George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hancock, 20 October 1775

From John Hancock

Philada 20. Octr 1775


Captn John Macpherson having informed the Congress, that he had invented a method, by which with their leave, he would take or destroy every ministerial armed vessel in North America, they appointed Govr Hopkins Mr Randolph & Mr J. Rutledge to confer with him on the subject, for he would not consent to communicate the secret to any but a committee & you. These Gentlemen reported, that the scheme in theory appeared practicable, and that though its success could not be relied on without experiment, they thought it well worth attempting on the fleet in & about Boston harbour, their destruction being an object of the utmost consequence. The Congress have therefore directed Capt. Macpherson to repair immediately to Cambridge. They recommend this Matter to your particular attention & request, that if you view it in the light, which the Committee did you will give him all the support & assistance in your power & furnish him with every thing which he may require for this service.1 I am Sir Your most Obedt servt

John Hancock, Presidt

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 12A.

1John Macpherson (1726–1792) spoke about his plan, which involved the use of explosive torpedoes, to John Adams in Philadelphia on 18 September. Macpherson, Adams wrote in his diary on that date, “is the Owner of a very handsome Country Seat, about five Miles out of this City. . . . He has been a Captain of a Privateer, and made a Fortune in that Way the last War. Is reputed to be well skilled in naval Affairs. He proposes great Things. Is sanguine, confident, positive, that he can take or burn every Man of War, in America.—It is a Secret he says. But he will communicate it to any one Member of Congress upon Condition, that it be not divulged during his Life at all, nor after his Death but for the Service of this Country. He says it is as certain as that he shall die, that he can burn any Ship” (Butterfield, Adams Diary and Autobiography description begins L. H. Butterfield, ed. Diary and Autobiography of John Adams. 4 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1961. description ends , 2:176). On 16 Oct. Congress appointed Stephen Hopkins (1707–1785) of Rhode Island, Peyton Randolph of Virginia, and John Rutledge (1739–1800) of South Carolina to meet with Macpherson. The committee reported on 19 Oct., and the next day Congress authorized Macpherson to draw $300 to defray his expenses in traveling to Cambridge (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 3:296, 300–301). For GW’s refusal to give his approval to Macpherson’s plan, see GW to Hancock and GW to Joseph Reed, both 8 Nov. 1775.

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