George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, 26 July 1776

From Brigadier General Hugh Mercer

Perth Amboy [N.J.] 26 July 1776


I find by intelligence from our Guards at So. Amboy that some Shallops five in number that passed us yesterday from Fresh Kill were full of Soldiers, who appeard on Deck after getting round Billups Point into Princes Bay—As the Shallops passed our Field Peices played on them—but with little effect—the Enemy returnd the Cannonade briskly during the Space of an hour with four, Six, and Twelve Pounders—One of our militia was killed and two wounded but not dangerously—Two more Shallops passed this morning and one remains up the Sound, in view1—The Fly Sloop of War Capt. Edger lyes at Brunswick—I ordered her down Yesterday on the appearance of the Shallops—but she is not yet fallen down the River2—I am collecting all the Craft, of which a Return will be transmitted—Genl Heard is out, on examining the Creeks—I would send Morgan to Head Quarters, were his principles steady enough to resist the Arts of Tryon & Skinner &c. which I much doubt3—This morning a Flag was seen hoisted on the Light house.4

The Maryland Battalion passed Woodbridge yesterday—Orders from hence would reach Col. Smallwood this morning—to detain him at Elizabeth Town5—I have the honour to be Sir Your obed. St

H. Mercer


1The Fresh Kills flow through a large marshy area on the west side of Staten Island and empty into the Arthur Kill, the long, narrow sound that separates the island from the New Jersey mainland. The shallops moved south on the Arthur Kill and rounded Billop’s Point (now Ward Point) at the southwestern tip of Staten Island to reach Princess Bay off the island’s southeastern coast. Mercer gives a similar account of these events in his letter to Hancock of this date (see DNA:PCC, item 159, or Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:599–600).

2The Continental navy’s schooner Fly was commanded by Lt. Hoysteed Hacker, who during late June had brought cannon aboard the vessel from Newport to New York and subsequently was trapped in the Raritan River by the arrival of the British fleet at Staten Island (see Esek Hopkins to Hacker, 14 June and 9 July, in Clark and Morgan, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 5:527, 993).

3Cortlandt Skinner (1727–1799), a Loyalist from Perth Amboy who had been attorney general of New Jersey and speaker of the colony’s general assembly before he fled to the British warship Asia in January 1776, wrote his friend James Morgan from Staten Island on 13 July 1776 urging him “to leave your New Masters & join the Royall Army. . . . If you Can bring 40 men with you You will have a Company—Your way is easy by the Creek” (DNA:PCC, item 78). Skinner’s letter apparently was found “in the fork of a Road leading from So. Amboy Ferry” on 21 July and was taken to Mercer that evening. “We have no reason to suspect the Integrity of morgan or his attachment to the American Cause,” Mercer wrote to Hancock on 22 July. “He is Capt. of Militia in So. Amboy, and a very intimate Acquaintance of Courtland Skinner—Morgan on reading the Letter told me he was ready as soon as I pleasd to pass over to Staten Island with all his Company and would convince Skinner he had mistaken his Man” (DNA:PCC, item 159). During the summer of 1776 Skinner was authorized by General Howe to raise a Loyalist corps, and he subsequently commanded the New Jersey Volunteers with the rank of brigadier general. At the end of the war Skinner moved to England where he remained until his death in 1799.

4Mercer is referring to the lighthouse at Sandy Hook.

5William Smallwood (1732–1792) of Charles County, Md., was an early advocate of American independence from Great Britain. Born into a prominent family and educated in England, he served in the military during the French and Indian War and in 1761 began serving as a delegate for Charles County in his state’s assembly, where he remained active until his election to the Maryland Convention in 1774. The convention commissioned him colonel of the 1st Maryland Regiment on 14 Jan. 1776, and on 9 July Smallwood left Maryland for New York, commanding nine companies of recruits to aid the Continental army. Smallwood missed the Battle of Long Island, where his regiment distinguished itself for valor as part of Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s division, but he was wounded at White Plains in October and afterward promoted to brigadier general. He also saw action in the battles of Fort Washington, Trenton, Princeton, and Germantown before being sent in 1779 to Wilmington, Del., to oversee surveillance of the Chesapeake Bay. Ordered south in April 1780, Smallwood emerged as a hero that summer in the Battle of Camden and was promoted to major general in September. The Continental Congress passed an act on 14 Oct. 1780 thanking Smallwood and several others for the “bravery and good conduct displayed in the action” at Camden (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 , 18:924). He left the Southern Army over a rank dispute in December 1780, threatening to resign his commission rather than to serve under the foreign-born commander Baron von Steuben. Smallwood continued his commission, however, and until the close of the war he assisted the Continental army by raising supplies and reinforcements. After the war he served three terms as governor of Maryland (1785–88), during which he negotiated with Virginia to improve the navigation of the Potomac River. Smallwood was serving as president of the Maryland senate when he died at his plantation on Mattawoman Creek in 1792.

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