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Howard, John Eager (1752-1827) to Henry Knox

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.00299 Author/Creator: Howard, John Eager (1752-1827) Place Written: New York, New York Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 14 May 1776 Pagination: 2p.+addr. 32.4 cm. x 20.7 cm.

Summary of Content: Apologizes for disturbing Knox with this letter, refers to Knox as his benefactor, and insists that he writes out of necessity. Describes his impromtu joining of the campaign on the recent march from Massachusetts to New York, his lack of money, and his awkward position as neither an officer nor a soldier. Explains the dignity and honor of being well dressed. Requests relief (meaning money). Assures Knox that he will not be "one of the Continent's bad Bargains," explaining a common reference to those who have joined the service to "amuse and gratify" instead of for Howard's noble reasons: "A thrift of Honor, the Defense of my Property*, & the common Rights of Mankind." The * refers to six hundred acres described as valueless if the Americans lose. Also explains that a bout of consumption prevented his earlier enlistment.

Full Transcript: [draft]
To Henry Knox Esqr. Colonel of the Regiment of Artillery in the Service of the United Colonies.
I am very unwilling to disturb your Repose or turn your ...Mind from the important Concerns of public Affairs, to those of a poor Individual. I am not insensible Sir of the inviolable Obligations I am under to serve you. The Honour you have already done me, and the still greater Hope you have been pleased to set before me, are abundantly sufficient to excite a generous Mind to sincere Gratitude, and punctual Obedience. These Considerations might be sufficient to prevent my Writing, and bid me forbear thus to trouble my Benefactor: But, "Neccissitas non avet Legis," is an old Maxim which I now adduce as a Statute in my Favour. Necessity, Sir, is the only Case of this Address; and when thus urged, altho' I commit a Crime, yet, I am persuaded, you have too much Generosity not to forgive me.
I came from Home, Sir, as I told you before, expecting to return in a few Days, and therefore was noways prepared for such a journey; much less for a Campaign. I had only 50 Dollars in my Pocket, and but little Cloathing. Our March from Providence (where I overtook Capt: Burbeck) to this City, was slow, fatiguing, and very expensive. Many of the soldiers were destitute of Money; and while I have it myself, it grieves me to se others suffer fro Drink. But now my Cash is all gone; I am here among Strangers, at a great Distance from Home; am still forced to be considerable Expence, but in a very poor Way to pay it. I am neither an Office nor a Soldier. This, Sir, is my unhappy Case! I leave it to the Colonel to paint out to himself the Mortification a Person of Spirit must must feal in Circumstances like these.
Were I striped by the Misfortune of War, in which I had bravely acted my Part, my Poverty would be to my [illegible] but here, 'tis low - 'tis mean - who can bear it?
An Officer should not only be exemplary in his whole Deportment, but also in his Dress: a Candidate should be the same.
Please turn to the other side.
[2] Neatness and Uniformity in Dress, adds Beauty to the Appearance, Honour to the Employment, and solicit, with irresistable Force, Numbers to engage in the Character of Soldiers. but these things are attend with Expence -
I would not have you think, Sir, I mean to beg: I have no such Design: I would only intreat the Colonel (as soon as he can, confident with his own Honour, Happiness, and the Good of his Country) to put me in some Way to extricate myself from the Difficulties under which I labour; and I hope, in return, my Conduct may be such as will reflect Honour upon my Colonel, merit I for myself, and do Good to my Country and Cause.
I assure you, Sir, I have no Disposition to be made (to use the Soldier's Phrase) one of the Continent's bad bargains; I fear there are too many such already. I fear there are some (I hope not many) who spend more Time to amuse and gratify, than to qualify themselves for their Country's Service. But It wasnot the gay Livery of an Officer - it was not a Prophet of Meriment and Self gratification that led me here: no, sir, I acted from other Motives. A Thrift for Honor; the Defence of my own Property * and the common Rights of Mankind have, for a long Time, with united Force, invited me to join the Martial band: the Want of Helth only, has kept me from it. But, blessed by God, I now enjoy a good State of Helth; the greatest Disorder I am troubled with is, the Consumption in my Purse - But why do I thus trouble my Colonel by diverting his Mind from Things of Importance: I beg your Pardon, Sir, for the Length of my Letter. Please to do for me as your Wisdom may direct: and as it will be my Honour, Interest, and Duty; so it shall ever by my greatest Pleasure and constant Concern to quallify myself for, and faithfully to fulfill the various Duties incumbent upon me.
N.York 14th. May 1776
I am Sir,
Your most obedient,
and most humble Servant,
John Howard
*Six hundred Acres of new Land is the chief Interest I have in the World: If the Americans succeed, its Vallue is great, if not 'tis lost and I must be contented with Poverty instead of Welth.
See More

People: Howard, John, fl. 1776-1788
Knox, Henry, 1750-1806

Historical Era: American Revolution, 1763-1783

Subjects: Revolutionary WarMilitary HistoryCharity and PhilanthropyFinanceMilitary UniformsClothing and AccessoriesLand TransactionFreedom and IndependenceCivil RightsDiseaseTuberculosisHealth and Medical

Sub Era: The War for Independence

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