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Waterman, Asa Correspondence, 1777-1780

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Collection Overview

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

This series consists of the correspondence of Asa Waterman (1743-1789), who served as a commissary for the American government during the Revolutionary War. Asa Waterman was born May 1, 1743 in Norwich, Connecticut to Asa and Lucy Hyde Waterman. In 1777 he married Anne Cooke Sterry (1752-1837), daughter of Governor Cook of Providence, R.I. Before the outbreak of the war, Waterman served in various military posts and operated as a ship merchant. His experience in dealing goods undoubtedly contributed to his appointment as a commissary. Waterman was among the first commissaries in America, as the commissariat system was established during (and in response to) the Revolutionary War. Before then, the provisioning of any military troops in the American colonies was conducted by piecemeal contract with individual suppliers. As the fight for independence escalated, the Continental Congress decided a more stable system was needed to provide food, clothes, and weapons to the troops. Congress therefore established the office of the Commissary General of Stores and Provisions in June 1775. The structure and success of the commissariat system changed throughout the war. Initially, Joseph Trumbull (1737-1778) was appointed Commissary General and was given wide latitude to organize the commissariat system as he saw fit, with little input from Congress. By 1777 it became clear more standards and regulations were needed, causing Congress to reorganize the system. The department was split between a Commissary General of Issues and a Commissary General of Purchases, positions filled by William Buchanan and Jeremiah Wadsworth (1743-1804) respectively. When this proved faulty, yet another revision was made whereby each state was required to fulfill a quota of provisions. This last iteration of the commissariat operated under the direction of Ephraim Blaine (1741-1804). Stationed in Rhode Island, Asa Waterman appears to have started his tenure with the commissariat around the time of the split into separate issue and purchasing departments, though his titles and responsibilities reflect how unsuccessful the split proved to be. From October 1777 to June 1779, Waterman was Assistant Commissary of Issues, but he also helped with purchasing. In June 1779 he officially switched to Assistant Commissary of Purchases. When the commissariat was again reorganized into a state quota system, he remained in the service of Rhode Island until August 1780 at which point he returned to his hometown of Norwich, Connecticut, to serve as Deputy Commissary of Purchases. He appears to have remained in Norwich until his death there in early 1789. The correspondence in this series dates from Waterman's years in Rhode Island (1777-1780). Included are letters both to and from Waterman. The correspondents include military officers requesting provisions, private suppliers writing about the availability of certain goods, and most frequently other commissaries, notably Peter Colt—Waterman's superior who was in charge of purchasing for the entire "Eastern Department" (comprised of New England and parts of New York). As a whole, the series highlights two major themes. The first is the difficulty of provisioning the troops with adequate, nutritious food due to a scarcity of staples (most often flour) and the problem of shipping goods at the risk of enemy seizure. Creative methods of "lengthening" food were encouraged (e.g. adding rice to flour to make it last longer). The second theme is the frequent reorganization of the commissariat system, resulting in new regulations that affected how and when troops could be supplied. The constant change in rules and salaries clearly frustrated Waterman, Colt, and other members of the Commissariat as evidenced by many of the letters in this series. The papers are arranged chronologically.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged alphabetically by name of originator and/or subject; in the Miscellaneous and Provenance Files boxes (Boxes 43-44) the material is arranged alphabetically under the subject (ex.: "Washington, George.").

Collection History

Appraisal

No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Rebecca Garcia during the period of November 2007 - October 2008. Finding aid written by Rebecca Garcia in 2008.

During 2022, restrictions on original materials, including items related to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, were lifted as part of a restrictions review project.

Collection title revised to provide more information about the collection by Faith Charlton in 2022.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Waterman, Asa Correspondence; Andre De Coppet Collection Concerning United States History, C0063, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Location:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (hsvm): Box 40