“a reward for past services”

Acknowledging Esther Reed’s letter describing the success of the subscription, George Washington requested that, rather than giving cash to the soldiers [which he thought would be squandered on drink or worse], the “fair associates” use the funds to buy linen to make shirts instead. Although shirts were not the gift that Esther Reed had in mind, indeed she questioned whether they were in fact needed at that time, she nevertheless agreed.

Banks of the Schuykill, July 31st, 1780Sir,
Ever since I received your Excellency’s favour of the 20th of this month, I have been endeavouring to procure the linen for the use of the soldiers . . . I have been informed of some circumstances, which I beg leave to mention, and from which perhaps the necessity for shirts may have ceased; one is the supply of 2000 sent from this State to their line, and the other, that a considerable number is arrived in the French fleet, for the use of the army in general. Together with these, an idea prevails among the ladies, that the soldiers will not be so much gratified, by bestowing an article to which they are entitled from the public, as in some other method which will convey more fully the idea of a reward for past services, and an incitement to future duty. Those who are of this opinion propose the whole of the money to be changed into hard dollars, and giving each soldier two, to be entirely at his own disposal. This method I hint only, but would not, by any means wish to adopt it or any other, without your full approbation. If it should meet with your concurrence, the State of Pennsylvania will take the linen I have purchased, and, as far as respects their own line, will make up any deficiency of shirts to them, which they suppose will not be many after the fresh supplies are received. If, after all, the necessity for shirts, which, though it may cease, as to the Pennsylvania Troops, may still continue to other parts of the army, the ladies will immediately make up the linen we have, which I think can soon be effected, and forward them to camp. . . .
I have the honour to be, dear Sir, With the highest esteem,
Your obedient servant, E. Reed

The material quoted is taken from In the Words of Women, pages 132-33.

posted November 2nd, 2015 by Janet, CATEGORIES: American soldiers, Reed, Esther De Berdt, Washington, George

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