George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 19 March 1776

To John Hancock

Head Quarters Cambridge 19 March 1776


It is with the greatest pleasure I inform you that on Sunday last, the 17th Instant, about 9 O’Clock in the forenoon, The Ministerial Army evacuated the Town of Boston, and that the Forces of the United Colonies are now in actual possession thereof. I beg leave to congratulate you Sir, & the honorable Congress—on this happy Event, and particularly as it was effected without endangering the lives & property of the remaining unhappy Inhabitants.

I have great reason to imagine their flight was precipitated by the appearance of a Work which I had Order’d to be thrown up last Saturday Night, on an Eminence at Dorchester which lay nearest to Boston Neck, call’d Newks Hill. The Town, although it has suffer’d greatly is not in so bad a state as I expected to find it, and I have a particular pleasure in being able to inform you Sir, that your house has receiv’d no damage worth mentioning. Your furniture is in tolerable Order and the family pictures are all left entire and untouch’d. Capt. Cazneau takes Charge of the whole until he shall receive further Orders from you.1

As soon as the Ministerial Troops had quitted the Town, I order’d a thousand Men (who had had the Small Pox) under Command of General Putnam to take possession of the Heighths, which I shall endeavour to fortify in such a manner as to prevent their return should they attempt it,2 but as they are still in the Harbour I thought it not prudent to march off with the Main Body of the Army until I should be fully satisfied they had quitted the Coast—I have therefore only detach’d five Regiments, beside the Rifle Battalion, to New York, and shall keep the remainder here till all Suspicion of their return ceases.

The Situation in which I found their Works evidently discovered that their retreat was made with the greatest precipitation—They have left their Barracks & other Works of Wood at Bunkers Hill &c. all standing, & have destroy’d but a small part of their Lines. They have also left a number of fine pieces of Cannon, which they first spik’d up, also a very large Iron Mortar, and (as I am inform’d) they have thrown another over the end of your Wharf3—I have employ’d proper Persons to drill the Cannon & doubt not shall save the most of them. I am not yet able to procure an exact list of all the Stores they have left, as soon as it can be done I shall take care to transmit it to you. From an Estimate of what the Quarter Master Gen’ral has already discover’d the Amount will be 25 or 30,000£.4

Part of the Powder mention’d in yours of the 6th Instt, has already arriv’d—The remainder I have order’d to be stop’d on the Road as we shall have no occasion for it here. The Letter to General Thomas I immediately sent to him, he desir’d leave for three or four days to settle some of his private Affairs after which he will set out for his Command in Canada5—I am happy that my Conduct in intercepting Lord Drummond’s Letter is approv’d of by Congress. I have the honor to be, with sincere respect Sir Your most obedt Servt.

L, in William Palfrey’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 25 Mar. (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 , 4:234).

1Before fleeing from Boston in the spring of 1775, Hancock had put Isaac Cazneau (c.1729–1787) in charge of his property in the city. For Cazneau’s more detailed report of 4 April 1776 to Hancock on the condition of his house, which had been occupied by Gen. Henry Clinton until January of this year, see Allan, Hancock description begins Herbert S. Allan. John Hancock: Patriot in Purple. New York, 1948. description ends , 218–19.

2GW ordered Fort Hill to be fortified. See GW to Hancock, 24 Mar. 1776.

3Hancock’s wharf was in the north end of Boston off Fish Street.

5For the fowarding of this letter to John Thomas informing him of his promotion to major general and ordering him to go to Canada, see Hancock to GW, 6 Mar. 1776, n.5. On 20 Mar. Horatio Gates wrote to Thomas: “Inclosed I send you His Excellency The General’s Orders and Instructions; as he cannot be more particular at present for want of Later and Better Information, he sincerely wishes you a pleasant Journey and all immaginable Health and Success” (sold by Paul C. Richards, catalog 69, item 41, c.1971). GW’s orders and instructions to Thomas have not been found.

Index Entries