Headquarters, Philadelphia County, 6th, October, 1777
From General George Washington
You will oblige me much if you will immediately upon the rect of this, set about making the most minute enquiry into the number and situation of the enemy at Wilmington. The force of the enemy, where their artillery is placed, any lines of redoubts, where their pickets are and of what number they consist. I beg you will inform me by letter or if you can spare the time, I shall be glad to see you personally.”
That’s the condensed version of a letter sent by Commander and Chief of the Continental Army, General Washington, camped at Philadelphia. He is making inquiry with Cecil County’s own Colonel Henry Hollingsworth, the army’s Deputy Quartermaster General, about the status of British forces in Delaware. The duo would exchange about a half dozen letters over the course of the next year while the British occupied Philadelphia, then our new nation’s capital. One of them, dated February, 1778 expressed the desperate situation the army faced during its winter encampment at Valley Forge.
“Sir, I am under the painful necessity of informing you that the situation of the army is most critical…. The troops have not had supplies of (meat) for four days and many of them have been much longer without. I must entreat you Sir to give all the assistance in your power, to promote this very important and interesting work.”
Washington and Hollingsworth would correspond again in 1781 as The General moved his forces south from New York to Yorktown, Virginia where those forces, together with those of the French, would defeat the British, thus ending our Revolutionary War, signaling the independence from Great Britain of our “free and independent states.”
Hollingsworth’s Revolutionary War service started before the shooting began with his appointment to the Maryland Committee of Safety, a quasi interim government for Maryland between the fall of the Royal government and the establishment of the new United States. According to the Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania, edited by John W. Jordan, once the war began, Colonel Hollingsworth was “commissioned January 3, 1776 as Lieutenant Colonel of the Elk battalion of Cecil County militia….” As deputy Quartermaster General, Hollingsworth was best at “organizing, equipping and forwarding much needed recruits, looking after the forwarding and furnishing supplies for the troops in the field….”
While he didn’t, Col. Hollingsworth could have been quite the name dropper as he had correspondence with a number of Revolutionary War characters including: Patrick Henry, Generals Lafayette, Nathaniel Green, Horatio Gates, and of course, General Washington himself.
Toward the end of the war, in 1780, Hollingsworth was accused of forgery and was investigated by the Maryland Assembly. In July, Hollingsworth was cleared of all charges.
After the war, Hollingsworth maintained correspondence with President and then private citizen, Washington. In March of 1798, less than 2 years before the General’s death, Hollingsworth sent a sample of wool manufactured at his Cecil County mill to Washington saying he thought such manufacturing would “further establish our independence by if possible as I could not think we ware Independent and while we are beholding to Britain or any other country for half we eat, drink, and ware….” Washington liked the wool cloth.
“The cloth is of an exceeding good texture, and well dyed; and I am persuaded will ware well…. The United States will be independent in name only, until essential arts and manufacturies (sic) are so established in them….”
Hollingsworth lived in what is now called Partridge Hall in Elkton where his descendants also lived well into the 20th century.
Documents and letters to and from Henry Hollingsworth reside at the Historical Society of Cecil County in the Gilpin Papers which are available for research. A finding aid for the papers can be accessed through this link http://cecilhistory.org/aids/gilpin.html
Today, as we celebrate and observe the birth of our Constitution, we also remember the birthday of our own Col. Henry Hollingsworth, who was born on this date in 1737.