War Department Accountant requests a Pay Raise

April 25th, 2012

On January 30, 1796, the Accountant of the War Department – William Simmons – wrote a letter to a committee of the House of Representatives advocating for a raise in his salary. Simmons wrote that he did this upon hearing of a “motion lately made in Congress to augment the Salary of the Accountant.”

As Simmons explains in his letter to the committee, the Office of Accountant was established by an act of Congress on May 8, 1792. The original duties of the Accountant was “to settle all accounts relative to the Pay, Forage, and Subsistence of the Army.” For these duties, the Accountant was allowed a salary of $1,200 (just over $15,000 in today’s money, adjusted for inflation).

Simmons noted in his letter that in the last four years, the duties of the Accountant have been expanded. The Accountant now also had to settle all accounts relative to “the Pay and Subsistence of the Navy, expences in the Military Store Department and all the expences and annuities in the Indian Department other than for the purchase of stores.” Despite the added workload, the Accountant’s salary “has never been augmented,” unlike “the Salaries of most of the other Officers of the Department.”

For further evidence that his salary ought to increase, Simmons also enclosed to the committee a list of the salaries allowed the Officers of the Treasury and War Department, “wherein they will observe that, that of the Accountant bears no proportion.” Simmons ultimately received his raise.

Document Spotlight-Military Appointment Edition

April 18th, 2012

Transcriber HollyPBrickhouse recently brought us a fascinating document detailing the appointment of General Anthony Wayne to the rank of Major General. The 1792 document advised Wayne that he has been appointed to that rank by the President of the United States, and that the United States Senate has ratified the appointment.

Knox encloses in the letter a schedule of pay for Wayne, and asks that Wayne please accept or decline the appointment with a return letter; curiously, Knox asks that an acceptance of the appointment be accompanied by a written oath of office.

Read the original document here.

There are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register (http://wardepartmentpapers.org/scripto/register.php) and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

Fumigating Public Stores

April 11th, 2012

In late June 1800, Samuel Hodgdon wrote to Israel Wheelen ordering him to fumigate the public stores in Philadelphia. The objective was not only to kill insects but mainly to prevent contagion; summer was the usual time for outbreaks of yellow fever and fumigation was believed to help stop the spread of disease.

Hodgdon recommended that Wheelen use nitre or brimstone (sulfur) for the fumigation. In 1795 the British had carried out a successful experiment on the hospital ship Union using a combination of concentrated vitriolic acid and nitrate of potash (sulfuric acid and potassium nitrate), conducting twice daily fumigation to prevent the spread of a fever. Brimstone, or sulfur, had been used to clear diseased air from ships since the 1750s, and vinegar was also supposed to help clear the air of infection. The prevailing medical theory of the time held that diseases spread through the air in a cloud, or miasma; therefore clearing or treating the air would reduce the risk of disease transmission.

As a side benefit, the combination of gas from the nitrate or sulfur and the liberal application of vinegar afterwards might well have kept bugs away from the stores. That may have been what Hodgdon meant when he referred to the “preservation of the woolen goods.” Even if the practice of fumigation did nothing to prevent the spread of diseases, it at least had some benefit when it came to insects and other pests.


For more on fumigation and the Union experiment, see the entry on Contagion in Encycopaedia or Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature (Philadelphia: Printed by Budd and Bartran for Thomas Dobson, 1803).

Who was William Blount?

April 4th, 2012

Blount’s name appears in thousands of  War Department Papers.  Who was he? Blount came from Windsor North Carolina, born into a family of merchants and planters who owned large tracts of property along the Pamlico River. During the American Revolutionary War, he  was a regimental paymaster for the 3rd North Carolina Regiment.  He participated in the regiment’s march north in the late spring of 1777 to join Washington’s army in the defense of Philadelphia. His North Carolina unit later served under Saratoga hero General Horatio Gates, who engaged Cornwallis in a bloody loss at Camden, South Carolina.  Having earned his revolutionary credentials, Blount served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and the Federal Convention of 1787. Later, Blount received an appointment from President Washington as Governor of the Southwest Territory (Tennessee) and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Department.  He established Knoxville (named after the Secretary of War) as the territorial capital.

Later Blount became a Senator. Long engaged in land speculation activities, he eventually found himself in financial difficulty.  He was implicated in a British plot to incite the Creeks and Cherokees to aid the British in conquering Spanish territory in West Florida.  When President Adams got wind of the plan, he informed the Senate.  The House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of expulsion from the Senate for treason.   In this letter from George Washington t0 James McHenry, Washington discusses the “nefarious” conduct of the late governor and senator.