George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General George Clinton, 15 July 1776

From Brigadier General George Clinton

Fort Montgomery [N.Y.] 15th July 1776.


I receivd your Favour of the 13th Instant yesterday at this Place previous to which about 9 oClock Satturday Morning1 the Signal at Fort Constitution being given & the Masters of two Sloops which about the same Time came too opposite my House having informed me that the Enemy had attacked New York the Evening before & that they judged by the Report of the Cannon that their Shipping had passed by and were up the River as far as Kings Bridge, I thought it my Duty to put the Neighbouring Millitia in Motion & accordingly issued Orders to three Regiments, one immediately to march into these Works an other into Fort Constitution & the third to Rendevouz at New Burgh on the Bank of the River about 9 Miles above Fort Constitution with Orders to march and reinforce that Garrisson upon the next Signal given. At the same Time I issued Orders to all the Regiments in my Brigade2 to stand ready to march on a Moments warning & dispatched Expresses to all Owners of Sloops & Boats twenty Miles up the West Side of the River to haul them off so as to prevent their grounding, that as many of them as were necessary might be ready to carry down the Militia to the Forts—The Residue I ordered down to Fort Constitution as I believe by drawing a Chain of them across the narrowest Parts of the River & fixing them properly to be set on Fire shoud the Enemys Shipping attempt passing by they woud answer a most valuable Purpose—Early in the Afternoon of that Day I marched into Fort Constitution with about 40 of my Neighbours, & in the Evening came to this Fort being nearer the Enemy and better situated to discover their Motions—Yesterday Evening I was joined by Colo. Woodhull with between 2 & 300 of his Regiment, This Morning early by Lieut. Colo. McClaghry with upwards of 500 of his & I hourly expect part of two other Regiments3 when these join me I will draft out of the four Six hundred Men & employ them as your Excellency has directed. I have ordered the Colonels I have called in to leave the Frontier Companys at Home to protect the Country against the Indians should they be troublesome & as many Men out of each Company as will be sufficient to guard against any Attempts that might be made by Internal Enemies. The Men turn out of their Harvest Fields to defend their Country with surprizing alacrity. The Absence of so many of them however at this Time when their Harvests are perishing for want of the Sickle will greatly distress the Country; I coud wish therefore a less Number might Answer the Purpose. I woud fain hope the Enemy mean by their Shipping in our Bays at present only to cut off the Communication between the Country & City & prevent our obstructing the Channel—Many of the Militia may be calld in in 8 Hours some in a much less Time shoud there be occassion for them—Since writing the above I received a Letter from Colo. Hays of Haverstraw a Copy of which is enclosed—I will send a small Party down there this Evening or in the Morning but dont believe I shall be able to continue them long as the Militia here will think hard to be carried there4—The Bearer Mr Boyd who is well acquainted with this Country the Fortifications here and may be confided in, will be able to give your Excellency any farther Information5—I am with great Esteem your Excellencys most Obedt Servt

Geo. Clinton

P.S. I shoud be glad to know whether it is best to keep the Sloops &ca ordered down to Fort Constitution there as it may be attended with considerable Expence which (however) if they can be made to answer I suppose ought not in my Opinion to be regarded.

ALS, DLC:GW. The version of this letter printed in Hastings, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 1:251–53, apparently was taken from a draft which has not been found. It does not include the postscript to the ALS and differs in wording from the ALS in several places. See notes 2 and 3.

1The previous Saturday was 13 July.

2“North of the Highlands” appears in the draft version of the text (ibid., 251). The New York provincial congress on 19 Dec. 1775 had appointed Clinton brigadier general of a brigade consisting of the militias of Ulster and Orange counties. Clinton lived a short distance north of the highlands at New Windsor, which is now a suburb of Newburgh, New York.

3In the draft version of the text, this sentence reads: “Yesterday Evening, I was joined by Col’l Woodhull with about 200 of his Regiment, and this Morning by Lieut. Collo. McClaghry with 500 or upwards of his, and I expect two other Regiments are on their March for the upper Fort” (ibid., 252). Jesse Woodhull (1732–1799), who became colonel of an Orange County militia regiment in 1775, was a member of the provincial congress during 1775, the council of appointment during 1777, and the state senate from 1777 to 1780. In a letter to Woodhull from Fort Montgomery dated 4:00 P.M. on 14 July, Clinton said: “I wrote you this Morning by Express that I did not apprehend any immediate Danger of the Enemy’s Vessels now laying in the Bays, comeing further up the River, and considering the very Buisy season of the year advised you not to march to this Place till further Orders. Since which (this Moment) I received by Express a Letter from his Excellency Genl. Washington of which you have a Copy inclosed. This will shew the necessity of having a Reenforcem’t of Men in these Forts and Account for my now countermanding my Orders to you of this Morning, And now ordering two hundred of your Regiment properly officered & well equiped into this Fort without Delay. I will also order 400 Men out of Col’l Hasbrouck’s & Col’l [James] Clinton’s Regim’t that the Duty may be equally shared” (ibid., 248). James McClaghry was lieutenant colonel commandant of Col. James Clinton’s 2d Ulster County Regiment of militia, and Jonathan Hasbrouck was colonel of the 4th Ulster County Regiment.

4Ann Hawkes Hay, colonel of the Haverstraw precinct regiment of the Orange County militia, wrote to Clinton on the evening of 14 July, informing him that the British warships that came up the Hudson on Friday, 12 July, “anchored in the Bay Oppisite Nyack—On Fryday night I called out my Regt in order to prevent the Enemy from Landing and committing Depradations on the West shore, which we have hitherto done. At 12 Oclock yesterday a Barge and Cutter attempted to Land the Latter grounded at some distance from the shore, and the Barge being fired upon by our Gaurd returned to the Ships, in the Night another Barge came so near the Shore that she was spoke to by the Gaurd, And we are in hourly expectation of another attempt. My Regt which consists of but 400 men has now been upon Duty night and Day since Fryday evening and are greatly fatigued with the service. The Men express great uneasiness under Apprehension that they Shall loose their Harvest as the Grain is now fit to gather and no Persons to take it in if they are obliged to gaurd the Shore. In this situation I thought it my Duty to apply to you for support as we have considerable extent of shore to gaurd, it is necessary to imploy the whole Regt on constant Duty which if continued will be ruinous to the Country unless supported by a Detatchment of 150 or 200 Men from your Brigade. . . . the Militia of Bergen are Drawn off towards Statten Island; and the City of New York is in hourly expectation of being Attacked, so that we can expect no assistance from that Quarter. If two, or three, Armed Boats could be Sent down with the Detatchment, it would be most convenient for the Transportation of the Men and their Provision; and will be an essential Service in keeping off the Barges and following them from Place, to Place” (DLC:GW).

On 16 July Clinton ordered Capt. Thomas Moffat of the Orange County minutemen to “take the Command of 2 Lieuts. & 50 Men of the Detachm’t of my Brigade & march them Tomorrow Morning early, With 3 Days Provisions, to Haverstraw for the Protection of the Inhabitants there ag’t the Common Enemy now laying in the Bay” (ibid., 1:250–51).

5In the draft version of the text, this sentence appears as a postscript and reads: “The Bearer will be able to give your Excellency any Information you may want respective the State of the Forts, Country &ca. as he is sensible & well acquainted here & may be relied on” (ibid., 253). Robert Boyd, Jr., of New Windsor, who was a partner with Clinton in a gristmill, wrote to Clinton on 3 July: “You know my opinion relative to the Fortifications in the Highlands; still think they will answer no Valuable purpose in the day of trial, sincerely wish I may be mistaken; however think some other precaution should be taken, the mode adopted in Phil’a appeared Rational and on trial proved successfull; its a matter of the greatest Importance, the security of the North River, should the Enemy send a few small ships of war into it, (which I think is neither Impossable or Improbable) so that our Navigation be stop’d, I need not enumerate to you the consequences” (ibid., 244–47).

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