"... sufficient ... to strip a soldier to the skin."
Sutlers in the Continental Army, 1777-1782

By John U. Rees — 2nd NJ, Helm's Company

This collection of miscellaneous accounts was prompted by the discovery of a sutler's license issued in 1782. While hardly exhaustive, the information shows the uneasy, but necessary, relationship which commanders had with these little-known followers of the army. For an in-depth discussion of sutlers and their role during the war, see Holly A. Mayer, Belonging to the Army: Camp Followers and Community during the American Revolution (Columbia, S.C., 1996), pp. 86-96.

1777 and 1779

Washington's Army "Head Quarters, Middle-Brook, June 1, 1777 ... The Provost Marshall to patrole the camp, and its environs frequently - to take up all who cannot give a good account of themselves, and all disorderly persons - He is to see that the Suttlers do not deal out liquors &c at an untimely hour, but conform to such rules as have been, or may be formed, relating to them." (General orders, 1 June 1777, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, vol. 8 (Washington, DC, 1933), pp. 155-156.)

Thomas Wharton to Henry Laurens, 3 November 1777, "... there is too much reason to fear that the attention of the officers hath not prevented the soldiers from selling their cloathing, perhaps for the purpose of purchasing whiskey, which at the enormous price it is now sold by the sutlers at camp, is alone sufficient in a few weeks to strip a soldier to the skin." (The Papers of the Continental Congress 1774-1789, National Archives Microfilm Publications M247, (Washington, DC, 1958), reel 83, p. 429.)

"Head Quarters Whitemarsh November 24th. 1777. ... Information Having been given that Divers[e] of the Late Sutlers and some of the Inhabitants have opened Tiplinghouses within and adjacent to the Encampment of the army, by which the Design of Banishing the Sutlers from the army is in a Great Measure frustrated the deputy Quartermaster Genl. is Required forthwith to make Diligent Enquiry and Examination for Discovering such Houses and supressing them and to assure all who are Driving this Pernissous trade that if Continued any Longer their Liquors Shall be siezd. and they expelld from the Neighbourhood of the Army on Pain of the Severest Punishment if they Return." ("'A Whitemarsh Orderly Book,' 1777," Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography, vol. 45, no. 3 (1921), pp. 211-212.)

Brigade Orders, 1st Pennsylvania Brigade, 10 March 1779. " The Sutler of the first P.B. is ordered imediately to depart from Camp, & all other persons selling Liquors is immediately to quit selling Liquors." (Orderly Book of the Seventh Pennsylvania Regiment, 2 February 1779 to 15 1779, John B. Linn and William H. Egle, eds., Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd series, vol. XI (Harrisburg, Pa., 1880), p. 414.)

(Note: Alcohol was only one of the commodities sold by the sutlers. Holly Mayer also found references to tobacco, paper, ham, bacon, coffee, and sugar being made available. In the 1st Pennsylvania Brigade, in August 1778, it was stipulated that "no one was allowed to sell for the brigade 'except Such as will Govern himself as follows - To provide as Much Mutton Fowls and Vegatables as Shall be apply'd for by the Officers - every Monday & Thirsday - Officers are to Bespeak what they want on Satturdays & Wednsday mornings all at moderate prices.'"


"To whom it may concern
Camp at Verplanks point Septr 8th 1782

Mr. Joel Abbot being duly recommended, is hereby licensed as a sutler with the main army; he conforming to the regulations which shall be made for their government.
Timothy Pickering QMG"

(Timothy Pickering, "To whom it may concern," 8 September 1782, Numbered Record Books Concerning Military Operations and Service, Pay and Settlement of Accounts, and Supplies in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93, National Archives Microfilm Publication M853, vol. 84, reel 27, p. 96 (henceforth cited as National Archives, Numbered Record Books).)

"Regulations for the Government of Sutlers

1stAll the liquors and provisions which a sutler shall expose to Sale shall be of good & wholesome quality & for this reason subjected to the Inspection of the quarter master general, or such officer as he shall appoint for the purpose.
2dThe prices of the articles shall be reasonable, and to prevent imposition, a list of the prices shall be posted up at his quarters.
3dFor Liquors or other articles sold to non commissioned officers & soldiers, artificers and waggoners, nothing shall be taken in payment but money.
4.No soldier or others described in the 3d Article are to be suffered to remain Tipling about a sutler's quarters.
5th.At the beating of the tattoo, each sutler is to shut up his stores, and sell nothing more until after Reveillee the next morning.
6.Each sutler is without delay to report to the quarter master general the place where he fixes his quarters.
7.These regulations are to be posted up by each sutler in a conspicuous place at his quarters.

Camp Sept 8. 1782 Tim. Pickering

(Timothy Pickering, "Regulations for the Government of Sutlers," 8 September 1782, National Archives, Numbered Record Books, vol. 84, reel 27, pp. 96-97.)

Copyright © 1997 John U. Rees. All rights reserved.