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Letter from John Jay to Colonel McDougall



Philadelphia, March 23, 1776.

DEAR COLONEL: When the Clerk of the Congress gave me the printed papers which I enclosed you, he told me they contained the Navy establishment. Whatever deficiencies there may be in them as to that matter, will, I hope, be supplied by the extract now enclosed.

As to Continental colours, the Congress have made no order as yet concerning them; and I believe the Captains of their armed vessels have, in that particular, been directed by their own fancies and inclinations. I remember to have seen a flag designed for one of them, on which was extremely well painted a large rattlesnake, rearing his crest and shaking his rattles, with this motto: "Don' t tread on me;" but whether this device was generally adopted by the fleet, I am not able to say; I rather think it was not.

I am by no means without my apprehensions of danger from that licentiousness which, in your situation, is not uncommon. Nothing will contribute more to its suppression than a vigorous exertion of the powers vested in your Convention and Committee of Safety — at least till more regular forms can be introduced. The tenderness shown to some wild people, on account of their supposed attachment to the cause, has been of disservice. Their eccentrick behaviour, by passing unreproved, has gained countenance, and has lessened your authority, and diminished that dignity so essential and necessary to give weight and respect to your ordinances. Some of your own people are daily instigated, if not employed, to calumniate and abuse the whole Province, and misrepresent all their actions' and intentions. One, in particular, has had the impudence to intimate to certain persons that your battalions, last campaign, were not half full, and that Schaick' s Regiment had more officers than privates. Others report that you have all along supplied the men-of-war with whatever they pleased to have, and through them, our enemies in Boston. By tales like these they pay their court to people who have more ostensible consequence than real honesty, and more cunning than wisdom.

I am happy to find that our intermeddling in the affair of the Test is agreeable to you. For God' s sake resist all such attempts for the future.

Your own discernment has pointed out to you the principle of Lord Stirling' s advancement. Had the age of a Colonel' s commission been a proper rule, it would have determined in favour of some Colonel at Cambridge, many of whose commissions are prior in date to any in New-York. The spirit you betray on this occasion becomes a soldier.

The enclosed copy of a resolve of Congress will, I hope, settle all doubts relative to rank, which may arise from your new commission. The consequence you drew from that


circumstance was more ingenious than solid; for I can assure you that the Congress were not disposed to do anything wrong or uncivil; and I can also add, that your not having joined your regiment last summer has been explained to their satisfaction, as far as I am able to judge. With respect to this, however, as well as some other matters, I shall defer particulars till we meet. In a word, with some men in these as in other other times, a man must either be their tool and be despised, or act a firm disinterested part and be abused. The latter has, in one or two matters, been your fate, as well as that of many other good men. Adieu.

I am, dear sir, your friend,


To Colonel McDougall.