George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Isaac Nicoll, 30 April 1776

From Colonel Isaac Nicoll

Fort Constitution [N.Y.]
April 30th 1776

May it please Your Excellency

Inclosed you have a return of the state of the Fortifications under my command, by which you will readily see that the Men in General are very deficient in Arms and more especially the standing Companies1—I think it would be prudent to have them Armed as soon as possible as there are many disaffected Persons in the adjacent Counties of Westchester and Dutches who in case of an Attact at New York (if they knew our weakness) might attempt to take the Garrisons by surprize—I have been informed that one Capt. Menos a half pay officer from Dutches County has gone off about the 20th Inst with 40 Men supposed to join the Ministerial Army.2

There is no Ammunition at Fort Montgomery for small Arms but One Quarter Cask of Powder & 48 lb. of Musket Balls which I got of the Commissioner[s]—and they produced instructions from Congress not to let any of the Powder be made Use of without their further Order but as there was a Necessity for it I prevailed with them to let it go—I have given Orders to Lieutenant Stephens (of the Artilery) to have it made up into Cartridges for the Use of that Garrison—Gun Flints we are destitute of—No Phisician has been Ordered here yet and a Number of the Men in Garrison are Sick and Lame and cannot have proper means used for their Recovery.3

The time for which one of the Minute Companies now at this Fortress is Inlisted will Expire in about fifteen Days if Your Excellency thinks it proper that more should be called in, should be glad of an Order for that purpose as soon as possible4—In the mean time You may rest Assured Sir that nothing shall be wanting on my part to secure the different Posts under my command and for that purpose that the works shall be forwarded to the utmost of my Power. I am with the Greatest Esteem Your Excellencies most Obedient and very Humble Servant

Isaac Nicoll
Com. Ofer

ALS, DLC:GW. The addressed cover includes the notation “per favr Capt. Jackson.” Capt. William Jackson’s recently raised company at Fort Constitution was assigned about this time to Col. James Clinton’s 2d New York Regiment. When the New York line was reorganized in November 1776, Jackson became a company commander in the 4th New York Regiment. He resigned his commission in August 1777 and served subsequently as a militia captain.

1Nicoll enclosed returns for the garrisons at forts Montgomery and Constitution (DLC:GW). The return for Fort Montgomery dated 23 April lists four “standing” companies (companies recruited for Continental service) and one company of minutemen. The total strength of the garrison at Fort Montgomery was 12 commissioned officers, 37 noncommissioned officers, and 208 privates fit for duty. There were 59 men sick or absent and 18 deserters, all of whom were from the standing companies. The garrison had only 41 arms fit for use, 18 unusable ones, and 14 bayonets. The return for Fort Constitution dated 29 April shows that its garrison consisted of Capt. William Jackson’s standing company and two minuteman companies, a total of 9 commissioned officers, 26 noncommissioned officers, 136 privates fit for duty, and 18 men sick or absent. This garrison was equipped with 68 arms fit for use, 11 bayonets, and 31 cartridge boxes. Of the 109 serviceable arms in the two garrisons, 71 were in the hands of minutemen. The deficiency of arms at the highland forts, Robert Hanson Harrison replied to Nicoll on 4 May, gave GW “much Concern. . . . he immagined the want was great but Nothing like what it appears to be—He has taken every Method in his Power to obtain a Supply, but without any effect & has Applied to the Committee here [at New York] who say they are useing the only means they have for getting them, how they will Succeed cannot now be Determined” (DLC:GW).

2GW, Harrison wrote Nicoll on 4 May, “desires that you will make strict enquiry about Capt. Menos, & If the fact is as you have represented that he be taken and secured if it can be done tho most probably he will have entirely escaped before now If he went away on the 20th Ulto” (DLC:GW). This report proved to be false. See George Clinton to GW, 5 May, and Nicoll to GW, 7 May 1776.

3Harrison informed Nicoll on 4 May that GW “will have Orde[r]s given on the Commisary of Artille[r]y & Ordnance Stores for four or five Barrells of powder & Other Necessary Ammunition which on account of their great Scarceity & Difficulty in procuring he desires your greatest care & Attention to & that they may not be wasted or embezzled—Doctor [Isaac] Foster one of the physicians of the General Hospital has been directed to send you a Surgeon who will probably be with you now in a day or two” (DLC:GW).

The commissioners were those appointed by the New York provincial congress to oversee the construction of fortifications in the Highlands. This commission had changed considerably in membership since its establishment in August 1775 (see GW’s letter to the commissioners, 10 June 1776). William Stevens (1750–1801) was another of the many Continental artillery officers who were trained in Maj. Adino Paddock’s renowned artillery company. Born in England, Stevens came to America in 1760 when his father brought his family to Dedham, Massachusetts. His subsequent involvement with Paddock’s company in nearby Boston led Stevens to join Col. Richard Gridley’s regiment of Massachusetts artillery in May 1775 as a sergeant. He was soon commissioned a second lieutenant in that regiment, and on 1 Jan. 1776 he became a first lieutenant in Col. Henry Knox’s Continental Artillery Regiment. At the beginning of 1777 Stevens was made a captain-lieutenant in the 2d Regiment of Continental Artillery. He was promoted to captain in September 1778 ostensibly for his bravery in action at the Battle of Monmouth and served until the end of the war.

4“When the time of the Minute Company expires,” Harrison instructed Nicoll on 4 May, “you are not to Call in Others—Another Company of Colo. [James] Clintons Regiment will be Orderd to Join the four Already with you as soon as it is Recruited and made up” (DLC:GW; see also GW to Henry Beekman Livingston, 4 May 1776).

Index Entries