George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 13 August 1776

To John Hancock

New York Augt 13th 1776


As there is reason to beleive that but little Time will elapse before the Enemy make their Attack, I have thought It advisable to remove All the papers in my hands respecting the Affairs of the States from this place. I hope the Event will shew the precaution was unnecessary, but yet prudence required that It should be done, Lest by any Accident they might fall into their hands.

They are all contained in a large Box nailed up & committed to the care of Lt Colo. Reed, Brother of the Adjt Genl to be delivered to Congress, In whose Custody I would beg leave to deposit them, untill our Affairs shall be so circumstanced as to admit of their return.1 The Enemy since my Letter of Yesterday have received a further augmentation of Thirty Six Ships to their Fleet, making the whole that have arived since Yesterday morning Ninety Six. I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir yr most Obed. Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. I would Observe that I have sent off the Box privately that It might raise no disagreable Ideas, & have enjoined Colo. Reed to Secrecy.


LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The addressed cover includes the notation “per the favor of Col. Reed.” Congress read this letter on 17 Aug. (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 , 5:662).

1GW wrote Hancock on 24 Dec. 1776 asking him to return the headquarters letter books, which he needed for reference (DNA:PCC, item 152). Hancock complied with that request sometime in early January (see Hancock to GW, 1 Jan. 1777, DLC:GW). The remainder of the papers, which included GW’s incoming correspondence and other documents that he received as commander in chief between June 1775 and this date, apparently were returned to him the following spring (see GW to Hancock, 18 Aug. 1776; GW to Schuyler, 4 Sept. 1776; and GW to Caleb Gibbs, 3 May 1777, NjP: Armstrong Photostats). These papers were much disorganized in the process of packing and moving and were not put in proper order until Richard Varick reorganized GW’s wartime papers in 1781 (see Varick to GW, 19 July 1781, and GW to Varick, 21 July 1781, both in DLC:GW).

Bowes Reed (c.1742–1794), a younger brother of Adj. Gen. Joseph Reed, was a lieutenant colonel in the Burlington County, N.J., militia at this time. He was promoted to colonel of the militia on 28 Sept. 1776 and held that rank until March 1778. An attorney like his brother, Bowes Reed was named clerk of the New Jersey supreme court on 6 Sept. 1776 and a justice of the peace in May 1777, and from October 1778 until his death he served as secretary of the state.

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