George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 8–9 August 1776

To John Hancock

New York August 8[–9]th 1776


By Yesterday morning’s post, I was honoured with your favor of the 2d Instant with Sundry Resolutions of Congress, to which I shall pay strict attention. As the proposition for employing the Stockbridge Indians has been approved, I have wrote Mr Edwards, One of the Commissioners, and who lives among them requesting him to engage them or such as are willing to enter the service. I have directed him to Indulge them with liberty to Join this, or the Northern Army, or both, as their inclination may lead.1 I wish the salutary consequences may result from the regulation respecting Seamen taken, that Congress have in view. From the nature of this kind of people, and the privileges granted on their entering into our service, I should suppose many of them will do It. We want them much.

I yesterday transmitted the Intelligence I received from the Deserters from the Solebay Man of War. The Inclosed Copy of a Letter by last nights post from the Honble Mr Bodoin, with the Information of a Captain Kennedy lately taken, corroborate their accounts respecting the Hessian Troops2—Indeed his report makes the fleet and Armament to be employd against us, greater than what we have heard they would be; However, there remains no doubt of their being both large and formidable, and such as will require our most vigorous exertions to oppose them. persuaded of this, and knowing how much Inferior our Numbers are and will be to theirs, when the whole of their Troops arrive—of the Important consequences that may, and will flow from the Appeal that will soon be made, I have wrote to Connecticut and New Jersey for all the Succour they can afford, and also to the Convention of this State.3 What I may receive, and in what time, the event must determine. But I would feign hope, the situation, the exigency of our Affairs, will call forth the most strenuous efforts and early assistance of those, who are friends to the Cause. I confess there is but too much occasion for their exertions. I confidently Trust, they will not be witheld.

I have Inclosed a Copy of a Letter from Mr Bowdoin respecting the Eastern Indians.4 Congress will thereby perceive, that they profess themselves to be well attached to our Interest, and the Summary of the measures taken to engage them in our service. I have the Treaty at large between the Honble Council of the Massachusets on behalf of the United States, with the Delegates of the St Johns & Mickmac tribes.5 The probability of a Copy being sent already, and Its great length, prevents One coming herewith. If Congress have not had It forwarded to ’em—I will send a Copy by the first opportunity after notice that It has not been received.

August 9th. By a Report received from Genl Greene last night, at Sunset and a little after about a Hundred boats were seen bringing Troops from Staten Island to the Ships. Three of which had fallen down towards the Narrows having taken in Soldiers from Thirty of the Boats—he adds that by the best observations of Several Officers, there appeared to be a Genl embarkation.6

I have wrote to Genl Mercer for Two Thousand men from the Flying Camp: Colo. Smallwood’s Battallion as part of them I expect this forenoon, But where the rest are to come from, I know not, as by the Genl’s last return, not more than three or four hundred of the New Levies had got in.7

In my Letter of the 5th I inclosed a Genl Return of the Army under my Immediate command, but I immagine the following state will give Congress a more perfect Idea, though not a more agreable one, of our situation. For the Several posts on New York, Long & Governors Islands and paulus Hook we have fit for duty 10,514—Sick present 3039—Sick Absent 629—On Command 2946 on Furlow 97—Total 17,225. in addition to these we are only certain of Colo. Smallwoods Battallion in case of an Immediate Attack. Our posts too are much divided having Waters between many of them and some distant from Others Fifteen Miles. These circumstances sufficiently distressing of themselves, are much aggravated by the Sickness that prevails through the Army—Every day, more or less are taken down, so that the proportion of Men that may come in, cannot be considered as a real and serviceable augmentation in the whole. These things are Melancholy, but they are nevertheless true—I hope for better. Under every disadvantage my utmost exertions shall be employed to bring about the great end we have in view, and so far as I can Judge from the professions and apparent disposition of my Troops, I shall have their Support. The Superiority of the Enemy and the expected Attack, do not seem to have depressed their Spirits. These considerations lead me to think, that though the Appeal may not terminate so happily in our favor as I could wish, that yet they will not succeed in their views without considerable loss. Any advantage they may get, I trust will cost them dear.

8 OClock A.M. By the Reverend Mr Maddison & a Mr Johnson, two Gentn of Virginia who came from Staten Island Yesterday and where they arrived the day before in the packet with Col. Guy Johnson, I am informed that Nothing material had taken place in England when they left It8—That there had been a Change in the French Ministry which many people thought foreboded a War—That It seemed to be beleived by many, That Congress would attempt to buy off the foreign Troops and that It might be effected without great difficulty. Their Accounts from Staten Island nearly Correspond with what we had before—They say that every preparation is making for an Attack—That the force now upon the Island is about 15,000—That they appear very Impatient for the arrival of the Foreign Troops, but a very small part having got in—Whether they would attempt any thing before they came, they are uncertain, but they are sure they will as soon as they arrive, If not before—They say from what they could Collect from the Conversation of Officers &c. they mean to Hem us in by getting above us & cutting off All Communication with the Country—That this is their plan, seems to be corroborated and Confirmed by the Circumstances of some Ships of War going out at different Times within a few days past and Other Vessells—It is probable that a part are to go round & come up the Sound. Mr Maddison says Lord How’s powers were not known when he left England—That Genl Conway moved before his departure, that they might be laid before the Commons, and had his Motion rejected by a large Majority. I have the Honor to be with the greatest respect Sir Your Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 12 Aug. and referred it to the Board of War (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 , 5:647).

5For this treaty of 17 July, see Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 1:847–50.

7GW’s letter to Mercer requesting 2,000 men from the flying camp has not been found, but see Mercer to GW, 10 August. For Mercer’s most recent report on the strength of the flying camp, see his letter to GW of 5 August.

8James Madison (1749–1812), professor of natural philosophy and mathematics at the College of William and Mary, went to England in the spring or summer of 1775 for ordination as an Anglican minister and returned to America aboard the packet Lord Hyde, which sailed from Falmouth, England, on 3 June 1776 and arrived at Staten Island on 29 July. His companions on the packet ship were Benjamin Johnston, a tavern keeper from Fredericksburg, who had gone to England during the previous fall, and Guy Johnson, the British superintendent of Indian affairs in the northern department, who had been in London for the past several months discussing the affairs of his department with Lord Germain and securing a commission as colonel for himself. The two Virginians were allowed by Lord Howe to leave Staten Island on the morning of 7 August. They went to Elizabeth, N.J., and apparently proceeded from there to GW’s headquarters.

Madison and Johnston brought London newspapers as late as 23 May and a letter to Madison from an anonymous London correspondent, dated 22 May 1776, which says that Madison “may rely on it that the French ministry is changed; the pacifick men are turned out, and the spirited men, friends to America, are to come in, viz. Duke de Choiseul, &c. &c.—Therefore a French war, or submission to America, is inevitable. The stocks, from the battle at Lexington to this day have fallen upwards of six per cent. a loss on the national debt of at least seven millions. These things should be publickly made known” (Purdie’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 23 Aug. 1776).

Madison and Johnston also expressed their opinion that the British forces on Staten Island would attack New York City “in less than a week, without waiting for the arrival of the remainder of the foreigners [Hessians], who were hourly looked for. . . . the troops now on the island amount to about 12,000, and those expected will make the enemy 20,000 strong. The current opinion of the British generals is, that they will find no difficulty in taking possession of New York, but are much afraid that the rebels (as they call us) will destroy it, as they speak most contemptuously of us, looking upon us as an undisciplined rabble; and that they are confident of effecting a junction with Burgoyne from Canada, and thereby facilitate the subjection of this country” (Extract of a Letter from Elizabeth Town Point, N.J., 7 Aug., ibid.).

“Parson Maddison,” Arthur Lee wrote the Secret Committee of the Continental Congress from London on 3 June 1776, “has been permitted to return to Virginia, & as he will probably give intelligence he should be watched” (DNA:PCC, item 83). Lee’s suspicion of his fellow Virginian was unfounded. A cousin of James Madison the future president of the United States, Rev. James Madison was an ardent Patriot, who defended the American cause in many of his sermons and served as chaplain of the Virginia house of delegates. In August 1777 Madison was named captain of a militia company composed of professors and students at the College of William and Mary, and about the same time he became president of the college, an office that he held until his death in 1812. He was elected a bishop of the Episcopal church in 1790.

Benjamin Johnston, who had served as clerk of the Fredericksburg committee of correspondence in 1774, made trips to the Ohio Country in the springs of 1774 and 1775, and his journey to England in the fall of 1775 may have concerned western land claims (see Rind’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 3 Mar., 16 June 1774, and Pinckney’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 26 Jan., 21 Sept. 1775). In September 1783 Johnston was commissioned surveyor of Yohogania County, Va., but he never served because the county ceased to exist after settlement of the Virginia—Pennsylvania boundary in 1784 gave Pennsylvania jurisdiction in that area (see 12 Hening 384–85).

Index Entries