Washington, George, 1732-1799. The writings of George Washington from the original manuscript sources: Volume 4
Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

| Table of Contents for this work |
| All on-line databases | Etext Center Homepage |

To THE COMMITTEE OF SAFETY OF NEW YORK Head Quarters, April 17, 1776.

    Gentn: There is nothing that could add more to my happiness, than to go hand in hand with the Civil Authority of this, or any other, Government, to which it may be my lot to be ordered; and, if in the prosecution of such measures, as shall appear to me, to have a manifest tendency, to promote the Interest of the great American Cause, I shall encounter the local convenience of individuals or even of a whole Colony; I beg it may be believed, that I shall do it with reluctance and pain; but, in the present important contest, the least of two Evils must be preferred.

    That a continuance of the intercourse, which has hitherto subsisted between the Inhabitants of this Colony and the Enemy, on board the Ships of War, is injurious to the Common Cause, requires no extraordinary abilities to prove. A moment's reflection, not only evinces this truth, but points out the glaring absurdity of such procedure. We are to consider ourselves either in a state of peace or War, with Great Britain. If the

Page 487

former, why are our Ports shut up, our Trade destroyed, our property seized, our Towns burnt, and our worthy and Valuable Citizens led into captivity and suffering the most cruel hardships? If the latter, my imagination is not fertile enough, to suggest a reason in support of the intercourse.

    In the weak and defenceless state, in which this City was some time ago, political prudence might justify the correspondence that subsisted between the Country and the Enemy's Ships of War, but as the largest part of the Continental Troops is now here; as many strong Works are erected and erecting for the defence of the City and harbour, those Motives no longer exist, but are absorbed in others of a more important nature. To tell you, Gentlemen, that the advantages of an intercourse of this kind, are altogether on the side of the Enemy, whilst we derive not the smallest benefit from it, would be telling what must be obvious to every one. It is, indeed, so glaring, that even the Enemy themselves must despise us for suffering it to be continued; for, besides their obtaining supplies of every kind, by which they are enabled to continue in your harbours, it also opens a regular Channel of intelligence; by which they are, from time to time, made acquainted with the number and extent of our Works, our Strength, and all our movements; by which they are enabled to regulate their own Plans, to our great disadvantage and Injury. -- for the truth of this, I could produce Instances; but as it may be the subject of future discussion, I shall decline it at present. It would, Gentlemen, be taking up too much of your time, to use further arguments in proof of the necessity of putting an immediate and Total stop to all future Correspondence with the Enemy. -- It is my incumbent duty to effect this, convinced as I am of the disadvantages resulting from it; and it cannot be thought strange or hard, that, under such Conviction, I should be anxious to remove an evil which may contribute, not a little, to the ruin of

Page 488

the great Cause we are engaged in, and may, in its effects, prove highly detrimental to this Colony in particular.

    In effecting the Salutary purposes above mentioned, I could wish for the Concurrence and support of your honorable Body; It will certainly add great weight to the Measures adopted, when the Civil authority Co-operates with the Military to carry them into execution. -- It will also redound much to the honor of the Government, and of your Committee in particular; for the world is apt to judge from appearances; and while such correspondence exists, the reputation of the whole Colony will suffer in the Eyes of their American Brethren. 20

[Note:The committee resolved (April 19) that all persons be prohibited from holding any intercourse with the British ships under penalty of being considered enemies to the liberties o~ America and subject to treatment as such.

   Tryon had prevailed upon the New York Congress (August. 1975) to furnish supplies to the British ships in the harbor, a not difficult task, as the element of profit was a major one in the matter, and this practice was continued until Washington arrived in the city after the evacuation of Boston. ]

    It is, therefore, Gentlemen, that I have taken the liberty to address you on this important Subject, relying on your Zeal and attachment to the Cause of American Liberty, for your assistance in putting a Stop to this Evil, and that you will cooperate with me, in such measures as shall be effectual, either to prevent any future correspondence with the Enemy, or in bringing to condign punishment, such Persons as may be hardy and wicked enough to carry it on, otherwise than by a prescribed mode, if any case can possibly arise to require it. I have the honor to be, with the utmost respect, Gentn., etc.