Nathanael Greene papers (1762-1852, bulk 1780-1785)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Philip Heslip, May 2011
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Nathanael Greene papers
Creator: William L. Clements Library
Inclusive dates: 1762-1852
Bulk dates: 1780-1785
Extent: 10 linear feet
The Nathanael Greene papers contain Greene's military and personal correspondence during American Revolution, with the bulk of the collection documenting his command in the Southern Department (1780-1783). The collection includes Greene's communications with George Washington, the Continental Congress, the War Board, state governors, and Continental Army officers and subordinates. Also present are military documents, such as returns, memoranda, and expense reports, and personal letters to and from his wife Catherine.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

1759-2014. M-337, et. al.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Alternate Format

The majority of the Greene papers are published in The Papers of General Nathanael Greene . Chapel Hill: Published for the Rhode Island Historical Society by University of North Carolina Press, 1976-2005.

Preferred Citation

Nathanael Greene Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged into six series:
  • Series I: Correspondence and Documents.
  • Series II: Household and Personal Accounts
  • Series III: Letters and Memo Book of Nathanael and Catherine Greene
  • Series IV: Battle of Cowpens Letters
  • Series V: First Overtures for the Cessation of Hostilities in the American War of Independence Made by the British to General Nathanael Greene, 1782
  • Series VI: Last Will and Testament

Series I is ordered chronologically and Series II is ordered alphabetically by recipient.


American Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) was born in Potowomut, Rhode Island, to Quakers Nathanael Greene and Mary Mott. Greene married Catherine Littlefield in 1774, and they had five children. In 1775, Rhode Island appointed Greene to command their newly raised regiments. He served under Washington through the siege of Boston, and took his troops to New York in the spring of 1776. Promoted to major general in April 1776, he fought in the New York campaign and accompanied Washington in the attack on the Hessians at Trenton in December. He spent the following winter at Valley Forge, and participated in battles in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the summer of 1777.

Greene distinguished himself for his ability to gather and regulate supplies. He served as quartermaster general from early 1778 until he resigned in 1780. During that time, he reorganized the department and made it more efficient and effective, though he constantly struggled with Congress for funds. While serving as quartermaster, Greene also participated in several battles, for example at Monmouth, and aided General John Sullivan in the 1778 Rhode Island campaign. In August 1780, Greene replaced Horatio Gates as commander of the Southern Department. On his way south he accomplished the prodigious task of equipping and supplying his almost destitute army. Facing Lord Cornwallis's superior forces, Greene out-maneuvered the British and left them with costly victories at Guilford Court House, Hobkirk's Hill, Ninety-Six, and Eutaw Springs. Cornwallis, drawn northward from his base at Charleston, pushed into Virginia and was forced to surrender at Yorktown. Meanwhile, Greene, with the aid of General Anthony Wayne, concentrated on expelling the British from Savannah and Charleston in 1782.

After the war, South Carolina and Georgia gave Greene tracts of land as a reward for his service. Greene, however, had amassed considerable debts during the war, and struggled to pay them back. He moved his family to a plantation called Mulberry Grove, near Savannah, Georgia, but he struggled to make it profitable. Greene died suddenly of either heat stroke or an infection on June 19, 1786.

Catherine (Caty) Littlefield Greene (1755-1814) was born on Block Island, Rhode Island. She and Nathanael married in 1774 and over the course of the war they had five children. When possible, Caty joined Nathanael at his headquarters; however they spent much of the war separated. After Nathaniel's death, she hired Phineas Miller as the plantation manager of Mulberry Grove, and under his management the plantation prospered for a time. She and Miller married in 1796, and in 1798 they moved to a plantation called Dungeness on Cumberland Island, which Caty managed until her death in 1814.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Nathanael Greene papers (approximately 5100 items) contain Greene's military and personal correspondence during American Revolution, with the bulk of the collection documenting his command in the Southern Department (1780-1783). Included are Greene's communications with George Washington; the Continental Congress; the War Board; many state governors, such as Thomas Jefferson; and Continental Army officers and subordinates. Also present are various military documents, such as returns, memoranda, and expense reports, and personal letters with his wife Catherine and friend Charles Pettit.

The majority of the collection has been published in the Rhode Island Historical Society's The Papers of General Nathanael Greene (1976-2005). Much of the published material, however, is abstracted, and hundreds of the collection's letters and documents were left out of the volumes. Many of the unpublished items are documents (memoranda, returns, expense reports etc.) and letters to or from persons other than Greene, though occasionally Greene letters and drafts were omitted.

The Correspondence and Documents series (4720 items) contain Greene's incoming and outgoing communications, documenting his military leadership, decision-making, and activities during the American Revolution. A prolific letter writer, he communicated with governors of the southern states, merchants selling to the quartermaster's department, complaining civilians, British officers, and, during his later years, business associates. During the war, he reported regularly to George Washington, the president of Continental Congress and certain committee members, and the Board of War. Also important are the letters to and from his fellow and subordinate officers in the quartermaster's department, the militia of the southern states, and the regular southern army, such as Ichabod Burnet, Mordecai Gist, James Gunn, Isaac Huger, Henry Knox, Henry Lee, Francis Marion, Israel Putnam, Arthur St. Clair, and Otho Holland Williams, among many others. In addition to letters, the series contains orders, memoranda, intelligence reports, expense accounts, and official letters. Of note are two letters from General Rochambeau to Greene written in Washington's cipher with contemporary translations (February 26, and April 6, 1782).

Although the bulk of the collection concerns military affairs, personal and family letters are also present, including 96 letters between Greene and his wife Catherine (Caty) Greene, and 70 letters from Greene's friend Charles Pettit of Philadelphia. Catherine also received letters from army officers and other prominent government figures, as well as from admirers, family, and friends.

The Household and Personal Accounts series (232 items) contains receipts and bills for Greene and his family, covering 1779 to 1786.

The Letters and Memo Book of Nathanael and Catherine Greene series (119 items) contains two volumes of letters to and from Nathanael and Catherine Greene, and one memo book. Letters fall into four categories: letters from Nathanael to Catherine Greene, letters from Greene to various recipients, letters to Greene, and letters to Catherine Greene. These letters concern both personal and military matters and include letters to Catherine after Greene's death. In addition to the letters, the volumes are illustrated with engraving portraits of the following contributors: Nathanael Greene (9 portraits), Edward Carrington, Thomas Jefferson, Mordecai Gist, Henry Lee, Alexander Martin, Robert Morris, Otho H. Williams, Henry Knox, Tobias Lear, Samuel Livermore, Edward Rutledge, Littleton W. Tazewell, and Anthony Wayne (2 portraits). The memo book (22 pages) contains Greene's notes on personal accounts throughout 1776. Many entries record debts incurred by Greene while in military service. Also present is an index of the letters, with abstracts, created by George H. Richmond for an auction.

The Battle of Cowpens Letters series (17 items) consists of 15 letters and two engravings (January-June 1781). These comprise Greene's retained copies of letters to generals Daniel Morgan, Thomas Sumter, and Francis Marion concerning the American victory at the Battle of Cowpens (January 1781), and the failed siege of Fort Ninety-Six (May-June 1781). The engravings are of Greene in military dress and of a neoclassical memorial celebrating Greene with the subtitle "a patriot, a hero, a friend."

The First Overtures for the Cessation of Hostilities in the American War of Independence Made by the British to General Nathanael Greene, 1782 series (16 items) is a volume containing letters and documents to and from Greene concerning Britain's peace proposals in 1782. Included are letters from Greene to various British and American officers, with details on receiving peace documents and discussing terms of peace. Each item is transcribed. Also present is a facsimile of the volume with photostats of each item.

The Last Will and Testament series (4 pages) comprises a contemporary copy of Greene's will from October 11, 1785. The will contains Greene's signature and seal.

Subject Terms

  • André, John, 1751-1780.
  • Arnold, Benedict, 1741-1801.
  • Boston (Mass.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Boston (Mass.)--History--Siege, 1775-1776.
  • Brandywine, Battle of, Pa., 1777.
  • Camden, Battle of, Camden, S.C., 1780.
  • Charleston (S.C.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Chestnut Neck, Battle of, N.J., 1778.
  • Cowpens, Battle of, Cowpens, S.C., 1781.
  • Eutaw Springs, Battle of, S.C., 1781.
  • Fort Lee (N.J.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Fort Ninety-six (S.C.)
  • Germantown, Battle of, Philadelphia, Pa., 1777.
  • Georgia--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Guilford Courthouse, Battle of, N.C., 1781.
  • Harlem Heights, Battle of, N.Y., 1776.
  • Hobkirk's Hill, Battle of, S.C., 1781.
  • Indians of North America--Wars--1775-1783.
  • Long Island, Battle of, New York, N.Y., 1776.
  • Massachusetts--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Military discipline.
  • Monmouth, Battle of, Freehold, N.J., 1778.
  • New Jersey--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • New York (State)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Ninety Six (S.C.)--History--Siege, 1781.
  • North Carolina--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Pennsylvania--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Princeton, Battle of, Princeton, N.J., 1777.
  • Rhode Island, Battle of, R.I., 1778.
  • South Carolina--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Trenton, Battle of, Trenton, N.J., 1776.
  • United States. Continental Army--Officers--Correspondence.
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Campaigns.
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Personal narratives.
  • Virginia--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
Subjects - Visual Materials:
  • Carrington, Edward, 1749-1810.
  • Gist, Mordecai, 1743-1792.
  • Greene, Nathanael, 1742-1786.
  • Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826.
  • Knox, Henry, 1750-1806.
  • Lear, Tobias, 1762-1816.
  • Lee, Henry, 1756-1818.
  • Livermore, Samuel, 1732-1803.
  • Martin, Alexander, 1740-1807.
  • Morris, Robert, 1734-1806.
  • Rutledge, Edward, 1749-1800.
  • Tazewell, Littleton Waller, 1774-1860.
  • Wayne, Anthony, 1745-1796.
  • Williams, Otho Holland, 1747-1794.
  • Burnet, Ichabod, 1755-1783.
  • Carrington, Edward, 1749-1810.
  • Clay, Joseph, 1741-1804.
  • Clinton, George, 1739-1812.
  • Estaing, Charles Henri, comte d', 1729-1794.
  • Gist, Mordecai, 1743-1792.
  • Greene, Catharine Littlefield.
  • Greene, Nathanael, 1742-1786.
  • Gunn, James, 1739-1801.
  • Hamilton, Alexander, 1757-1804.
  • Harmar, Josiah, 1753-1813.
  • Huger, Isaac, 1742-1797.
  • Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826.
  • Knox, Henry, 1750-1806.
  • Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, marquis de, 1757-1834.
  • Lear, Tobias, 1762-1816.
  • Lee, Henry, 1756-1818.
  • Lee, Richard Henry, 1732-1794.
  • Lewis, Morgan, 1754-1844.
  • Lillington, John A.
  • Lincoln, Benjamin, 1733-1810.
  • Marion, Francis, 1732-1795.
  • Mifflin, Thomas, 1744-1800.
  • Morris, Robert, 1734-1806.
  • Pettit, Charles, 1736-1806.
  • Putnam, Israel, 1718-1790.
  • Hastings, Francis Rawdon-Hastings, Marquess of, 1754-1826.
  • Rochambeau, Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, comte de, 1725-1807.
  • St. Clair, Arthur, 1734-1818.
  • Spotswood, Alexander, ca. 1746-1818.
  • Steuben, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, Baron von, 1730-1794.
  • Stoddert, Benjamin, 1751-1813.
  • Sumner, Jethro, 1733?-1785.
  • Sumter, Thomas, 1734-1832.
  • Wayne, Anthony, 1745-1796.
  • Washington, George, 1732-1799.
  • Williams, Otho Holland, 1749-1794.
Genre Terms:
  • Accounts.
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Memorandums.
  • Orders (military records)
  • Receipts.

Contents List (Request Materials)

Request materials for use in the Clements Library
Container / Location Title
Correspondence and Documents [series]

Many items are located in Oversize Manuscripts, represented below.

Box   1 Folders   1-50
 December 5, 1762-January 24, 1780, original numbers 1:1-6:13
Box   2 Folders   1-50
 January 28-November 27, 1780, original numbers 6:14-11:25
Box   3 Folders   1-55
 November 27, 1780-January 20, 1781, original numbers 11:26-16:6
Box   4 Folders   1-50
 January 20-February 25, 1781, original numbers 16:7-21:33
Box   5 Folders   1-52
 February 25-April 6, 1781, original numbers 21:34-26:62
Box   6 Folders   1-50
 [April 7]-May 20, 1781, original numbers 27:1-32:27
Box   7 Folders   1-50
 May 20-July 9, 1781, original number 32:28-37:51
Box   8 Folders   1-41
 July 9-August 20, 1781, original numbers 37:52-41:34
Box   9 Folders   1-45
 August 21-November 14, 1781, original numbers 42:1-47:51
Box   10 Folders   1-55
 November 14, 1781-January 16, 1782, original numbers 47:52-52:26
Box   11 Folders   1-50
 January 16-March 11, 1782, original numbers 52:27-55:50
Box   12 Folders   1-50
 March 12-April 26, 1782, original numbers 55:51-59:11
Box   13 Folders   1-50
 April 27-June 24, 1782, original numbers 59:12-62:61
Box   14 Folders   1-50
 June 24-August 29, 1782, original numbers 62:62-66:58
Box   15 Folders   1-50
 August 29-October 22, 1782, original numbers 66:59-70:20
Box   16 Folders   1-50
 October 23, 1782-February 2, 1783, original numbers 70:21-74:19
Box   17 Folders   1-50
 February 2-August 8, 1783, original numbers 74:20-78:47     A letter dated Inclusive dates: June 25, 1783 is located in volume 6. 
Box   18 Folders   1-50
 August 18, 1783-March 7, 1785, original numbers 78:48-83:19
Box   19 Folders   1-46
 March 7, 1785-June 4, 1858 and undated, original numbers 83:20-87:4
Folder   1: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1777-1778, original numbers 1:10-2:58
Folder   2: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1779-1780, original numbers 3:6-6:17
Folder   3: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1780, original numbers 7:9-10:46
Folder   4: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1780, original numbers 10:60-12:7
Folder   5: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1780, original numbers 12:31-12:45
Folder   6: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1780-1781, original numbers 13:33-14:12
Folder   7: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781, original numbers 14:22-16:38
Folder   8: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781, original numbers 16:40-19:48
Folder   9: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781, original numbers 20:10-25:4
Folder   10: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781, original numbers 25:21-34:55
Folder   11: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781, original numbers 35:12-35:46
Folder   12: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781, original numbers 36:16-39:40
Folder   13: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781, original numbers 39:51-41:7
Folder   14: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781, original numbers 41:33-45:5
Folder   15: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781, original numbers 45:18-46:2
Folder   16: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781, original numbers 46:3-46:26
Folder   17: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781, original numbers 47:33-49:37
Folder   18: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1781-1782, original numbers 50:61-54:68
Folder   19: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1782, original numbers 55:32-60:62
Folder   20: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1782, original numbers 61:13-61:53
Folder   21: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1782, original numbers 61:58-71:12
Folder   22: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1782-1783, original numbers 73:11-74:7
Folder   23: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1783, original numbers 74:16-74:28
Folder   24: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1783, original numbers 74:32-77:48
Folder   25: Oversize Manuscripts  
 1783-1786, original numbers 78:39-87:23
Household and personal accounts [series]
Box   19 Folders   47-54
A-Z,  1779-1786, original numbers 88:1-88:4
Letters and Memo Book of Nathanael and Catherine Greene [series]
Volume   1 Pages   1-25
Letters from Nathanael to Catherine Greene
Volume   1 Pages   26-58, 116
Nathanael Greene to various recipients
Volume   2 Pages   59-73, 115
Letters to Nathanael Greene
Volume   2 Pages   74-114
Letters to Catherine Greene
Volume   3  
Memo Book,   1776
Battle of Cowpens Letters [series]
Volume   4  
First Overtures for the Cessation of Hostilities in the American War of Independence Made by the British to General Nathanael Greene [series]
Volume   5  
Last Will and Testament [series]
Volume   6  
 October 11, 1785

Additional Descriptive Data

In addition to this finding aid, the Clements Library holds a List of Contributors.

Biographical Timeline

1742 July 27 Greene Born
1774 July 20 Marries Catherine Littlefield
1775 May 8 Commissioned brigadier general of the Rhode Island Army of Observation
1775 June 22 Commissioned brigadier general in the continental army
1776 February 9 Son George Washington Greene born
1776 March 20 Takes command of Boston
1776 April 29 Takes command on Long Island
1776 August 9 Commissioned major general in the Continental Army
1776 September 16 Sees first combat at the Battle of Harlem Heights
1776 November 20 Evacuates Fort Lee
1776 December 26 Battle of Trenton
1777 January 3 Battle of Princeton
1777 September 11 Battle of Brandywine Creek
1777 October 4 Battle of Germantown
1778 March 2 Commissioned quartermaster general
1778 June 28 Battle of Monmouth Courthouse
1778 August 29 Battle of Rhode Island
1780 July 26 Resigns from quartermaster general
1780 October 2 John Andre is hanged by a military court led by Greene
1780 October 6 Appointed commander at West Point
1780 October 14 Commissioned to command the Continental Army in the South
1781 March 15 Battle of Guilford Courthouse
1781 April 25 Battle of Hobkirk's Hill
1781 May 22 Opens siege at Fort Ninety-Six
1781 September 8 Battle of Eutaw Springs
1782 December Enters Charleston, South Carolina after the British evacuation
1783 November 27 Returns to his family in Rhode Island
1785 Settles with his family on an estate in Savannah, Georgia
1786 June 19 Greene Dies

Related Materials

The following Clements Library collections contain letters to or from Nathanael Greene:

Other related collections include the Members of Congress collection, which contains 2 letters to Catherine Greene from Edward Rutledge (April 14, 1789, and March 23, 1791), and the Anthony Wayne family papers, which contain a letter discussing Greene's estate in Georgia (April 24, 1787).

The Clements Library Graphics Division has 16 portrait engravings of Nathanael Greene: Handbills:


Greene, Nathanael, and Richard K Showman. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. Chapel Hill: Published for the Rhode Island Historical Society [by] University of North Carolina Press, 1976-2005.