George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 23 June 1776

To John Hancock

New York June 23d 1776


I herewith transmit you an Extract of a Letter from Genl Ward which came to hand by last nights post containing the agreable Intelligence of their having Obliged the Kings Ships to leave Nantasket road, and of Two Transports more being taken by our Armed Vessels with Two hundred and Ten Highland Troops on board.1

I sincerely wish the like success had attended our Arms in another Quarter, but It has not. In Canada the situation of our Affairs is truly alarming—The Inclosed Copies of Genls Schuyler, Sullivan & Arnold’s Letters will inform you, that Genl Thompson has met with a repulse at Three Rivers, and is now a prisoner in the hands of Genl Burgoyne, who these accounts say is arrived with a considerable Army:2 Nor do they seem to promise an end of our misfortunes here. It is greatly to be feared that the next advices from thence will be, that our shattered, divided & broken Army, as you will see by the return,3 have been Obliged to Abandon the Country and retreat, to avoid a greater calamity, that of being cut off or becoming prisoners. I will be done upon the Subject, & leave you to draw such conclusions as you conceive from the state of facts are most likely to result only adding my apprehensions that one of the latter events, either that they are cutt off or become prisoners, has already happened If they did not retreat while they had an Opportunity. Genl Schuyler and Genl Arnold seem to think It extremely probable, and If It has taken place, It will not be easy to describe all the fatal consequences that may flow from It. at least our utmost exertions will be necessary to prevent the advantages they have gained being turned to our greater misfortunes4—General Gates will certainly set out to morrow & would have gone before now, had he not expected to receive some particular Instructions from Congress, and which Col. Braxton said he immagined would be given and transmitted here.5

Inclosed is a Copy of a Letter from Genl Arnold respecting some of the Indian Tribes to Genl Schuyler & of a Talk had at Albany with Thirteen of the Oneidas6—they seemed then to entertain a friendly disposition towards us which I wish may not be changed by the misfortunes we have Sustained in Canada. I have the Honor to be with Sentiments of the highest esteem Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, DLC: Hancock Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 25 June (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 , 5:477). The letter-book copy includes some minor draft changes.

1The enclosed extract is taken from Artemas Ward’s letter to GW of 16–17 June.

2See Schuyler to GW, 19–20 June, Sullivan to GW, 8–12 June, and Arnold’s two letters to Schuyler of 13 June, which were enclosed in Schuyler to GW, 19–20 June, and are quoted in note 10 to that letter.

3GW may be referring to Deputy Adjutant General Alexander Scammell’s “Return of the Continental Forces in Canada June 12th 1776,” a copy of which is in DLC:GW. Although Sullivan does not mention Scammell’s return in his letter to GW of 8–12 June, it apparently was forwarded with that letter (see GW to Schuyler, 24 June, n.1). Scammell’s return gives a location for each regiment in Canada and its strength rank by rank. The totals that appear at the bottom of the columns indicate that the Continental army in Canada on 12 June consisted of 312 commissioned officers, 47 staff officers, 460 noncommissioned officers, and 6,241 “Effective Rank & File.” The latter category, however, includes 955 men who were sick and present, 595 men who were sick and absent, 1,075 men on command, and 7 men on furlough.

At the end of the return Scammell writes: “The Scattered and Confused state of the Troops when Genl Sullivan arrived in Canada, has rendered it impossible to make an Accurate Return, Even the Colos: of some Regiments cant Tell where some part of their Regiments are they have been so harrassed and dispersed to Different posts, I have as nearly Ascertained the state of the Army here, as Lay in my power, the Totals are nearly right but the Destributions are some what Erroneous, some of those returned on Command Colo. Dehaas, Colo. Maxwell, Colo. St Clair, Colo. Waynes and Colonel Irvines are Either Killed or Taken prisoners at the Three Rivers, how many are as yet unknown, and as some of them are daily returning hope Great part will recover our Camp—Those of Colo. Pattersons returned on Command, and a Greater part of Colo. Bedels Regt not mentioned in the return were taken at the Cedars Those returned sick are Chiefly Confined with the small pox, As Genl Sullivan is using his utmost Exertions to introduce order and Regularity in the Army here, a True return with the Casualties, will be Forwarded very soon, near Two Hundred Canadian Volunteers this momment returned but no return from Colo. Hazen’s.”

4The letter-book copy reads: “to prevent their Improving the advantages they have gained to our greater misfortunes.”

5Carter Braxton, one of the Virginia delegates to the Continental Congress, was visiting in New York at this time (see Braxton to GW, 12 Sept. 1777, DLC:GW).

6See Arnold’s letter to Schuyler of 10 June, which is discussed in note 1 to Schuyler’s letter to GW of 19–20 June, and the minutes of the Indian commissioners’ conference at Albany on 19 June, which is discussed in note 13 to that letter.

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