From Bushrod Washington
Westmoreland County [Virginia] April 15. 1802
In writing the history of Genl Washington’s life,1 it is sometimes difficult to acquire a clear view of some of the operations of the Armies, without obtaining a more precise explanation of some circumstances than can be derived from the papers in my possession, without a very laborous examination of them, and even then, there are some points which would require farther illustration—such for instance as the geographical situation of particular places, their distances from each other &c.
As there is no person more capable than yourself of affording the information I wish for, so there is none to whom I would so soon be indebted for it. A knowledge of the General’s attachment for & confidence in you removes out of my way the difficulty I should feel in applying to any other person. If you can without too much trouble & inconvenience answer the following queries, it will much oblige me to receive your letter at as early a day as possible. Any additional information upon the subject of the queries not immediately embraced by them & which you may deem material will be thankfully received.
The transaction to which the queries principally point is the taking of fort Washington,2 and it is impossible that the circumstances which attended it can be so well detailed as by one who was present or who has conversed with those who were or with him who directed it.
What is the width of New-York island at the narrowest part about fort Washington? What is the length of the lines which were drawn south of the fort from river to river? How wide is the east river from the fort held by the enemy on the Long island side to the place where he landed within the first and second lines of the fort? What is the description of the ground towards the east river where the enemy landed? Was it easy to form on the beach or shore? What kind of hill was it necessary to ascend? Was it easy to defend the ascent under the canonade from the other side of the river and what was the steepness & length of the hill, and what the kind of soil? Was it rocky & covered with trees or open? What was the distance between the lines? were there any works covering the flanks of those lines & opposing an assault upon them from the east river—what were they, and who manned them? If there were none, to what is that circumstance to be attributed? Is it that the extreme difficulty of the ground was supposed to render works needless, or how is it to be accounted for? Who commanded the detachment sent to oppose the enemy’s landing in that quarter, what troops were sent with him, and how did they behave? Was the communication with fort Lee3 open? Could the garrison have been brought off at night, and were the batteaus prepared for that purpose? Was the powder of Colo Rawlings’4 regiment expended when they retreated? What was his ground, & how far from the fort? Could the outer lines have been defended when the enemy was within them? If Not, was there any ground to which Cadwallader,5 who was in the outer or first line could have retreated, and have maintained to advantage without coming into the fort? What were the inducements for leaving the garrison in fort Washington, after the enemy was in possession of the country, & after it appeared that the ships could pass up & down the river in spite of the obstructions & of the forts? Did he believe the place defensible, or what was the motive?
I am with sincere esteem & respect Dr Sir Yr mo. ob. Servt.
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. During the winter of 1799–1800, John Marshall agreed to write a biography of George Washington under the direction of Washington’s nephew, Bushrod Washington, who had control over the disposition of his uncle’s papers (Bushrod Washington to Caleb P. Wayne, April 11, 1800 [ALS, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia]). On September 22, 1802, Bushrod Washington and Wayne, a Philadelphia publisher, signed articles of agreement which provided for the publication within two years of a four- or five-volume biography (DS, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia). The first advertisement for Marshall’s biography of George Washington appeared in the [Georgetown] Washington Federalist on March 27, 1802, but the first two volumes were not published until 1804, and the fifth and final volume was published in 1807. See The Life of George Washington, Commander in Chief of the American Forces, During the War Which Established the Independence of His Country, and First President of the United States. Compiled Under the Inspection of the Honourable Bushrod Washington, From Original Papers Bequeathed to Him by His Deceased Relative, and Now in Possession of the Author. To Which is Prefixed, An Introduction, Containing a Compendious View of the Colonies Planted by the English on the Continent of North America, From Their Settlement to the Commencement of That War Which Terminated in Their Independence by John Marshall. Volumes I-V (Philadelphia: Printed and Published by C. P. Wayne, 1804–1807).
2. When the British captured Fort Washington on the Hudson River in upper Manhattan on November 16, 1776, H was in New Jersey.
3. Fort Lee was on the New Jersey palisades nearly opposite Fort Washington.
4. Moses Rawlings of Maryland became a lieutenant colonel in Stephenson’s Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment on June 27, 1776, and was wounded at Fort Washington on November 16, 1776. He was appointed colonel of one of the Sixteen Additional Continental Regiments in February, 1777, and resigned on June 2, 1779 (Heitman, Continental Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783 (Washington, 1893). description ends , 340).
5. Lambert Cadwalader of Pennsylvania was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the Third Pennsylvania Battalion on January 4, 1776, and was taken prisoner at Fort Washington on November 16, 1776. He was appointed colonel in the Fourth Pennsylvania Battalion in December, 1776, to rank from October 25, 1776, but he was a prisoner of war on parole until he resigned on January 22, 1779 (Heitman, Continental Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783 (Washington, 1893). description ends , 112).
6. On the back of this letter H wrote a list of names which is presumably a list of guests for a family party at an unspecified date. The list reads:
|Mr and Mrs. Cruger||2|
|Mrs. Bruce & Moreton||2|
Philip Jeremiah Schuyler and Angelica Schuyler Church, the wife of John B. Church, were Elizabeth Hamilton’s brother and older sister. Elizabeth and Philip Church were Angelica Schuyler Church’s second daughter and son. Catherine Church, Angelica Schuyler Church’s eldest daughter, was the wife of Peter Bertram Cruger. Mrs. William Bruce of New York City was the former Judith Bayard Van Rensselaer, the widow of Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, who was Elizabeth Hamilton’s uncle. Cornelia Schuyler Morton, Elizabeth Hamilton’s younger sister, was married to Washington Morton, a New York City lawyer. The “Ogdens” were either David A. Ogden or Thomas L. Ogden, both New York City lawyers, or Samuel Ogden, the founder of Ogdensburg, New York, and the brother-in-law of Gouverneur Morris. The Reverend Dr. John Bowden was professor of moral philosophy, belle lettres, and logic at Columbia College.