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Loose Ends: George Washington and “Philip Langfit”

By Jeffrey L. Zvengrowski, Assistant Editor
January 26, 2018

When undertaking research, editors of The Papers of George Washington have occasionally discovered intriguing historical connections that are not included in the annotation. In some cases, the information is omitted because connections cannot be definitively tied together and therefore lack sufficient certitude to warrant inclusion.

On Dec. 16, 1773, for instance, “Phill Langfitt” signed a contract that Washington penned. In the contract, “The said Philip Langfit doth agree to hire unto… George Washington for and during the term & time of three years to commence from the date hereof a certain Negro man Slave named Nase (a Cowper by Trade & now in the possession of the said George Washington) for the consideration hereafter to be named…”.1 Washington’s accounts indicate that on the same day, he paid “Philp Langfit” £50, which was the sum specified in the contract.2 The general orders for Aug. 29, 1780 also record that “Philip Lankfitt” and another member of the 4th Continental Dragoons were tried at a court martial in July “for ‘Robbing Joseph Wessells of sundry Articles in presence of the said Wessell’s Wife’ found Guilty of the charge exhibited against them… and sentenced each of them to receive one hundred lashes—The Commander in Chief approves the sentence”.3 When “aged 63 years,” a “Philip Langfitt” swore an affidavit at Prince William County in Virginia on June 8, 1820 in order to obtain a military pension. He stated that he served as a private in the 3rd Virginia Regiment beginning in 1776 and enlisted in the 4th Continental Dragoons in December 1777. Noting, too, that he had been wounded at the Battle of Monmouth, he “further declares upon his oath that his occupation is that of a Cooper and that he is lame and infirm and lacks bodily strength to pursue his trade.”4

Each of these documents could very well pertain to the same person, but it is also possible that they pertain to multiple individuals: a father and son, an uncle, or a nephew. The following is all that the annotation connected with the general orders for Aug. 29 in volume 28 of the Revolutionary War Series will probably include:

Philip Langfit (Langford; born c.1757) swore an affidavit at Prince William County, Va., on 8 June 1820 that included a sketch of his service record. Langfit enlisted as a private in the 3rd Virginia Regiment in 1776 and then enlisted in the 4th Continental Dragoons in December 1777. He was “shot throug[h] his body at the battle of Monmouth” and probably left the army in late 1780. Langfit worked as “a Cooper” but being “lame and infirm” could not “pursue his trade” (DNA: RG 15, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900).

Historians and other scholars might eventually build upon this annotation and the documentary record to determine from whom the slave Nase learned his trade; if cavalryman Langfit’s body suffered long-term damage from his lashing in addition to his wound; if Nase obtained freedom, etc. Furthermore, did General Washington approve the whipping of a former business associate? If so, did Washington hold a grudge against Langfit, or was he impressively impartial in the administration of republican military justice? Editors provide sound contextual information that establishes a foundation for further research.  The editors desire and encourage others to pursue and answer provocative questions.

Philip Langfit and George Washington, Dec. 16, 1773, Agreement Copied by George Washington, AD, DLC:GW. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

 


  1. Philip Langfit and George Washington, Dec. 16, 1773, Agreement Copied by George Washington, AD, DLC:GW.
  2. Cash Accounts, December 1773. See George Washington’s Financial Papers.
  3. General Orders, Aug. 29, 1780, Varick transcript, DLC:GW.
  4. Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900, DNA: RG 15.