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Letter from Joshua Potts to Thomas Burke
Potts, Joshua
March 09, 1782
Volume 16, Pages 225-228

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Halifax, March 9th, 1782.


With the assistance of Mr. Tillery, I have undertaken the management of Col. Long’s business with respect to Quarter Master’s Department. I find sundry plans and instructions of Congress, the Quarter Master General and others, relative to the mode or manner in which accounts are to be kept and Returns made which if I continue shall strictly be adhered to. But the reason of my giving your Excellency this trouble, is to beg the favor of your advice on sundry matters wherein I am somewhat at a loss how with propriety to proceed.

It is not my duty to concern with business which hath been heretofore transacted, but I can not pass over the subject without impartially spending my opinion which is grounded on experience and perhaps may convey an idea more satisfactory than what you have yet been able to obtain.

With honor to Col. Long his conduct with respect to the executive part of the business during the War, hath been unprecedented. No pains have been spared to forward and effect everything that tended to the support of our independence, remarkable assiduity in personal and other services, frugality in all affairs where expenses were incidental, freely and voluntarily continuing in service eight waggons and teams, two Blacksmiths with a set of tools, a Collier, Currier, &c., and a considerable term without prompt payment. The unavoidable incommoding his family with a number of persons to assist him in the execution, &c., of business during the Times, with the almost continual company of officers and others, freely expending his private property whenever necessity required it, and to my knowledge hath frequently advanced considerable sums to comply with Contracts made in behalf of the public.

These and many other laudable and worthy Acts are characteristics which are to immortalize his fame.

On the other hand, with respect to his knowledge of accounts and regular entries of the negotiation of business, it is very superficial.

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I conceive Nature hath not been deficient there, but opportunity perhaps was wanting by which he might have attained education. I find, he in a great degree, disregards the Clerk’s duty, thinks it trifling and some time expects him to perform impossibilities, hath never complied with the plans and directions of Congress or those of the Quarter Master General, hath not kept proper accounts of Artificers, Waggoners, or others employed, nor of their services performed, nor have there been Regular entries or Returns made of Stores or of any kind; all which you will observe, by the plans ought to have been done once every three months. Moreover, in addition if possible to all this confusion, finding others less attentive as he supposed to the immediate furnishing articles required for many purposes, undertook to dispose of Clothier’s Stores and sundry other articles entirely inconsistent with the duties of a Quarter Master. At the same time without a proper Store keeper, endeavoured to act personally in the duties of a Waggon Master and Superintendent of Artificers, and with a few illiterate attendants attempted to act in the character of Quarter Master, and in fact Commissary for the State as well as the Continent for a considerable time.

How these different branches of business were managed at distant posts I can not say, having not yet overlooked the various Returns. I doubt they will be found very imperfect.

In consequence of the aforesaid irregular and confused mode of proceeding, although I am convinced all Stores were well appropriated, Your Excellency will naturally from an idea of the confused, imperfect and unintelligible manner in which Col. Long’s accounts and vouchers are. Nor is this all. Imperfect as the vouchers and receipts are, yet had such been taken for every article dispensed with, I am apprehensive the amount would have been considerably larger. Forage being an article that was plenty, by the utmost I can learn, hath been issued promiscuously for many purposes without any accounts thereof. I mean it has been the case frequently. Perhaps there may be an account of Forage at particular times but nothing to the purpose.

Public work of many kinds hath been done here since the erection of the factory, and I believe has been done to a good purpose, and but little or no account kept of it. In accounts kept, there is no perfect distinction made with respect to titles. Undeniably,

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therefore, hath very considerable sums been sunk or laid in oblivion at this and other posts, lost by the State and chiefly gained by the Continent.

The advice, I would humbly thank you for, is this. It often happens that Troops of the United States pass through this State and are furnished with Forage, Provisions and other articles. It seems to occur to me that a Quarter Master and Commissary of purchases ought to attend such troops during their continuance in the State, whose business should be to see that quarters and provisions were provided, to take an accurate account thereof and make a Return of the same, properly signed to the principal officer of the respective Departments, in order that, speaking of the Quarter Master’s Department, a proper return thereof might be transmitted to the Assistant Quarter Master General, whereby the Continent would stand charged to this State, which would of course get credit in a Regular manner.

When Major General St. Clair was on his march, I proposed the above method, but it was rejected by Colonel Long saying they gave receipts to Commissioners and others for articles received, therefore it did not concern him. Nevertheless, an Assistant Deputy Quarter Master was ordered to attend them, who accordingly made provision in an ample manner, but made no returns thereof. Perhaps the Staff Officers of the detachment gave Receipts, which may be settled in a future day by Auditors, then transmitted to the General Assembly, and then to God knows whom.

The other subject on which I need instruction is concerning the prices of articles and of work performed by the Factory. Prices of commodities, of many kinds, are exceedingly high. Perhaps, were such charges made against the United States they would not accept our accounts.

I would wish to know whether or not the various articles of manufacture shall be charged or only the materials of which they are made and the workmanship thereof included as the pay of as many soldiers, Artificers, with which the Continent may stand charged as with that of Soldiers of the Line.

Was it not for fear of intruding on your patience, I could ask sundry other questions concerning the different tours and conditions of Artificers, How and in what manner it should be accounted for,

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but shall pass to the last subject that I purpose to mention which is, concerning stores on hand and tho’ but few, I find it impossible to take an inventory, by which proper accounts can be raised, by reason I can not be informed of the nature of the purchase of said Stores, to what State they belong or if to the Continent, or whether there has ever been any charge made or credit given by any person concerning them. In this I am certain it is out of your power to instruct me.

Upon the whole I must confess that instructions of this nature ought to be received from the Quarter Master General. But since matters are thus situated and application made to you, instead of him, I have intruded so far as to trouble you with this memoir being the only person to whom we can apply for redress at present, nor in my humble opinion, need we ever expect relief from the Quarter Master General until proper returns of our transactions are made quarterly agreeable to the plans sent for that purpose.

Hoping you will lay none other construction on this information that what is meant or intended by the Writer, which is all possible honor to Colonel Long consistent with his Education. And having the highest opinion of your Excellency’s wisdom and virtue, I hope you will do me the justice to believe that I am happy in having the Honor to be, Sir,

Your mo. ob. Servt.,