Revolution, 1753-1783

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Author: Elias Boudinot  | Date: 1783

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Mutinous Troops Threaten Congress

AS CONGRESS has yet elected any minister for foreign affairs, and knowing the importance of your being fully informed of every public transaction relative to these States, I have concluded that you would not think it amiss to hear from me on the subject of the removal of Congress to this place, though I can not consider this communication as official, but merely for your information in my individual capacity.

The state of our finances making it indispensably necessary to abridge the public expenses in every instance that would not endanger the Union, we concluded to reduce the army by discharging all the soldiers enlisted for the war, with a proportionate number of officers, on condition that the discharge should operate no otherwise than as a furlough, until the ratification of the definitive treaty.

This not only eased us of a heavy disbursement of ready cash for subsistence money and rations, but gratified many of the army who wished to be at home in the early part of the summer, to provide for the following winter. Three months’ pay was ordered which could not otherwise be complied with, but by a paper anticipation of the taxes, payable in six months.

By an inevitable accident, the notes did not arrive at the army till six days after the soldiers were discharged and had left the camp. This, together with some difficulty in settling their accounts, created an uneasiness among the troops, but by the General’s address and the good conduct of the officers, they all retired peaceably to their different States, though without a single farthing of cash to buy themselves a meal of victuals.

In the barracks in Philadelphia and at Lancaster, in the State of Pennsylvania, there were a number of new recruits, who had been enlisted since the months of December and January last, and who had not yet taken the field; these soldiers having not been brought under any regular discipline, made many objections against accepting their discharges, and gave their officers reasons to fear some difficulty in getting rid of them; but the Secretary of War thought he had satisfied them by assuring them of the like pay with the rest of the army. On the 15th of June a petition was received from the sergeants, requiring a redress of their grievances, in a very turbulent and indecent style, of which no notice was taken…. A committee was immediately appointed to confer with the executive council of Pennsylvania, and to endeavor to get them to call out the militia to stop the mutineers; but to no purpose; the council thinking that the citizens would not choose to risk themselves when fair means might do…. On the 19th the troops arrived and joined those at the barracks in the city, who had been increased in number by a few companies of old soldiers arrived the day before from Charles Town.

The whole being very orderly and quiet, Congress adjourned on Friday the 20th, as usual, till Monday morning. On the 21st one of the committee called on me and informed that the soldiers at the barracks were very disorderly and had cast off the authority of their officers; that it was suspected they had a design, the following night, against the bank, and advised me to call Congress without delay. This I did, to meet in half an hour. The soldiers by accident hearing of it, very fortunately hastened their designs a day or two sooner than was intended. The Members of Congress had just got together, except one, when the State House (in which also the President and Supreme Executive Council were then sitting) was surrounded by about three hundred armed men with fixed bayonets under the command of seven sergeants. Congress immediately sent for General St. Clair and demanded the reason of this hostile appearance, who informed of his having just arrived in town from his seat in the country in obedience to the orders of Congress of the day preceding; that he had received information from the commanding officer of the mutinous disposition of the troops, who had marched from the barracks contrary to the orders of their officers, and that the veteran troops from Charles Town had been unwillingly forced into the measure. The president of the State then appeared, and produced the insolent paper which had been sent into him by the sergeants.

Congress determined they would enter on no deliberations while thus surrounded, but ordered General St. Clair immediately to endeavor to march the mutineers back to the barracks by such means as were in his power.

After several prudent and wise measures the General prevailed on the sergeants to return to their barracks, convincing them that if they were aggrieved they had a right to make it known in a decent manner through any persons they might think proper to appoint. But previous to this, after waiting, surrounded by this armed force for near three hours, Congress broke up and we passed through the files of the mutineers without the least opposition, though at times before our adjournment the soldiers, many of whom were very drunk, threatened Congress by name.

The mutineers had taken possession of the powder house and several public arsenals in this city, with some field pieces from the public yard….

The committee, not being able to meet the council till Sunday morning, were then prevailed on to wait for an answer till Monday morning. However, hoping that the council would change their sentiments, the committee did not think proper to give me their advice till Tuesday at two o’clock in the afternoon. In the mean time the mutineers kept in arms, refusing all obedience to their officers, and in possession of the powder house and magazines of military stores. On Tuesday morning the officers reported to me that the preceding evening the sergeants, notwithstanding some talk of submission and return to their duty, had presented six officers with a commission each; and one refusing to accept it, they threatened him with immediate death; and that, at the time of the report, they were getting very drunk and in a very riotous state. By the second report of the committee you will be acquainted with the particulars of the transaction, with the addition that the behavior of the six officers was very mysterious and unaccountable. At two o’clock, agreeably to the advice of the committee, I summoned Congress to meet at this place on Thursday the 26th of June, issued a proclamation and left the city.

As soon as it was known that Congress was going, the council were informed that there was great reason to expect a serious attack on the Bank the night following, on which the president of the State collected about one hundred soldiers and kept guard all night. On Wednesday it was reported that Congress had sent for the Commander-in-Chief with the whole northern army and the militia of New Jersey, who were to be joined by the Pennsylvania militia, in order to quell the mutiny, which was no otherwise true than ordering a detachment of a few hundred men from the North River. The sergeants, being alarmed, soon proposed a submission, and the whole came in a body to the president of the State, making a most submissive acknowledgment of their misconduct, and charging the whole on two of the officers whom they had commissioned to represent their grievances (a Captain Carbery and Lieutenant Sullivan), who were to have headed them as soon as they should have proceeded to violence. These officers immediately escaped to Chester and then got on board a vessel bound to London.

The sergeants describe the plan laid by these officers as of the most irrational and diabolical nature, not only against Congress and the council, but also against the city and bank. They were to be joined by straggling parties from different parts of the country, and after executing their horrid purposes were to have gone off with their plunder to the East Indies. However incredible this may appear, the letters from Sullivan to Colonel Moyland, his commanding officer, from Chester and the capes, clearly show that it was a deep-laid scheme. It appears clearly to me that next to the continued care of Divine Providence, the miscarriage of this plan is owing to the unexpected meeting of Congress on Saturday, and their decided conduct in leaving the city until they could support the Federal government with dignity.

It is also said that two of the citizens have been concerned in this wicked plot, but they are not yet ascertained. They were certainly encouraged by some of the lower class as well as by the general supineness in not quelling the first movement. Some very suspicious circumstances attending the conduct of the other four officers, who were commissioned by the sergeants, have caused them to be arrested. The whole matter has so far subsided. The detachment under General Howe, from the northern army, has arrived in the vicinity of the city, and a court of enquiry is endeavoring to develop the whole affair.

The citizens are greatly chagrined at the predicament in which they stand, and endeavor to lay the blame on the council for not calling on them and proving them, while the council justify themselves by the advice of the militia officers, whom they called together for that purpose. The citizens are universally petitioning Congress to return to the city, assuring us of their constant protection….

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Chicago: Elias Boudinot, "Mutinous Troops Threaten Congress," Revolution, 1753-1783 in America, Vol.4, Pp.36-42 Original Sources, accessed August 14, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4UDVJPZR8FVMUQM.

MLA: Boudinot, Elias. "Mutinous Troops Threaten Congress." Revolution, 1753-1783, in America, Vol.4, Pp.36-42, Original Sources. 14 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4UDVJPZR8FVMUQM.

Harvard: Boudinot, E, 'Mutinous Troops Threaten Congress' in Revolution, 1753-1783. cited in , America, Vol.4, Pp.36-42. Original Sources, retrieved 14 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4UDVJPZR8FVMUQM.