George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 4 January 1776

To John Hancock

Cambridge January 4. 1776


Since my last of the 31st Ulto I have been honoured with your favour of the 22d, Inclosing sundry resolves, which shall, in matters they respect, be made the rule of my conduct.

The resolution relative to the Troops in Boston, I beg the favour of you Sir, to assure Congress, shall be attempted to be put in execution, the first moment I see a probability of success, and in such a way, as a Council of Officers shall think most likely to produce it; but if this should not happen as soon as you may expect, or my wishes prompt to, I request that Congress will be pleased to Advert to my situation, and do me the justice to beleive, that circumstances, & not want of inclination, are the cause of delay.1

It is not in the pages of History perhaps, to furnish a case like ours; to maintain a post within Musket Shot of the Enemy for Six months together, without—2and at the same time to disband one Army and recruit another, within that distance, of Twenty odd British regiments, is more probably than ever was attempted; But if we succeed as well in the last, as we have heretofore in the first, I shall think it the most fortunate event of my whole life.

By a very Intelligent Gentleman, a Mr Hutchinson from Boston, I learn that it was Admiral Shuldhum that came into the harbour on Saturday last—that two of the five regiments from Cork are arrived at Hallifax; two others had sailed for Quebec (but what was become of them could not be told), and the other, the 55th, has just got into Boston—Certain it is also, that the greatest part of the 17[th] Regiment is arrived there, whether we are to conclude from hence, that more than five Regiments have been sent out, or that the Companies of the 17[th] arrived at Boston, are part of the Regiments destined for Hallifax & Quebec, I know not3—We also learn from this Gentleman & others, that the Troops embarked for Hallifax, as mentioned in my Letter of the 16—were really designed for that place, but recalled from Nantasket road, upon advice being received, of the arrival of the above Regiments there—I am also Informed of a Fleet now getting ready under the Convoy of the Scarborough & Fowey Men of War, consisting of 5 Transports & 2 Bomb Vessels, with about 300 marines & Several Flat bottom’d Boats—It is whispered that they are designed for Newport, but generally thought in Boston, that it is meant for Long-Island; and It is probable It will be followed by more Troops, as the other Transports are taking in Water, to lye as others say, in Nantasket road, to be out of the Ice—a large quantity of Biscuit is also baking.4

As the real design cannot with certainty be known, I submit it with all due deference to the superior Judgement of Congress, Whether It would not be consistent with prudence, to have some of the Jersey Troops thrown into New York, to prevent an evil, which may be almost irremediable, should It happen: I mean the landing of Troops at that place, or upon Long Island near it.5

As It is possible your may not yet have received his majesties most gracious speech, I do myself the honour to Inclose one, of many, which were sent out of Boston yesterday. It is full of rancour & resentment, and explicitly holds forth his Royal will to be, that vigorous measures must be pursued to deprive us of our constitutional rights & liberties—These measures, whatever they be, I hope will be opposed by more vigorous ones, and rendered unavailing and fruitless, tho santified and authorized by the name of majesty; a name which ought to promote the blessings of his people & not their oppression.6 I am Sir with the greatest respect & regard Your Most Obedt & Most Hble Servt

L, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, NjMoHP; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 13 Jan. (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 , 4:53).

1Congress resolved on 22 Dec. “that if General Washington and his council of war should be of opinion, that a successful attack may be made on the troops in Boston, he do it in any manner he may think expedient, notwithstanding the town and the property in it may thereby be destroyed” (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 , 3:444–45). This matter was considered by the council of war held on 16 January.

2A note in the margin of the copy in PCC, item 169, reads: “This blank should be filled with ‘powder’ the want of which was still so great that he did not dare to insert it.”

3The new British naval commander, Molyneaux Shuldham, arrived at Boston on 30 December. See GW to Hancock, 31 Dec. 1775. Two of the regiments that sailed from Cork landed at Boston. One went to Halifax, and the other two, prevented by bad weather from reaching Quebec, were diverted to Gen. Henry Clinton’s southern expedition (see Rochford to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 21 Sept. 1775, George Germain to Henry Clinton, 6 Dec. 1775, and Francis Legge to Dartmouth, 21 Jan. 1776, in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 11:129, 203–5, 12:49–50). Four companies of the 17th Regiment arrived at Boston in November. The remaining six companies of that regiment and six companies of the 55th Regiment arrived there on 30 Dec. (see William Howe to Dartmouth, 27 Nov. 1775, 16 Jan. 1776, ibid., 11:194–96, 12:44–47). Mr. Hutchinson has not been identified.

4The Scarborough sailed from Nantasket Road on 5 Jan. with the armed schooner Hinchinbrook and four transports. The Scarborough and two of the transports, carrying 175 marines, went to Savannah to obtain rice and other desperately needed provisions for the Boston garrison. The other two transports, also with a detachment of marines aboard, left the convoy at sea and went to the West Indies for additional provisions for the army. The Hinchinbrook replaced another warship on station at St. Augustine. For the rumor circulating in Boston that the convoy was going to Newport, see Francis Hutcheson to Frederick Haldimand, 25 Dec. 1775, in Clark, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 3:238. The Fowey remained outside the entrance to the harbors of Marblehead, Salem, and Beverly during this time (see John Glover to GW, 3 Jan. 1776, n.1).

5On 27 Nov. and 8 Dec. Congress committed all but a few companies of the two recently raised New Jersey regiments to the defense of New York City, but on 8 Jan. it ordered the 2d New Jersey Regiment to Canada (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 , 3:376, 416, 4:39).

6In his speech at the opening of Parliament on 26 Oct. 1775, George III accused American leaders of waging a “rebellious war . . . for the purpose of establishing an independent empire.” Britain, he said, would not “give up so many colonies. . . . It is now become the part of wisdom and (in its effects) of clemency, to put a speedy end to these disorders by the most decisive exertions. For this purpose I have increased my naval establishment, and greatly augmented my land forces. . . . I have also the satisfaction to inform you, that I have received the most friendly offers of foreign assistance; and if I shall make any treaties in consequence thereof, they shall be laid before you. . . . When the unhappy and deluded multitude, against whom this force will be directed, shall become sensible of their error, I shall be ready to receive the misled with tenderness and mercy” (Parliamentary History description begins The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803. 36 vols. London, 1806–20. description ends , 18:695–97).

Index Entries