Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Rediscovering George Washington
Washington: Father of His Country The Washington Collection
Washington in the Classroom About the Program
Timeline: George Washington's Life Milestones
Multimedia Room Search the Site
Gilder Lehrman Collection Documents
Gilder Lehrman Collection Images
Other Documents
Gilder Lehrman Collection Documents

Letter from Henry Knox, February 13, 1781

TRANSCRIPT GLC 2437.05.134

Henry Knox.  Autograph letter draft signed:  New Windsor, to George Washington, 1781 February 13.  7 p.


New Windsor 13 Feby 1781


[inserted – different hand: HK to Washington]






I have received [struck: your Excellencys] [inserted: the] communication of your [inserted: Excellencys] intentions the [struck: ensuing] [inserted: next] campaign with instructions to me to use every caution in our power to procure those articles which we shall want in a capital operation against New York or [struck: the lesser disents which you mention to be] [inserted: against] Charlestown Savannah Pennobscot &c in case of an inability to undertake the siege of the first and principal object


I shall with peculiar pleasure exert myself [struck: to do every thing] to the utmost of my power [struck: in attending to matters] with the materials within my reach to prepare for events, [struck: in the successful of commotions if in [inserted: with]] the progress of which I would [struck: be] combine the pleasing part of the duty of my particular profession with [struck: the general good of the cause as which] [inserted: an attempt to render essential services] [2] [struck: to the <?> to serve] [inserted: to my] country –


But Your Excellency well knows our presents supplies [inserted: & reserves] of [struck: ordnance & stores for an <?>] of ordnance & stores are totally inadequate to the demands of an arduous operation – I have straind every nerve I [struck: have possessd of] [inserted: possess] public and private to obtain an ample supply of shot & shells [struck: articles] which are made in our own country to uncommon perfection but in vain contracts which have been made for those articles upon the [struck: inst] prospect of our instant exigence, have been suspended [inserted: or annihilated], as soon as that [inserted: particular] prospect [strike-out] [inserted: subsided.], And tho we have by these transitory exertions [struck: I was] obtaind a considerable quantity of those articls yet the <?> is still great.  [struck: The Contracts a cause] the greater part of the contracts which were made [struck: last year] <?> were arrested by an order from the [3] board of War just as the furnaces began to work to the great detriment and even utter vain of some of the owners –


[struck: Powder] Powder is an article of which we are so [strike-out] deficent that when a reasonable quantity [inserted: shall be appropriated] [strike-out] for the use of the important posts in the highlands (which [struck: ought to be <?> certain quantity] [inserted: ought to be well <?>] under all circumstances [strike-out]  [inserted: There will] <?> none [struck: will] remain


Besides the want of Cannon proper for a siege, shot, shells and powder the Laboratories upon which we must [inserted: almost entirely] depend for the preparation of all our fix’d stores are from the best information [struck: I am able to receive] [inserted: procure], in fact a wretched condition for want of money [inserted: & [strike-out] [inserted: material] workman] that they are incapable of affording the least assistance.  That at Springfield is either entirely stopd or on the point of being so – [4] I [struck: write those things to your Excellency to show] [inserted:  It is my opinion] that unless [struck: new measures & those vigorous] new & vigorous measures are adopted for [struck: the proceeding all kinds of matters] [inserted: to provide of every thing] in the ordinanc department that it will be in vain [struck: to send] [inserted: to] place any dependance on it in its present wretched, [struck: missreble] [inserted: &] <?> state – I may make <?> it is true and prefer them to the board of War as I have done; in times past – & probably they will react with the same fate of being unattended to or disputed untill the moment of making proper provisions [struck: be past] shall be past.


It may be said that by making [inserted: & presenting]  [struck: proper] estimates [inserted: in due <?>]  [struck: and presenting them to the boa] I shall exonerate myself from any blame.  That may be just but experience proves that not [5] for want of means or [inserted: from] some other causes they have been but little attendd to. – [inserted: [struck: a very large proportion of the shot and shells <?> all those in Jersey have been obtaind [strike-out]  by acts of superior navigation – ]] I freely confess I much dislike to be placed in a situation where I shall have the appearanc of responsibility [inserted: [struck: for members]] which from my office I must have, [struck: without having the least control or check] for the actions or [struck: conduct] [inserted: measures] of persons who perhaps are amenable to nobdy and who of consequence conduct [struck: their] business in a manner that may be most agreeable to their [strike-out] own ideas –


[struck: I will as soon as possible make us an estimate on the principles given by your Excellency, [struck: and to be which] if you approve I should your directions to <?> I shall] address [struck: it] myself in order to [inserted: attempt] procure the articles it may contain.


I thought [struck: the] [inserted: it] proper to state the [strike-out] above facts that your Excellency may know what degree of dependence [6] [inserted: can be placed] on the ordinary modes of supply.  I exceedingly fear they will fail us, [struck: but] possibly [struck: something <?>] some assistance might be obtaind by an application to the [inserted: respective] states.  [struck: respectively but and this [inserted: will] measure] the [struck: presiding <?> principle which state has adopted that it is best to take care of its own safety is to be] But it will be difficult to procure much by such an application because the states have but very small stores of their own, and because it will interfere with [inserted: a] principle which [inserted: each] state has imbibed so strongly as to become fix’d <?> that [struck: they will] [inserted: it is] bound in the first place to provide for [struck: their] [inserted: its] own defence.  If the [struck: quantities] ordnance who stores should arrive [inserted: safely from France] which your Excellency mentions [struck: has] [inserted: have] been sent for we should I think be able to procure [inserted: in these states] whatever else may be wanted, provided [inserted: means are given] great exertions and industry are used [7] by the persons whose business it may be to provide them


I will as soon as possible make out an estimate on the principles given by Your Excellency, which if you approve it I shall take your directions to whom I shall address myself in order to attempt to procure the articles it may contain.


I have the honor to be
with the greatest respect
Your Excellency’s most
Obedt Servt
H Knox


His Excellency
Gen. Washington