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History of York County Pennsylvania From the Earliest Time to the Present online

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Maj. Wilkinson, a young man of a keen
sense of honor and of his own merits. A
man since not unknown to fame, for he after-
ward became, by seniority, Commander-in-
Chief of the United States army — a fame not
without blemish from his supposed conni-
vance with the conspiracy of Aaron Burr. It
is related that so many days elapsed after the
surrender before he presented himself with a
great flourish before Congress, that the eclat
of bis mission was considerably broken. They
had the news before his arrival at Y'ork.
When it was moved to present him with a
sword, Dr. Witherspoon said "ye' 11 better gie
the lad a pair of spurs."

Wilkinson was at that time the Adjutant-
General, and a warm friend and admirer of
the hero of Saratoga. Shortly after this, in
a convivial mood, he betrayed some of the
secrets of the cabal to an aid de camp of
Gen. Sterling, Maj. McWilliams, who con-
sidered it his duty to disclose the matter to
Lord Sterling, who in his turn, felt bound,
in regard to the public interest as well as
impelled by private friendship, to communi-
cate it to Gen. Washington. This he ac-
cordingly did in a note containing a memo-



randum of the words from Conway's letter,
as repeated to Mc Williams, by Wilkinson, as
follows: "The enclosed was communicated
by Col. Wilkinson to Maj. McWilliams;
such wicked duplicity I shall always consider
it uiy duty to detect.'' In consequence of
this disclosure, and with no other view than
to show Conway that he was apprised of his
intrigues, Gen. Washington wrote to him as

Sir:— A letter which I received last night con-
tains the following paragraph: "Heaven has deter-
mined to save }'our Country, or a weak general and
bad councillors, would have ruined it."

In Dr. Duer's Life of Lord Sterling*, is
the following: " A correspondence now en-
sued between Gens. Washington, Gates, and
Conway; but the letter itself was not at that
time produced. It was afterward shown by
Gen. Gates, in confidence, to Mr. Henry
Laurens, the President of Congress, and
some others; and although it appeared not
to have been exactly quoted by Maj. McWil-
liams, yet, in substance, it proved the same.
Gen. Washington never communicated the
letter to Lord Sterling, or the information it
contained to any officer of the army out of
his own family, except the marquis de La-
fayette, and to him it was shown under an
injunction of secrecy; but from the circum-
stances attending the affair, it coiild not be
long concealed. Rumors respecting it got
abroad, and the public sentiment was ex-
pressed in a tone so indignant as to compel
the conspirators to abandon their mischievous
and ambitious projects.

Although there is no reason to believe
that any other officers of the army were di-
rectly engaged in this conspiracy, yet it is evi-
dent, from the jaroceedings of Congress, that
it was favored by a considerable party in
that body.

Deeming his honor deeply wounded by the
course of Gen. Gates, he determined to de-
mand satisfaction. He was speedier with bis
business than with his war despatches. The
account of the meeting of Gen. Ciates is
given by Gen. Wilkinson himself in his
"Memoirs" in these words:

I immediately proceeded to Yorktown, where
I purposely arrived in tlie twilight, to escape obser-
vation; there I found my early companion .and
friend Capt. Stoddert, recounted my wrongs to him,
and requested him to bear a message to Gen. Gates,
whose manly proffer of any satisfaction I might re-
quire, removed the difflculties which otherwise
might have attended the application; he peremp-
torily refused me, remonstrated against my inten-
tion, and assured me I was running headlong to
destruction; but ruin had no terrors for an ardent
young man, who prized his honor a thousandfold
more than his life, and who was willing to hazard

his eternal happiness in its drfin^t Pir !■ m me,
High Heaven, in pity to the fi:iilii ' ', ..iture!
Pardon me, divine Author of II i_\ : n ' ' Iding
to the tyranny of fashion, tlie ili' |i.ii n |iM ^ ii|jtion
of honor, when I sought, by illicit means to vindi-
cate tbe dignity of the creature, whom thou hast
formed after thine own likeness; for the tirst time
in our lives we parted in displeasure, and I accident-
ally _ met with Lieut.-Col Burgess Ball, of the
Virginia line, whose spirit was as independent as
his fortune, and hewillingly became my friend. By
him I addressed the following note to Gen. Gates,
which I find with date, thottgh it was delivered the
same evening (the 23dj:

"I have discharged my duty to you and to my
conscience; meet me to-morrow morning behind the
English Church, and I will there stipulate the satis-
faction which you have promised to grant.
"I am

"Your most humble servant

".James Wilki>'son."

' General Gate.s."
The general expression of this billet w:

lated to prevent unfair advan
Gen. Gates had promised me sMii-l'.ui' .n, I deter-
mined to avoid unnecessary e-xposii inn ; jml tliere-
fore Col. Ball was instructed to iuljusi iliciimc, and
circumstances, and made no diflficulty about ar-
rangements. We were to meet at 8 o'clock with
pistols, and without distance. We early the
next morning, had put our arms in order, and was
just about to repair to the ground, when Capt.
Stoddert called on me, and informed me Gen. Gates
wished to speak with me. I expressed my astonish-
ment and observed it was "impossible"! He re-
plied with much agitation, "for God's sake, be not
always a fool, come along and see him." Struck
with the manner of my friend, I inquired where
the General was? He answered, "in the street near
the door." The surprise robbed me of circumspec-
tion; I requested Col. Ball to halt and followed
Capt; Stoddert; I found Gen. Gates unarmed and
alone, and was received with tenderness but mani-
fest embarrassment; he asked me to walk, turned
into a back sti'eet and we proceeded in silence till
we passed the buildings, when he burst into tears,
took me by the hand, and asked me "how I could
think he wi.shed to injure me'?" I was too deeply
affected to speak, and he relieved my embarrass-
ment by continuing "I you? it is impossible,
I should as soon think of injuring my own child."
This language not only disarmed me, but awakened
all my confidence, and all my tenderness; I was
silent, and he added "besides, there was no cause
for injuring you. as Conway aclcnowledged. in his
letter, and' has since said much harder things to
Washington's face." Such language left me noth-
ing to require; it was satisfactory beyond expecta-
tion, and rendered me more than content; I was
flattered and pleased, and if a third person had
doubted the sincerity of the explanation, I would
have insulted him; along conversation ensued, in
which Lord Sterling's conduct was canvassed, and
my purpose respecting him made known, and it
was settled I should attend at the war office, in my
capacity of secretary, a few- days, and then have
leave to visit the camp at Valley Forge, whfre
Lord Sterling was.

I attended at the war oiHce, and I think fotind
there the honorable Judge Peters and Col. T. Pick-
ering, but my reception from the President. Gen.
Gates, did not correspond with his recent profes-
sions; he was civil, but barely so, and I was at a
loss to account for his coldness, yet had no.sus-
pici'in of his insincerity.*




It is related by Mr. Dunlap, in his " His-
tory of Xew York," upon the authority, it
is presumed of the late Gen. Morgan Lewis,
that a day had been appointed by the "Cabal"
in Congress for one of them to move for a
committee to proceed to the camp at Valley
Forge to arrest Gen. "Washington, and that
the motion would have succeeded had they
not unexpectedly lost the majority which they
possessed when the measure was determined
on. At that time there were but two dele-
gates in attendance from New York: Francis
Lewis, the father of the late Gen. Morgan
Lewis, and William Duer, the son-in law of
Lord Sterling — barely sufficient to entitle the
State to a vote, if both were present. But
Mr. Duer was conlined to his bed by a severe
and dangerous illness. His colleague, Mr.
Lewis, had sent an express for Mr. Gouvern-
eur Morris, one of the absent members, who
had not, however, arrived on the morning of
the day on which the motion was to have been
made. Finding this to be the case, Mr. D.
inquired of his physician, Dr. John Jones,
whether itVas possible for him to be carried
to the court house where Congress sat. The
Doctor told him it was possible, but it would
be at the risk of his life. " Do you mean,"
said Mr. D.. " that I should expire before
reaching the place?" "No," replied the
Doctor, " but I would not answer for your
leaving it alive."' "Very well, sir," said
Mr. D., "You have done your duty and
I will do mine. Prepare a litter for me; if
you will not somebody else will, but I pre-
fer your aid. " The litter was prepared and
the sick man placed on it, when the arrival
of Mr. Morris rendered the further use of it
the intrigue that had

unnecessary, a _

induced its preparation."*

In Kapp's " Life of Steuben, "f is the
following: " Steuben left Portsmounth on
the 12th of December, 1777, and set out for
Boston by land, where he arrived on the 14th,
and was received as cordially as at the for-
mer place. He met there the illustrious
John Hancock, who had just retired from the
Presidency of Congress, and received Wash-
ington's reply to his letter, by which he was
informed that he must repair, without delay,
to York, Penn., where Congress was then sit-
ting, since it belonged exclusively to that
body to enter into negotiations with him. At
the time Hancock communicated to Steuben
an order of Congress that every preparation
should be made to make him and his suite
comfortable on their journey to York, and
Mr. Hancock himself with great care made
all the necessary arrangements."

*Lifo or Lord Sterling. fPage 97.

They (the Baron and suite) arrived at
York Februarv 5, 1778. Steuben stayed at
York until the 19th of February, 1778. "The
Congress of the United States," continues
Duponceati, " were not at that time the illus-
trious body whose eloquence and wisdom,
whose stern virtues and unflinching patriot-
ism, had astonished the world. Their num-
ber was reduced to about one-half of what it
was when independence was declared — all
but a few of the men of superior minds had
disappeared from it. Their measitres were
feeble and vacillating, and their party feuds
seemed to for bode some impending calamity.
The enemy were in possession of our capital
city; the army we had to oppose to them
were hitngry, naked and destitute of every-
thing. No foreign government had yet
acknowledged oar independence — everything
around us was dark and gloomy. The only
ray of light which appeared amidst the dark-
ness was the capture of Burgoyne, which
cheered the spirits of those who might other-
wise have despaired of the Commonwealth,
But that bvilliant victory had nearly pro
duced most fatal consequences. Gen. Gates
became the hero of the day. Saratoga was
then what New Orleans has been since— the
watchword of the discontented. A party was
formed even in Congress to raise the conquer-
or of Burgoyne to the supreme command of our
ai-mies. But the great figure of Washington
stood calm and serene at his camp at Valley
Forge, and struck the conspirators with awe.
With the exception of a few factious chiefs,
he was idolized by the army and by the
nation at large. The plot was discovered,
and the plan frustrated without a struggle.
Without any effort or management on his
part and by the mere force of his character,
Washington stood firm and undaunted in the
midst of his enemies, and I might also say,
looked them into silence.

Such was the state of things when we
arrived at York. Parties were then at their
height, but as Congress sat with closed doors,
the country at large was not agitated as it
would otherwise have been. There were not
wanting out of doors disaffected persons,
who railed at King " Cong ' ' and the bunch
of " kings " (such was the slang of the day
among the Tories), but the great mass of the
people was still in favor of the Revolution,
and the press did not dare to utter a senti-
ment inimical to it.

The fame of Baron Steuben had preceded
him to York. He was welcomed and courted
by all, and I well remember that Gen. Gates,
in particttlar, paid him the most assiduous
court, and even invited him to make his


house his home, which he i^rudently declined.
"Please accept my grateful thanks" —
such are Steuben's words, in a letter to John
Hancock, written a day after his arrival at
York — " for all the kindness you have shown
me during my stay at Boston. In this very
moment I enjoy the good effects of it, having
taken the liberty of quartering myself in an
apartment of your house in this town. My
journey has been extremely painful; but the
kind reception I have met with from Con-
gress and Gen. Gates, on my arrival here,
have made me soon forget those past incon-
veniences. Now, sir, I am an American, and
an American for life; your nation has become
as dear to me as your cause already was.
You know that my pretensions are very mod-
erate; I have submitted them to a committee
sent to me by Congress. They seem to be
satisfied and so am I, and shall be the more
so when I find the opportunity to render all
the services in my x^ower to the United States
of America. Three members of Congress
have been appointed for concluding an
arrangement with me to-morrow; that will
not take long, my claims being the confi
dence of your General-in-Chief."

"The committee in Congress just men
tioned by Steuben, which consisted of Dr.
Witherspoon, the Chairman, and only person
who spoke French, Messrs. Henry, of Mary-
land, and Thomas McKean, waited upon
Steuben the day after his arrival, and de
manded of him the conditions on which he
was inclined to serve the United States, and
if he made any stipulations with their Com-
missioners in France? He replied that he
had made no agreement with them, nor was
it his intention to accept of any rank or pay;
that he wished to join the army as a volun-
teer, and to render such services as the Com-
mander-in-Chief should think him capable
of, adding that he had no other fortune than
a revenue of 600 guineas per annum, arising
from places and posts of honor in Germany,
which he had relinquished to come to this
country; that in consideration of this, he
expected the United States would defray his
necessary expenses while in their service;
that if, unhappily, this country should not
succeed in establishing their independence,
or if he should not succeed in his endeavors
in their service, in either of these cases he
should consider the United States as free
from any obligations toward him: but, if on
the other hand, the United States should be
fortunate enough to establish their freedom,
and that if his efforts should be successful,
in that case he should expect a full indem-
nification for the sacrifice he had made in

coming over, and such marks of their liber-
ality as the justice of the United States
should dictate; that he only required com-
missions for the officers attached to his per-
son, namely, that of Major and Aid-de-camp
for Mr. D. Roumanai, that of Captain of
Engineers for Mr. De 1' Enfant, that of Cap-
tain of cavalry for Mr. De Depontiere, and
the rank of Captain for hjs Secretary, Mr.
Duponceau; that if these terms were agree-
able to Congress, he waited for their orders
to join the army without delay."

The committee applauded the generosity
of Steuben's propositions in thus risking his
fortune on that of the United States, and
made their report. The next day. Congress
gave him an entertainment, after which the
President, Mr. Laurens, told him it was the
desire of Congress that he should join the
army immediately in conformity with the
follosving resolutions:

Whebeas, Baron Steuben, aLieutenant-General
in foreign service, has in a most disinterested and
lieroic manner ofEered liis services to tliese States as
a volunteer.

Besohed, That the President return the thanks of
Congress, in behalf of these United States, to Baron
Steuben, for the zeal he has shown for the cause of
America, and the disinterested tender he has been
pleased to make of his military talents, and inform
him that Congress cheerfully accept of his services
as a volunteer in the army of these States, and wish
him to repair to Gen. Washington's quarters as soon
as convenient.

" Congress received Steuben with every
mark of distinction," says Eichard Peters, in
a letter dated Belmont, October 30, 1875,
" and paid more particular attention to him
than I had known given to any foreigner.
Much pleasure was expressed at the arrival of
a person of his military knowledge and expe-
rience, at a time when the want of discipline
in our army, and the economy it produced,
were severely felt and regretted."

Steuben set out for Valley Forge on the
19th of February, 1778, and arrived there
on the 23d. " On our jom-ney," says Depon-
ceau, "we passed through Lancaster, then
considered the largest inland town in the
United States. Having arrived there early
in the afternoon, the Baron was waited upon
by Col. Gibson and other gentlemen, who in-
vited him and his family to a subscription
ball to take place that evening in honor of
his arrival. • The Baron accepted, and we
accordingly went. There we saw assembled
all the fashion and beauty of Lancaster and
its vicinity. The Baron 'was delighted to
converse with the German girls in his native
tongue. There was a handsome supper, and
the company did not separate until 2 o'clock
the next morning."


On the 11th of June, 1778, Philip Liv-
ingston, a delegate from the State of New-
York, and one of the signers of the Declara-
tion of Independence, died while here, and
was buried in the burying-ground of the
German Reformed Church, where a monu-
ment of white marble, surmounted by an urn,
was erected to his memory, with this inscrip-
tion :


To the memory of the Honorable


who died June 12, 1778,

Aged 63 years,

while attending the Coneress

of the United States, at Yorli

Town, Penna., as a Delegate from

the State of New York.

Eminently distinguished for

his talents and rectitude, he deservedly

enjoyed the confldence of his

country, and the love and veneration

of his friends and children.

This monument, erected by

his grandson,

Stephen Van Rensalaer.

James Smith lived to a good old age, hav-
ing died in the year 1806. He was buried in
the Presbyterian church -yard, where his
tombstone is readily discovered with this sim-
ple inscription:


One of the signers of the

Declaration of Independence,

Died July 11, 1806,

Aged 93 years.


"Retiring beyond the Susquehanna to
fork, Congress presently authorized Wash-
ington, in addition to his other extraordinary
powers, to seize, to try by courts martial, and
to punish with death all persons within thirty
miltss of any town occupied by the British,
who should pilot them by land or water, give
or send them intelligence, or furnish them
with provisions, arms, forage, fuel or stores
of any kind."*

" Congress, meanwhile at session at York,
on the west side of the Susquehanna, deter-
mined to establish a new Board of War, to be
composed of persons not members of Con-
gress. John Adams, thus released from his
arduous duties, as head of the War Depart-
ment, was sent to France as one of the Com-
missioners to that court, Deane, being re-
called to give an accoant of his conduct,
especially in the matter of the extravagant
promises which he had made to foreign offi-

' 'The Articles of Confederation, the consid-

eration of which had been resumed in April,
having been agreed to at last, after repeated
and warm debates, were now sent out with a
circular letter, urging upon the States imme-
diate ratification. But, on the part of some
of the States, ratification was long delayed."*

York, November 13, 1777, William Clin-
gan and Daniel Roberdeau wrote, "we have
the happiness to inform the State that Con-
federation has this evening passed Congress."
A copy of the Confederation was received by
the Council on December l.f and referred to
the Assembly for their approbation.

"A subject of earnest deliberation at
York was that of finance, and the pressing
wants of the soldiers, and the extortion of
the public agents and traders. J

The town of York had been a center well
known to the colonies before the assembling
of Congress here. A New England conven-
tion had been held at Providence at the
beginning of the year 1777, at which a
scheme was agreed upon for regulating the
prices of labor, produce, manufactured arti-
cles and imported goods. In Hildreth's His-
torj' of the United States§ is the following:
" The doings of 'the New England Conven-
tion having been laid before Congress, their
scheme for regulating prices was approved.
The other States were advised to imitate it,
and to call for that purpose two conventions,
one from the Middle, the other from the
Southern States. In accordance with this
recommendation, a Convention for the Middle
States, in which New York, New Jersey, Del-
aware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia
were represented, presently (March 26, 1777,)
met at Yorktown (York, Penn.), and agreed
upon a scale of prices. But this scheme,
though very popular, was found wholly im-

The anxious deliberation of the committee
of Congress during more than two months at
Yorktown, with the report of the Springfield
Convention before them, produced only a
recommendation adopted in November (the
22d;), 1777, that the several States should
become creditors of the United States by
raising for the Continental treasury $5,000,-
000 in four quarterly instalments.]

The following resolutions appear upon the
journals of Congress (Glossbrenner's His-
tory) :

OCTOBER 4, 1777.

Resolved. That a letter be written to Gen. Gates,
informing him that Congress highly approve of the
prowess and behavior of the troops under his com-

«Hildreth, Vol. 3, p. 227.

tV ArchJTes, 770; X Col. Eec, 379.



IIBanoroft's Hist. U. S., Vol. 2, p. 167,



mand in their late gallant repulse of the enemy
under Gen. Burgo}'ne.

Resolved, That the thanks of Congress be pre-
sented to Gen. Stark of the New Hampshire militia,
and the officers and troops under his command, for
their brave and successful attack upon, and signal
victor)' over the enemy in their lines at Bennington;
and that Brigadier Stark be appointed a Brigadier
Oeneral in the army of the "United States.

OCTOBER 6, 1777.
Resolved, That it be recommended to the Legis-
latures of the several States to pass laws declaring
that any person, his aider or abettor, who shall will-
fully and maliciously burn or destroy any magazine
of provisions, or of military or of naval stores be-
longing to the United States; or if any master,
officer, seaman, mariner or other person intrusted
with the navigation or care of any continental ves-
sel shall willfully and maliciously burn or destroy,
or attempt to or conspire to burn or destroy any
such vessel, or shall willfully betray, or voluntarily
yield or deliver, or attempt to conspire to betray,
yield or deliver any such vessel to the enemies of
the United States, such person, his aider or abettor,
on legal conviction thereof shall suffer death with-
out benefit of clergy.

OCTOBER 8, 1777.
Resolved, Unanimously, that the thanks of Con- be given to Gen. Washington for his wise and
•well concerted attack upon the enemy's army near
Germantown on the dth instant, and to the officers
and soldiers of the army for their brave exertions
on that occasion. Congress being well satisfied that
the best designs and boldest efforts may sometimes
fail by unforseen incidents, trusting that on future
occasions the valor and virtue of the army will, by
the blessing of Heaven, be crowned with complete
and deserving success.

OCTOBER 14, 1777.

Whereas, The British nation have received into
their ports, and condemned in their courts of admi-
ralty as lawful prize several vessels and their car-
goes belonging to these States, which the mariners,

Online LibraryJohn GibsonHistory of York County Pennsylvania From the Earliest Time to the Present → online text (page 30 of 218)