George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 11–13 October 1776

To John Hancock

Head Quarters Harlem Heights
Octobr the 11[-13]th 1776


I beg leave to inform you, that since my Letter of the 8th and 9th Instt, which I had the honor of addressing you, Nothing of importance has occurred, except that the Ships of War, which I then mentioned, in their passage up the River, took a Sloop that was at Anchor off the Mouth of Spitendevil, and Two of our Row Gallies, which they out sailed. The Crews finding that they could not prevent them falling in to the Enemys Hands, run them near the Shore & effected their own escape. From the Intelligence I have received, the Ships are now laying at Tarry Town, without having landed any men, which seemed to be apprehended by some, or attempted any thing else. Their principal views, in all probability, are, to interrupt our Navigation and to receive such disaffected persons as incline to take part against us. the former they will effect beyond all question, and I fear, that their expectations respecting the latter, will be but too fully answered.

Octr 12th. The Inclosed Copy of a Letter received last night from the Convention of this State, will shew you the apprehensions they are under, on account of the disaffected among them.1 I have ordered up a part of the Militia from the Massachusetts under Genl Lincoln, to prevent if possible, the consequences which they suggest may happen, and which there is reason to beleive the Conspirators have in contemplation; I am persuaded, that they are upon the Eve of breaking out, and that they will leave Nothing unessayed that will distress us, and favor the designs of the Enemy as soon as their Schemes are ripe for it.

Octobr 13th. Yesterday the Enemy landed at Frogs point about Nine miles from hence further up the Sound. their number we can not ascertain, as they have not advanced from the point, which is a kind of Island, but the Water that surrounds it is fordable at low tide. I have ordered Works to be thrown up at the passes from the point to the Main. From the great number of Sloops, Schooners and Nine Ships that went up the Sound in the Evening full of Men, and from the information of two Deserters who came over last night, I have reason to beleive that the greatest part of their Army has moved upwards or is about to do it, pursuing their original plan of getting in our rear & cutting off our communication with the Country.2 The Grounds from Frogs point are strong and defensible, being full of Stone fences both along the road & across the adjacent Feilds, which will render it difficult for Artillery or indeed a large body of Foot to advance in any regular order except thro the main Road. Our Men who are posted on the passes seemed to be in good Spirits when I left ’em last night.3 I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir Your Most Obedt St

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 15 Oct. 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 , 6:875).

2General Howe explains his strategy in a letter to Lord George Germain of 30 Nov. 1776: “The very strong positions the enemy had taken on this [Manhattan] island and fortified with incredible labour determined me to get upon their principal communication with Connecticut, with a view of forcing them to quit the strongholds in the neighbourhood of King’s Bridge and if possible to bring them to action. All previous arrangements being made, the army embarked on the 12th October in flatboats and other craft, and pressing through the dangerous navigation of Hell Gate in a very thick fog, landed on Frog’s Neck near the town of West Chester about 9 in the morning. . . . Lieutenant-General Earl Percy remained with two brigades of British and one of Hessians in the lines near Haerlem to cover New York. The army remained in this situation until the stores and provisions could be brought up and three battalions of Hessians drawn from Staten Island, which together with some bad weather intervening occasioned a delay of five days” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 12:258–64). For other accounts of the British landing on Frog’s or Throg’s Neck, see 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 , 1:76–78; 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 , 102; Kemble Papers description begins [Stephen Kemble]. The Kemble Papers. 2 vols. New York, 1884-85. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 16–17. description ends , 1:93; 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 , 122, and Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 58.

3In the LB the last part of this letter reads: “or is about to do it with an intent (as I suppose) to get in our rear & cut off our communication with the Country; The grounds leading from Frog’s point to King’s bridge, are strong & defensible, being full of Stone fences, both along the road & across the adjacent fields, which will render it difficult for Artillery, or indeed for a body of foot to advance in any regular way, except through the main road—When I left our people last night they seemed to be in good spirits.”

Tench Tilghman, who rode with GW to Westchester County on 12 Oct. after hearing of the British landing at Throg’s Point, wrote William Duer on 13 Oct.: “From the Quantity of Craft of different sorts which were used in transporting the Troops up the Sound I am inclined to think that the greatest part of the Army is removed upwards, and this is confirmed by two Deserters who came over last Evening, who say that two Brigades of British Troops and two Bettalions of Hessians are all that are left. Trogs Neck and Point is a Kind of Island, there are two Passages to the Main which are fordable at low Water at both of which we have thrown up works, which will give some Annoyance should they attempt to come off by either of these ways. From their not moving immediately forward I imagine they are waiting for their Artillery & Stores which must be very considerable if they seriously intend to set down in the Country upon our Rear. The Grounds leading from Trogs Point towards our Post at Kingsbridge are as defensible as they can be wished, the Roads are all lined with Stone fences and the adjacent Feilds divided off with Stone likewise, which will make it impossible for them to advance their Artillery and Ammunition Waggons by any other Rout than the great Roads, and I think if they are well lined with Troops we may make a considerable Slaughter if not discomfit them totally. Our Rifle men have directions to attend particularly to taking down their Horses, which if done, will impede their march effectually. Our Troops are in good Spirits and seem inclined and determined to dispute every Inch of Ground. Our Front is now so well secured that we can spare a considerable number of our best Troops from hence [Harlem Heights] if they are wanted.

“If we are forced from this post we must make the best Retreat we can, but I think this Ground should not be given up but upon the last Extremity. However the General [GW] thinks so well of your hint of laying up Magazines beyond the Highlands, that he has order’d the Commy General to attend immediately to it” (NHi: Duer Papers).

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