George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 11 January 1776

To John Hancock

Cambridge 11th January 1776


every Account I have out of Boston Confirms the embarkation of troops mentiond in my Last,1 which, from the Season of the year and other Circumstances must be destined for Some expedition to the Southward of this—I have therefore thought it prudent to Send Major General Lee to New york, I have given him Letters reccomendatory to Governor Trumbull, & to the Committee of Safety at Newyork2—I have good hopes that in Connecticut, he will get many volunteers, who I have Some reason to think will accompany him on this expedition, without more expence to the Continent, than their mentainance but Should it be otherwise, and that they Shoud expect pay, I think it is a trifleing Consideration when put in Competition with the importance of the object, which is, to put the City of Newyork Such parts of the North River, & Long Island as to him Shall Seem proper, in that State of defence which the Season of the year & Circumstances will admit of So as, if possible to prevent the enemy from forming a Lodgment in that Government, which I am affraid Contains too many persons disaffected to the Cause of Liberty & America3—I have allso wrote to Lord Stirling, to give him all the Assistance, that he Can, with the troops under his Command, in the Continental Service, provided it does not interfere, with any orders he may receive from Congress relative to them.4

I hope the Congress will approve of my Conduct in Sending General Lee upon this expedition—I am Sure I mean it well, as experience teaches us that, it is much easier to prevent an enemy from posting themselves, than it is to dislodge them after they have got posession.5

the evening of the 8th instant a party of our men under the Command of Major Knoulton were orderd to go and burn Some houses, which Lay at the foot of Bunkers hill, & at the head of Charles town, they were allso orderd to bring of the Guard which we expected Consisted of an Officer & 30 men—they Crost the Milldam about half after eight ô clock, & gallantly executed their business, haveing burnt eight houses, & brought with them, a Serjeant and four privates of the 10th Regiment, there was but one man more there who makeing Some resistance, they were obliged to dispatch—the gun that Killd him, was the only one that was discharged by our men, tho Severall hundreds were fired by the enemy from within their works, but in So Confused a manner that not one of our people was hurt.6

Our Inlistments go on very heavily. I am with great respect Sir your most Obedient Humble Servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Stephen Moylan’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 22 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 , 4:77).

3See GW’s instructions to Charles Lee, 8 Jan. 1776. GW was disappointed to learn later that the Connecticut volunteers were enlisted on Continental pay and allowance. See GW to Joseph Reed, 26 Feb.—9 Mar. 1776.

5For Congress’s approval of Lee’s expedition to New York, see Hancock to GW, 29 Jan. 1776.

6The milldam, which paralleled Charlestown Neck a few hundred yards to the southwest, provided a direct route to Bunker Hill from the American position on Cobble Hill. Writing to a friend in Philadelphia from Cambridge on 9 Jan., an anonymous correspondent reported on Thomas Knowlton’s raid of the previous evening: “Minchin, and a deserter, who lately came out, were the guides; about one hundred and thirty [men] passed, near nine o’clock, over the milldam; Majors [Richard] Cary and [David] Henly had each a party, and the former was to push to the farthest house. . . . The plan was, to surprise these houses, set them on fire, and bring off the guard, which, we were informed, consisted of an officer and thirty men; but the information was wrong, as there was only a sergeant and five men. The persons appointed to set fire to the houses nearest the dam, had orders not to execute it until Cary had returned from the farthest; but, eager to fulfil what they had undertaken, they were the first that appeared in flames; sometime after, the whole was one blaze of fire. . . . Bunker’s Hill took the alarm; the flashing of the musketry, from every quarter of that fort, showed the confusion of its defenders—firing, some in the air, some in the Mystick river; in short, they fired at random, and thought they were attacked at every quarter, which, you may suppose, gave no small pleasure to the General [Israel Putnam] and a number of us who were spectators of the scene, from Cobble-Hill. Ten of the houses were soon in ashes. . . . It is the opinion of many, that, if there was a vigorous attack made, the hill might be carried with little loss; but it was not designed; of course, no preparations were made for such a push” (Mass. Hist. Soc., Proceedings description begins Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Boston, 1859—. description ends , 1st ser., 14 [1875–76], 276–77). The raid also caused great alarm in Boston, where news of the attack on Charlestown disrupted the premiere of a satirical play written by Gen. John Burgoyne called The Blockade of Boston (Willard, Letters description begins Margaret Wheeler Willard, ed. Letters on the American Revolution, 1774–1776. 1925. Reprint. Port Washington, N.Y., 1968. description ends , 257–59). See also General Orders, 9 Jan., Loammi Baldwin to GW, 9 Jan., and GW to Joseph Reed, 14 Jan. 1776.

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