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Jan
11

Court Martial of Stark

By
When:
January 16, 2018 all-day
2018-01-16T00:00:00-05:00
2018-01-17T00:00:00-05:00

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This is just one aspect of the Dagworthy Controversy.

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Captain Dagworthy of Maryland asserted authority over all the troops from all the colonies stationed at Fort Cumberland.

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He asserted authority over Colonel George Washington, claiming his British commission was greater than even a colonial Colonel.

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Lieutenant William Stark of the Virginia Regiment understood that he would take orders only from Captain Dagworthy, even if it contradicted orders from any officer of the Virginia Regiment.

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January 18, 1756,

Lt Col Adam Stephen writes from Fort Cumberland to Colonel George Washington:

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I am most impatient for orders in this particular,

as factions have rose

to a great height amongst us:

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You will See by the proceedings

of a Certain Court inclosd

which I am ashamed of,

how much your Officers

know what they are about,

and how much they Can discern.3

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Any Scoundrel who takes upon him to determine your Authority, or Sides so palpably agt the dignity of the Virginia Regiment, is not worthy to bear a Commission in it—

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A Regiment that has Obtained honour & Character and never was beholden to him, or any of the Court but the president; for the Name it enjoys.

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I shall take upon me to insist on your Examing into this Affair, &

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pushing this Gentleman as far as the Case will allow.

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He declares that he does not value his Commission;

and from what I know of him we Need value his Service as little—

for I will agree to be whipt

if ever he adds any thing to our Credit—

he came to me this Evening

and desired me to put a Gentleman in arest

because he Call’d him a Coward.

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If you think proper,

This is a good handle to arest

and bring him to a Tryal, ⟨mutilated⟩

without any further Resentment,

makes me Suspect much,

that the Assertion is well grounded,

and I’m perswaded

you would not like

to be Supported by Such a person in the Day of Battle.

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Founders Online Footnote 3.

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Stephen appointed

a court of inquiry

at Fort Cumberland

to look “into the Conduct of Lieut. William Stark of the Virginia Regiment.”

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Capt. Thomas Waggener presided, and the members of the court were captains William Bronaugh, Joshua Lewis, Robert Spotswood, John Fenton Mercer, and Henry Woodward.

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The court met on 16 Jan. at the fort

and heard the testimony of Capt. Charles Lewis and of lieutenants John Williams, Roe, and John Campbell.

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Williams testified “that He heard Lieut. Stark say that He would not turn out his Guard to any Field Officer of the Virginia Regiment unless it was Order’d by Capt. Dagworthy who he looked upon to be Comanding Officer,”

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and Campbell affirmed that he had heard Stark say that “he would not make his Guard rest their Arms to Colo. Washington or Colo. Stephen while Capt. Dagworthy was Commanding Officer.”

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Testifying in his own defense, Stark conceded “that he would not rest his Arms to Colo. Washington or any Field Officer of the Virginia Regt unless he was at that Time Commanding Officer.”

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In the end the court delivered its opinion

that Lieutenant Stark has “only Acted conformable to the Commanding Officers Orders.”

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Written below GW’s copy of the court’s proceedings,

in Adam Stephen’s hand,

is the following notation:

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“Proceedings of a Certain Court of Enquiry—

The members of which

have render’d themselves obnoxious

not only to Censure

but a general Court Marshal—

having tryd the Prisr

upon no Article of War and

Consequently could not determine whether guilty or not.”

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(Presumably Stephen was using “obnoxious” in the old sense of “liable.”)

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Stephen also included a copy of a set of instructions

for “the Officer of the Fort Guard”

dated 3 Nov. 1755,

signed by John Dagworthy

and copied by Sgt. Thomas Carter.

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Across the bottom of the sheet Stephen wrote:

“A Copy of the Orders

by which the Court

pretended to determine,

and According to which

Their Opinion is most Erroneous.”

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The two specific orders from Dagworthy

to which the court must have referred were:

“Your Guard is to turn out

With Rested Armes

to the Commanding Officer

as he Passes and once 

Day Stand by their Arms to A Colo.”

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and “your Centries are to Rest to A Commanding Officer Or their Field Officer of their one Redgment as often as they Pass and shouldered to Other Officers.”

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NOTES


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2. Lewis was referring to the court of inquiry held at Fort Cumberland to investigate the conduct of Lt. William Stark, in which Charles Lewis testified.

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From George Washington to Charles Lewis, 27 January 1756

To Charles Lewis

[27 January 1756]

To Captain Charles Lewis, of the Virginia Regiment.
Dear Charles,

The first of march I appointed for the general Rendezvous; as I conceived a plan of operations for the ensuing Campaign would be concerted and ordered by that time: However, yours is Hereby prolonged until the twentieth of that month; at which time, without a further prolongation, you are ordered to repair to Winchester without fail.

I am greatly astonished at Mr Starke’s behaviour, but more surprized at the Courts opinion; who must (at least ought) to know, that if Captain Dagworthy really was Commander (which by the by, is a point I have never yet agreed to) that there are certain Compliments due from Troops to their own Field Officers, which can not well be dispensed with—but more of this anon.1

If you can inform particularly of these proceedings it will be agreeable, in a letter, when opportunity offers, to Alexandria.

It gave me infinite satisfaction to hear Colonel Stephen express his approbation of your conduct. Assure yourself, dear Charles, that activity and Bravery in Officers are the means to recommend them to their Country’s applause—and will ever endear them to me! Your Courage and ablities were always equal to my wishes: But I dreaded the pernicious effects of liquor; especially as I knew it bereft you of that prudent way of reasoning, which at other times you are master of. Such inconsistent behaviour as liquor sometimes prompts you to, may be borne by your Friends; but can not by Officers; and in a camp, where each individual should regulate his conduct for the good of the whole; and strive to excel in all laudable Emulations. This comes from me as your Friend, not as a Superior Officer; who must, when occasion requires, condemn as well as applaud: Though in sincerity I tell you, it would grate my Nature to censure a person for whom I have a real love and esteem; and one, too, who I know has a capacity to act as becomes the best of Officers.

This timely admonition will not, I hope, be thought unseasonable. I am influenced by friendly motives to give this advice; and offer it as a proof of the Regard, with which I am, Your &c. &c.

G:W.

LBDLC:GW.

1. GW was in this paragraph alluding to a communication from Adam Stephen of 18 Jan., enclosed in Lewis’s letter to GW of 25 Jan. Testimony about William Stark’s conduct as officer of the guard at Fort Cumberland and the court of inquiry’s opinion of this is quoted in note 3 of Stephen to GW, 18 Jan. 1756.

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