Balancing the Balance of Power

On May 5, 1776, General George Washington wrote to Congress. Among the many items was this paragraph:

“I beg leave to lay before Congress, a Copy of the proceedings of a Court Martial upon Lieutenant Grover of the 2d. Regiment, and of his defence, which I should not have troubled them with, had I not conceived the Courts Sentence upon the facts stated in the proceedings, of a singular nature; the small fine imposed, by no means adequate to the enormity of his offence and to be a dangerous and pernicious tendency: for these reasons, I thought it my duty to lay the proceedings before them, in order to their forming such a Judgment upon the Facts, as they shall conceive right and just, and advancive of the Public Good. At the same time I would mention, that I think it of material consequence that Congress should make a resolve, taking away the supposed right of succession in the Military line from one Rank to another, which is claimed by many upon the happening of vacancies, and upon which principle this Offence seems to have originated in a great measure, and this extraordinary Judgement to be founded; declaring that no succession or promotion can take place in case of vacancies, without a Continental Commission giving and Authorizing it.”

In Congress on May 10, 1776 it was resolved:

“That this Congress has hitherto exercised, and ought to retain the power of promoting the officers in the continental service according to their merit; and that no promotion or succession shall take place upon any vacancy, without the authority of a continental Commission.”

Thus, not even his Excellency, General George Washington, would not have the power to promote an officer in the Army he commanded.  An act of Congress would be required. Even in the early days of the American Revolution, the idea of a balance of power was in practice. Washington also knew who held the power over his own commission, and personally, in later correspondence with Congress made recommendations for many of the officers, in addition to forwarding the recommendations from the thirteen provincial congresses that recommended which officers should be commissioned.

These commissions, however, did not arrive immediately. In Isaac Frye’s case, New Hampshire made the recommendation in March 1777, but the commission was not signed until June 1779, more than two years afterward.


George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence: George Washington to Continental Congress, May 5. May 5, 1777. Manuscript/Mixed Material.

Livermore, Abiel Abbot and Putnam, Sewall 1888. “History of the Town of Wilton, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire with a Genealogical Register” Marden & Rowell, Printers, Lowell, MA. Page 106 has a transcription of Isaac Frye’s commission to rank as Captain, which was signed by John Jay, President of Congress, on June 16, 1779.

Philip Schuyler: Crisis Manager

As I researched how Sullivan’s Brigade made its way north from Albany to Fort Ticonderoga in the late spring of 1776, I came across a remarkable document. It was a project plan sent from Major General Philip Schuyler to his commander, General George Washington describing the number of men needed, and their roles in transporting food 185 miles from Albany, NY to the Continental troops in Quebec based at Fort St. Jeans.

Schuyler learned of the need for food in a letter from Charles Carroll and Samuel Chase, two of Congress’s commissioners in Quebec, dated 11 May, 1776. They wrote, “We are unable to express our apprehensions of the distress our Army must soon be reduced to from the want of provisions, and the small-pox.”

Separately, Brigadier General John Thomas, who was now in command of the Continental Troops in Quebec wrote Brigadier General Benedict Arnold also in Quebec, on May 8, 1776 appraising him of the need of provisions in Canada:

“I shall make a stand here with a small number of men. I have but two days’ provision, and will bring them to half allowance, and remain on the ground myself till I can hear from you.”

Much of the route was over water, but to get from Albany to Fort George at the southern tip of Lake George, several overland carriages were required, including the longest at fifteen miles. The plan spelled out exactly how Schuyler would to transport barrels of pork and flour, enough for 10,000 men in about two and a half weeks.

As a mapmaker and product engineer at a software company, I learned project management is a vital skill, but I had myopically thought that skill to be a modern, i.e., 20th century competency. Schuyler’s plan shows a high level of proficiency, and his organization and efficiency of expression are also noteworthy.

Below is my transcription of Schuyler’s plan, where I have inserted additional lines to make use of right side of the page similarly to Schuyler’s original.

[1776, May 24]

An estimate of the number of men necessary to transport provisions for 10,000 men from Albany to Canada specifying the manner in which it is conveyed.

10,000 Weight of Pork is …… Barrels …  50
10,000 Weight of Flour is  ……   …….        55
add for sundries               ……..  ………….   15
To leave Albany each day ……   ………    120
At Albany the provisions is put into bateaux capable of carrying 13 Barrel when Hudson’s River has plenty of water, but henceforward only ten Barrels will be carried in each bateaux – Thus it will take 12 bateaux, but I have stationed 14 between Albany & Half moon (which are about ten miles apart) to make up for rainy days and accidents. Each of these bateaux is navigated by 3 men

…….  42 (men)

From Half Moon it is conveyed in wagons to Stillwater, the distance is 12 miles. From Stillwater it is conveyed to Saratoga (12 miles farther) in 14 boats.

…….  42 (men)

From thence it is carried two miles by land to McNeils

……  42 (men)

And four bateaux receive it there, and convey it to Fort Miller which is about 3 1/2 miles.

……  12 (men)

There is a land carriage of half a mile above the falls. Thence it is carried in 14 bateaux and the river being frigid & incommoded with rifts or small falls, each boat must have 4 men, the distance is about 8 miles.

……..   56 (men)

From Fort Edward it is carried to Fort George by land / distance 15 miles.

  Sub total  ……..  152 (men)

On Lake George, we have a flat bottom boat with sails, which will carry about 200 barrels and allowing five days for a trip, she carries at a rate of 40 barrels a day & is navigated by 11 batteaus carrying 30 barrels each & navigated by seven men,

…….  8 (men)

working a trip in four days – convey at the rate of about 82 barrels the length of the lake 36 miles.

…… 77 (men)

From the North end of Lake George it is conveyed 1 1/2 miles by land to Lake Champlain, where it is put in one bateaux making 4 trips a day and carried to Ticonderoga, the distance about 1 1/2 miles.

……. 7  (men)

On Lake Champlain we have two schooners, a sloop, and Row Galley which may carry about 600 barrels and make a voyage to St. John’s (about 120 miles in ten days, which is at the rate of 60 barrels a day navigated by sailors assisted by about

…… 30 (men)

For the remaining sixty barrels per day it will take 20 bateaux carrying 30 barrels each making a voyage in 10 days navigated by 8 men each.

……  160 (men)

total ……. 434

Allow for sick, lame, & lazy …… 66

Total of  ….. 500

A guard at Half Moon of privates: 12
A guard at Stillwater of privates: 12
A guard at Saratoga of privates: 24
A guard at McNeils of privates: 12
A guard at Fort Miller of privates: 12
A guard at Fort Edward of privates: 12


At the landing at the north end of Lake George and at the North side of the carrying place:

At crown Point: 24
Fort George should not by any means have a garrison of less than 200
Ticonderoga should have a like number: 200

Total 1,060

For opening Wood Creek & repairing Roads: 232

Total: 1,300

Colo. Van Schaick’s Regiment by last: 425
Colo. Wynkoop’s Regiment supposed at last: 300
Hired Bateauxmen: 100
Total: 825

If no flour is to be sent it will reduce the number of men to be employed in bateaux to about 250… If therefore about 250 men were sent to the six posts it would suffice.

The scans of Schuyler’s plan are available online at the Library of Congress’s collection of George Washington’s papers.

Another reason this plan is noteworthy is that it was not previously transcribed like much of the collection, and thus, not text searchable, so unless you are specifically searching for this, you would be unlikely to find it. I happened to be searching for all correspondence between generals Schuyler, Sullivan, and Arnold during May of 1776, trying to determine their whereabouts and the location of Sullivan’s troops as they moved north from Albany.

In The War has Begun, I wrote of how Quartermaster Isaac Frye and the 3rd NH Regiment played a role in implementing this plan as they moved north from Albany in May of 1776 to support the Continental troops already in Quebec.


George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence: Philip J. Schuyler to George Washington, May 24, 1776, with Estimate of Men. 1776. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

Force, Peter, 1837, American Archives: Fourth Series Containing a Documentary History of the English Colonies in North America, from the King’s message to Parliament, of Mar 7, 1774 to the Declaration of Independence by the United States.  Series 4, Volume 6. M. St. Clair Clark and Peter Force Under Authority of an Act of Congress, Passed on the Second of March, 1833. Washington D.C. p. 482 (letters from commissioners and General Thomas)

George Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence: Charles Carroll and Samuel Chase to Philip J. Schuyler, May 16, 1776. 1776. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.


New Letters Uncovered

In The War has Begun, I include transcripts from the two letters my family has preserved. One is from Isaac to his wife, Elizabeth, in 1775, and the other from Elizabeth late in 1776. I spent hours thinking about the story between the lines of these letters, and am grateful my cousin found these in the attic of Isaac’s house in the 1990s.

Fast forward to this past Monday evening. I was having dinner in North Hampton with my uncle and cousin, celebrating getting the book published. My uncle asked to get scans of the two letters so he could share with others in the family. Last night we learned the steamer trunk where our two letters were found also contained five more documents wrapped within non-descript paper!

May 3 1775 letter from Elizabeth Frye to Isaac Frye
Elizabeth Frye writes to her husband, Isaac Frye is quartermaster of one of the New Hampshire militia regiments of minutemen who responded to the alarm raised on April 19, 1775.

The above letter is one of the five documents. How cool is that? This letter was written two weeks after the alarm, and confirms the militia were being supplied by their families and towns during the early days of the Siege of Boston. The part about whether Isaac owed money to Jeremiah Abbot illustrates the difficulty the wives, who were forced into the role of agent for their husbands. Note: there were no banks in these days–IOUs served as contracts between neighbors.