Alexander Hamilton Papers

From Alexander Hamilton to John Hancock, [18 September 1777]

To John Hancock1

[Warwick Furnace, Pennsylvania, September 18, 1777]


If Congress have not yet left Philadelphia, they ought to do it immediately without fail, for the enemy have the means of throwing a party this night into the city.2 I just now crossed the valleyford, in doing which a party of the enemy came down & fired upon us in the boat by which means I lost my horse. One man was killed and another wounded. The boats were abandon’d & will fall into their hands. I did all I could to prevent this but to no purpose.

I have the honour to be   wth. much respect   Sir   Your mo. obedt. Servt.

A. Hamilton

Copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; F.S. Bartram, Retrographs: Comprising a History of New York City prior to the Revolution... (New York, n.d.), 82. This version is longer than the copy printed in PAH and also differs in wording.

1The background of this letter is provided by Henry Lee, who wrote: “… while the British general pursued his route across the Schuylkill, directing his course to the American metropolis. Contiguous to the enemy’s route, lay some mills stored with flour, for the use of the American army. Their destruction was deemed necessary by the commander in chief; and his aid-de-camp, lieutenant colonel Hamilton, attended by captain Lee, with a small party of his troop of horse, were despatched in front of the enemy, with the order of execution. The mill, or mills, stood on the bank of the Schuylkill. Approaching, you descend a long hill leading to a bridge over the mill-race. On the summit of this hill two videts were posted; and soon after the party reached the mills, lieutenant colonel Hamilton took possession of a flat-bottomed boat for the purpose of transporting himself and his comrades across the river, should the sudden approach of the enemy render such retreat necessary. In a little time this precaution manifested his sagacity: The fire of the videts announced the enemy’s appearance. The dragoons were ordered instantly to embark. Of the small party, four with the lieutenant colonel jumped into the boat, the van of the enemy’s horse in full view, pressing down the hill in pursuit of the two videts. Captain Lee, with the remaining two, took the decision to regain the bridge, rather than detain the boat.

“Hamilton was committed to the flood, struggling against a violent current, increased by the recent rains; while Lee put his safety on the speed and soundness of his horse.

“The attention of the enemy being engaged by Lee’s push for the bridge, delayed the attack upon the boat for a few minutes, and thus afforded to Hamilton a better chance of escape. The two videts preceded Lee as he reached the bridge; and himself with the four dragoons safely passed it, although the enemy’s front section emptied their carbines and pistols at the distance of ten or twelve paces. Lee’s apprehension for the safety of Hamilton continued to increase, as he heard volleys of carbines discharged upon the boat, which were returned by guns singly and occasionally. He trembled for the probable issue; and as soon as the pursuit ended, which did not long continue, he despatched a dragoon to the commander in chief, describing with feelings of anxiety what had passed, and his sad presage. His letter was scarcely perused by Washington, before Hamilton himself appeared; and, ignorant of the contents of the paper in the general’s hand, renewed his attention to the ill-boding separation, with the probability that his friend Lee had been cut off; inasmuch as instantly after he turned for the bridge, the British horse reached the mill, and commenced their operations upon the boat.… Lieutenant colonel Hamilton escaped unhurt; but two of his four dragoons, with one of the boatmen, were wounded” (Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States [Philadelphia, 1812], I, 19–21)

2An entry for September 18, 1777, in the Journals of the Continental Congress 1774–1779 reads: “Adjourned to 10 o’Clock to Morrow. During the adjournment the president received a letter from Colonel Hamilton, one of General Washington’s aids, which intimated the necessity of Congress removing immediately from Philadelphia; Whereupon, the members left the city, and, agreeable to the resolve of the 14, repaired, to Lancaster” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends , VIII, 754).

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