George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 8 December 1776

To John Hancock

Mr Berkley’s Sommerseat1 Decr 8th 1776


Colo. Reed would inform you of the Intelligence which I first met with on the Road from Trenton to Princeton Yesterday. Before I got to the latter, I received a Second express informing me, that as the Enemy were advancing by different Routs and attempting by One to get in the rear of our Troops which were there & whose numbers were small and the place by no means defensible, they had judged it prudent to retreat to Trenton—The retreat was accordingly made, and since to this side of the River.2

This information I thought it my duty to communicate as soon as possible, as there is not a moments time to be lost in assembling such force as can be collected and as the object of the Enemy cannot now be doubted in the smallest degree. Indeed I shall be out in my conjecture (for it is only conjecture),3 if the late imbarkation at New York, is not for Delaware river, to cooperate with the Army under the immediate command of Genl Howe, who I am informed from good authority is with the British Troops and his whole force upon this Route.

I have no certain intelligence of Genl Lee, although I have sent frequent Expresses to him and lately a Colo. Humpton to bring me some accurate Accounts of his situation. I last night dispatched another Gentn to him—Major Hoops, desiring he would hasten his march to the Delaware in which I would provide Boats near a place called Alexandria for the transportation of his Troops.4 I can not account for the slowness of his March.

In the disordered & moving state of the Army I cannot get returns, but from the best accounts we had between Three thousand & 3500 Men before the Philadelphia Militia and German Batallion arrived,5 they amount to about Two thousand. I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; ADf, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. For the differences of wording in GW’s draft, see nn.2 and 3. Hancock received this letter in Philadelphia this evening, and Congress read it the next morning (see Hancock to James Wilson, 8 Dec., in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 5:589, and 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 , 6:1012).

1Summerseat, a handsome two-and-a-half-story brick country house built in the early 1760s, by Adam Hoops, the father-in-law of wealthy Philadelphia merchant Thomas Barclay (1728–1793), stood on the Pennsylvania side of the lower falls of the Delaware a short distance from the southern terminus of the old or upper Trenton ferry. GW used Summerseat as his headquarters from this date to 13 or 14 December. Robert Morris later acquired the house, and the present-day town of Morrisville, Pa., was built around it. GW dined at Barclay’s house in Philadelphia in October 1774 while attending the First Continental Congress. Barclay was a member of the Philadelphia committee of safety during the early years of the war. In 1777 he was appointed to the Pennsylvania navy board, and in 1781 he became the American consul in Paris, beginning a diplomatic career that lasted until his death at Lisbon in 1793.

2In the draft the last sentence of this paragraph reads: “Before I got to the last mention’d place, I receivd a Second Express informing me, that as the Enemy were advancing by different Routs—by one of which it appeard they were attempting to get in the Rear of the Troops at Princeton whose numbers comparitively speaking were small, & the place by no means defensible they had judged it prudent to retreat to Trenton—the Retreat was accordingly made first to that place and since on this side of the River.”

Lt. James McMichael gives an account of the American retreat across the Delaware in his diary entries for 7 and 8 December. In Princeton “at 2 P.M.” on 7 Dec., McMichael says, “we paraded, the enemy being in sight, when orders came to evacuate the town and proceed to Trenton, where we were quartered at 10 P.M.” On 8 Dec., he says, “we paraded in Trenton at 4 A.M., and at dawn crossed the Ferry into Pennsylvania. At 4 P.M. the Hessians appeared in view, but were soon dispersed by several messengers sent from an 18-pounder of ours from the shore. Here we remained in the woods, having neither blankets or tents” ((“McMichael’s Diary,” description begins William P. McMichael. “Diary of Lieutenant James McMichael, of the Pennsylvania Line, 1776–1778.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 16 (1892): 129–59. description ends 139).

For an account of the British advance from New Brunswick to Princeton on 7 Dec., see Nathanael Greene to GW, 7 Dec., n. 3. On this date, Archibald Robertson says in his diary, Howe’s army “march’d towards Trenton where we Arriv’d about 12, but found the Rebels had all cross’d the Delaware River, and gave our advanced Troops a very brisk Cannonade across the River from 8 or 9 pieces. We had only 3 men wounded. Army Canton’d from Maidenhead [now Lawrenceville] to Trenton” (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 , 115; see also Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 27, 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 , 74).

3The draft reads: “for it is no more than conjecture.”

4For Col. Richard Humpton’s mission to Lee, see GW’s memorandum for Humpton, 5 December. Robert Hoops of Trenton, a son of Adam Hoops and brother-in-law of Summerseat’s present owner Thomas Barclay, acted as a militia commissary in 1775, and at this time he was brigade major for Brig. Gen. Philemon Dickinson’s militia brigade. Hoops was appointed a deputy commissary general of issues by Congress on 1 July 1777, but he resigned that office by 6 Aug. 1777 (see 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 , 8:517, 617). Hoops served as a deputy quartermaster general from 1779 to 1780. Alexandria (now Frenchtown), N.J., is on the east bank of the Delaware River about thirty-five miles north of Trenton.

5A general return of the army at Trenton, dated 1 Dec., shows that it consisted of four brigades with a total strength of 327 commissioned officers, 55 staff officers, 420 noncommissioned officers, and 2,963 rank and file present and fit for duty, a total of 3,765 officers and men. In addition, 381 rank and file were sick present, 746 rank and file were sick absent, 746 rank and file were on command, and 29 rank and file were on furlough (DNA: RG 93, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775–83; see also Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 3:1035–36).

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