both Greene and Wadsworth were in Philadelphia, and it is probable that about this time the arrangement for a business partnership was made. Jan. 26, Greene wrote to Colonel Bowen, his deputy for Rhode Island: “If Mr. Jacob Greene should have occasion to draw on you for cash to enable him to complete some orders sent him lately, you will please to furnish him. I shall send him a supply of cash soon, when he can repay your office." +
This may have been intended to make provision for the draft on his brother Jacob which is mentioned in the following letter to Wadsworth, written after the formation of the partnership:
CAMP, April 14th, 1779. DEAR SIR:
Your letter of the 4th I have receiv'd; and that of the 8th also, with the enclos'd papers; which I have sign'd and return'd.
You may remember I wrote you some time since, that I was desirous that this copartnership between Mr. Dean, you, and myself, should be kept a secret. I must beg leave to impress this matter upon you again ; and to request you to enjoin it upon Mr. Dean. The nearest friend I have in the world shall not know it from me, and it is my
wish that no mortal should be acquainted with the persons forming the Company except us three. I would not wish Mr. Dean even to let his brother know it. Not that I apprehend any injury from him ; but he may inadvertently let it out into the broad World ; and then I am persuaded it would work us a public injury.
While we continue in the offices we hold, I think it is prudent to appear as little in trade as possible. For however just and upright our conduct may be, the world will have suspicions to our disadvantage.
By keeping the affair a secret, I am confident we shall have it more in our power to serve the commercial connection than by publishing it. I have wrote to my brother Jacob Green to pay you £5,000, without informing him for what purpose or on what account. If you would advance the other £5,000 until you come to camp, it would be very agreeable to me. If not I must take some other way of sending it.
General Sullivan arrived in Camp a few days since, but has not said a word to your prejudice that I can learn. I believe he is willing to play children's play with you—if you will let him alone, he will you. He dined with me yesterday; and paid great compliments to the Staff at Providence, without discriminating. He is to have the command of the Indian Expedition. I wish he may succeed better than heretofore-For altho' he has never met with any signal disgrace, he has not been remarkably fortunate in success.
I am glad your Song did not come out, upon the whole, as it would have created a perpetual war. However I expected something of the kind, which made me write you that I thought he had given a fair opening.
We expect the Minister of France (M. Gérard here to-morrow or next day, when there is to be great doings. The cannon is to fire, and the troops to parade, and all the general officers are to ride out to meet him, to welcome him to camp. I am afraid we shall make but a skurvy appearance, as our force is but small, and those very ragged.
Mrs. Greene is gone to Trenton to a 'Tea frolick given by Betsey Pettit. Mr. Lott, Cornelia, Major Blodget and Burnet are all gone. There is to be a number of ladies from Philadelphia, and some members of Congress.
Col. Cox is very ill. I was to see him about eight or ten days since. He has got a relapse of the same disorder he had in Philadelphia. I am really doubtful of his recovery. It is very unfortunate to me, at this critical season. I must take a ministerial comfort ; all things work together for good.
Col. Meade has just returned from Virginia, and says your Letter writing fellow has made rascally work in the department in Virginia. A prodigious quantity of meal is upon the spoil ; and every thing in disorder and confusion. He gives great praises to my agents there.
I had a letter from Major Forsyth a few days past. He stands ready to engage with you, if you think proper to give him an appointment. But I am afraid you'll find old agents are like old chronick diseases, difficult to shake off. Major Forsyth I am sure would answer your purpose extremely well, providing you was fairly rid of — But I am afraid it will be some time before you can get rid of him.
Mr. Flint * dined with me to-day, and is brave and hearty. We wish for another feast of Salmon. When may we expect it ? Should they arrive while the Minister is here, they will be doubly welcome. I sent one of the last that came to Mr. Jay, President of Congress. Mrs. Greene sent another to President Read's family.
* Mr. Royal Flint, of Hartford, one of Col. Wadsworth's deputy-commissaries.
I am glad to hear your Assembly are entering into spirited measures in aid of the Commissary's and Quartermaster's Department.* Unless the States will give more aid than they have done to these Departments, for some time past, I think the wheels will stop.t
This State grows more and more litigious. The pettefogging lawyers, like frogs in the spring, begin to peep, in great plenty. Besides this pest of creatures not less pernicious to the peace and welfare of a State than the locusts was to the growth of the herbage in Egypt, there is a great multitude of Justices of the Peace who parade with Constables at their heels, and are as formidable in numbers as a Roman legion. I This class of men, to shew their learning and improve their genius, swarm about us like birds of prey, seeking whom they may devour. You may remember I made an armor-bearer of one, upon my first coming to this ground, and I intend to keep them running upon every occasion. If they want business they shall have it.
General Arnold is marryed. He has lately bought a House and farm near the City of Philadelphia. It belonged to McPherson. It is said he can have 10,000 pounds for his bargain. If so, his trade is better than all the Commissary and Quartermaster's profits put together.
Mrs. Biddle || has got back to Camp again, with a fine son. You have been informed that Doctor Hutcheson | is marryed to Miss Lydia Biddle. She is coming to Camp soont Mrs. Shippen ** is already here, and the Doctor's daughter. I hope you will bring Mrs. Wadsworth, which will form an agreeable set.
* March 6th, Greene had written to Wadsworth: “I wish to hear from the Eastward, what the voice of the People is respecting the business of our two departments—whether they think our Agents conduct their affairs with honor, honesty, and economy-or whether there is high charges of villainy and prostitution of public trust."
+ “The local policy of all the States,” wrote Greene to Gen. Varnum, of Rhode Island, Feb. 9, 1779, “is directly opposed to the great national plan ; and if they continue to persevere in it, God knows what the consequence will be. There is a terrible falling off in public virtue since the commencement of the present contest. [The italics are mine.] The loss of morals and the want of public spirit leaves us almost like a rope of sand." Greene's Life of Gen. Greene, ii., 168.
Washington, writing from Middlebrook, March 3d, 1779, to Governor Livingston, of New Jersey, in reply to a communication “indorsing the depositions of several inhabitants and civil officers, respecting ill-treatment received from sundry officers of the army, and a refusal in some of them to submit to the civil process," said: “I am every now and then embarrassed by disputes between the officers and inhabitants, which generally originate from the latter coming into camp with liquor, selling it to the soldiers, and, as the officers allege, taking clothing, provisions, or accoutrements in pay. There being no civil redress, that I know of, for a grievance of this nature, the officers undertake to punish those suspected of such practices, sometimes with reason, and probably sometimes without foundation," etc. Sparks' Writings of Washington, vi., 180, 181.
To Miss Margaret Shippen, daughter of Edward Shippen. See Reed's Life of Joseph Reed, ii., 53.
Wife of Col. Clement Biddle, of Philadelphia, who was commissary-general of forage under Gen. Greene.
| Dr. James Hutchinson, a surgeon and physician in the army, afterward a professor in the University of Pennsylvania.
** Wife of Dr. William Shippen, of the medical department of the army.
I believe your patience will be exhausted before you get through this long and disagree. able letter. Please to present my compliments to Mrs. Wadsworth, and I'll bid you good night.
As an additional precaution against discovery, it was agreed that the correspondence between the partners should be conducted partly in cipher. April 30th, 1779, Greene wrote to Wadsworth, from the camp at Middlebrook, as follows:
I have received your two last letters with the inclused Alphabet of figures * to correspond with. The plan is very agreeable which is proposed. But in addition to this, will it not be best to take upon us a fictitious name? This will draw another shade of obscurity over the business and render it impossible to find out the connection. The busy world will be prying into the connection and nature of the business ; and more especially as a letter of Mr. Deane's has lately been intercepted in which it is pretended great things are discovered and dangerous combinations formed. Whether there has been any letter intercepted- and, if there has, whether it contains anything of the kind that is represented, I am by no means certain. It is said he is forming one of the greatest Commercial Houses in the world, and has a plan for Land jobbing of equal extent. I know not what it all means, but believe it is the effects of malice and detraction, which I can assure you was never more prevalent.
I have just return'd from Philadelphia, where I have been to settle matters with Congress respecting my department: The fixing the pay of waggoners and staff officers. But my principal business was to lay before the Treasury the impossibility of executing the General's orders without a more punctual and liberal supply of cash. Former promises have been renew'd ; but the truth of the affair is, the plan for striking money is really incom petent to the demand, with the greatest degree of industry; and there is no great share of that. The great Departments of the Army press the Treasury on every side. The South Carolina expedition has created great drafts upon the Board and embarrasses their affairs. The Lord knows what will be the consequence.
I find that certain Members of Congress are endeavoring to spread among the people that the avarice and extravagance of the Staff are the principal causes of all the depreciation of the money; and I saw a report of the Treasury Board to the Congress to this amount, altho' not in the same terms.
Inclos'd is a Letter I wrote the Congress upon the subject. There was great professions and assurances of the most perfect confidence of Congress in the ability, fidelity, care, attention, and integrity of the principals of each Department; but as these were only personal assurances by individual members, and not as a body, I thought it most prudent to write them the enclos'd copy of a letter. I have received no answer to it yet. What it will produce is difficult to conjecture.
There is great disputes in Congress, and there has been warm work between them and the State of Pennsylvania respecting the Courts of Admiralty.
* Barnabas Deane's manuscript copy of this “alphabet of figures,” or numerical cipher, is now before me.