George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 4 September 1776

To John Hancock

New York Septr 4th 1776


Since I had the Honor of addressing you on the 2d Our affairs have not undergone a change for the better, nor assumed a more agreable aspect than what they then wore. The Militia under various pretences of sickness &c. are daily diminishing & in a little time I am persuaded, their number will be very inconsiderable.

On Monday night a Forty Gun Ship passed up the Sound between Governor’s & Long Island & Anchored in Turtle bay. In her passage she received a discharge of Cannon from our Batteries but without any damage & having a favourable wind & Tide soon got out of their reach. Yesterday morning I dispatched Majr Crane of the Artillery with Two Twelve pounders & a Howitz to annoy her, who hulling her several times forced her from that Station & to take shelter behind an Island where she still continues.1 There are several other Ships of War in the sound with a good many Transports or Store Ships, which came round Long Island, so that that communication is entirely cut off. The Admiral with the main body of the Fleet is close in with Governor’s Island.

Judging It expedient to guard against every Contingency as far as our peculiar situation will admit, and that we may have resources left, If obliged to abandon this place, I have sent away & am removing above Kingsbridge All our Stores that are unnecessary & that will not be immediately wanted.

I have inclosed several original Letters from some of our Officers, prisoners at Quebec which fell into Genl Gates’s hands & were transmitted by him to Genl Schuyler who sent them to me—Genl Gates adds that the persons who brought them said Genl Burgoyne had sent Messages to the Inhabitants upon the Lakes, inviting their continuance on their farms & assuring them that they should remain in security.2

The post master having removed his Office from the City to Dobb’s ferry, as It is said, makes It extremely inconvenient, and will be the means of my not giving such constant & regular Intelligence as I could wish.3 Can not some mode be devised by which we may have a pretty constant & certain Intercourse & communication kept up? It is an Interesting matter and of great importance and as such I am persuaded will meet with due attention by Congress.

I have transmitted the Copy of Genl Gates’s Letter as sent me by Genl Schuyler, from which Congress will discover all the Information I have respecting Genl Burgoyne’s message and my latest Intelligence from Tyconderoga, with the returns of the Army there4—Those of the Army here It is impossible to obtain till the hurry and bustle we are now in are a little over. I have &c.


P.S. Congress will perceive by Genl Gates’s Letter, his want of Musquet Cartridge paper,5 It is impossible to supply him from hence, they will therefore be pleased to order what he wants, If It can be procured, to be immediately sent him from Philadelphia.

LB, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 6 Sept. 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 , 5:738–39).

1On the morning of 2 Sept. the British frigate Rose covered the landing of troops on Governors Island, and that night it sailed up the East River with a number of flatboats to the mouth of Newtown Creek near Turtle Bay. The next morning the Rose moved a short distance farther up the river to Blackwell’s (now Roosevelt) Island, which was seized by British troops that afternoon (see the Journal of H.M.S. Rose, 2–3 Sept., 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 , 6:666; Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 95–96; Mackenzie, Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 1:37–39; and Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 68). The Rose sustained only minor damage from the American cannonade. “A great Firing was heard last night from the Town upon the Rose & the Boats,” Ambrose Serle says in his journal entry for 3 September. “One Shot passed through the Rose, and another beat off one of her anchors, without doing any other Damage. The Rebels fired two Pieces of Ordnance upon her to-day from a Battery opposite Bushwyck; and wounded two or three Men. The Boats got safe into Newtown Creek, and, as ’tis supposed, unperceived by the Enemy, through the favorable Darkness of the Night” (Tatum, Serle’s Journal description begins Edward H. Tatum, Jr., ed. The American Journal of Ambrose Serle: Secretary to Lord Howe, 1776–1778. San Marino, Calif., 1940. description ends , 90–91).

2These letters were enclosed in Schuyler’s letter to GW of 31 August.

3The New York committee of safety ordered New York Postmaster General Ebenezer Hazard to Dobbs Ferry on 30 Aug. (N.Y. Prov. Congress Journals description begins Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety, and Council of Safety of the State of New-York, 1775–1776–1777. 2 vols. Albany, 1842. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends , 602).

4For Gates’s letter to Schuyler of 26–27 Aug. and his return of 24 Aug., see Gates to GW, 28 Aug., n.1, and Schuyler to GW, 31 Aug., nn.1 and 3. Gates says in his letter that some frontier settlers had informed him “that the Enemy were straining every Nerve to come and attack us; that they had large Boats, or Gondolas, which carried each a Brass 24 Pounder. and that they made no Doubt of being an Overmatch for us upon the Lake” (DLC:GW).

5“I am astonished,” Gates writes, “at not receiving the Musket Cartridge-Paper which I wrote for so repeatedly, and so long ago. I desire you will spare neither Pains nor Cost to send it here. . . . One hundred Reams of Musket cartridge Paper is as little as should be sent immediately” (DLC:GW).

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