George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Britannicus, 18 November 1775

From Britannicus

Novr 18. 1775


The enclosed Papers I Received a few days ago. I suppose they came from Mr Hitchborn.1 He appears very certain the Preston might be taken, but from her Situation, and being unrigged, it will be very Difficult, if not Impossible to secure her,2 for as soon as daylight appears, she might be Beat to pieces by the Batteries of the Town, to which she would be a fair mark; or she might be retaken by being Boarded from the other Ships and Transports, which can furnish (together with the Town) a large Body of Men for that purpose. If she could be taken, but not carried off, would it not be an Essential object to Secure her Powder and Small Arms? for which purpose a Sufficient number of Whale Boats might Remove them to Chelsea in a short time and afterward the Ship be Burnt: first Removeing the men to Noddles Island.

If Mr H—’s plan be a good one, might it not be applyed with a better chance of Success to the taking of the Boyne? which, According to H— lies near the west End of Spectacle Island rigged. If she could be taken, she might be, from her Situation, not only secured, but made good use of for taking the Castle, which perhaps in its present dismembered state might be attended with no great Difficulty. Here would be probably found good Collection of Arms and Ammunition, the great Desideratum. I am with much Esteem your Excys most hume Servt


L, DLC:GW. “Britannicus” may be James Bowdoin, although this letter is not in his writing. On 28 Oct. Benjamin Hichborn wrote to John Adams: “Enclosed you have a rude plan of a design which I am satisfied may be carried into execution with the greatest ease. I propose communicating it to the Genl. through Mr: Bowdoin” (Taylor, Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977—. description ends , 3:255–57). The address on the enclosed letter from Hichborn is obliterated except for the word “Watertown.” See note 1 below.

1Benjamin Hichborn escaped from the British warship Preston in Boston Harbor on 18 October. See GW to Hancock, 4–5 Aug. 1775, n.34, and GW to James Warren, 6 Aug. 1775, n.1. One of the enclosed documents is Hichborn’s letter to an unknown addressee in Watertown, dated 28 Oct. at Cambridge. “As his Excellency General Washington desird me to reduce to writing any thing I knew respecting the Navy in Boston Harbour,” Hichborn wrote, “I beg you wou’d shew him the enclos’d memorandum wch will afford a general view of their situation—the plan of attacking the Preston hereto annex’d, I send you. I did not chuse to present it to the General lest he might think me too officious—you will make what use of it you please, I think there can be no obj⟨ection⟩ rais’d against it that I cannot obviate I am under a necessity to set off immediat[el]y for Newbury Port, or I shou’d have waited on you in person; shall return in a few day[s] when I will do myself that pleasure” (DLC:GW). “Briticannus” also enclosed Hichborn’s “Tho’ts on the Practicability of taking the Flagg Ship Preston” and his list of the “Names, rates & Situation of the Navy in Boston Harbor.” Both documents are in DLC:GW. Hichborn proposed sending four boats of men from Noddles Island on a cloudy night to surprise the Preston while most of her crew were asleep in their hammocks.

2In the enclosed list of ships, Hichborn says that the Preston “is now moor’d for the Winter between Long Wharf & Hancocks Wharf at the eastern End of the Town” (ibid.).

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