George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Joseph Reed, 22 December 1776

From Colonel Joseph Reed

Bristol [Pa.] Decem. 22. 1776

Dear Sir

Pomroy whom I sent by your Order to go to Amboy & so through the Jersey & round by Princeton to you returned to Burlington yesterday—he went to South Amboy but was not able to get over—upon which he came up to Brunswick pass’d on to Princeton—& was prevented going to Pennington—upon which he returned to Burlington by Way of Cranberry.1

His Intelligence is that he saw no Troops, Baggage Waggons or Artillery going to New York except about 8 Waggons which he understood had the Baggage of some of the light Horse who had been relieved & were going into Quarters—At Cranberry he saw 16 Waggons going down to South Amboy for the Baggage of about 500 Men who were to quarter about Cranberry—inlisted Tories commanded by one Lawrence2—at Brunswick he saw 4 peices of Cannon—the Number of Men he could not learn but they did not exceed 600 or 800—Princeton he says was called Head Quarters and there he saw a very considerable Body of Troops coming out of the College, Meeting House & other Places where they quartered. He understood they were settled in their Winter Quarters & had given over farther Operations till the Spring.

In Burlington County he found them scattered thro all the Farmers Houses, 8, 10, 12 & 15 in a House & rambling over the whole Country.

Col. Griffin has advanced up the Jerseys with 600 Men as far as Mount Holly within 7 Miles of Their Head Quarters at the Black Horse3—he has wrote over here for 2 peices of Artilly & 2 or 300 Volunteers as he expected an Attack very soon. The Spirits of the Militia here are very high—they are all for supporting him—Col. Cadwallader & the Gentlemen here all agree that they should be indulged—we can either give him a strong Reinforcement—or make a separate Attack—the latter bids fairest for producing the greatest & best Effects—it is therefore determined to make all possible Preparation to day & no Event happening to change our Measures the main Body here4 will cross the River tomorrow Morning & attack their Post between this & the Black Horse, proceeding from thence either to the Black Horse or the Square5 where about 200 Men are posted as Things shall turn out with Griffin. If they should not attack Griffin as he expects it is probable both our Parties may advance to the Black Horse if Success attends the intermediate Attempt. If they should collect their Force & march against Griffin our Attack will have the best Effects in preventing their sending Troops on that Errand, or breaking up their Quarters & coming in upon their Rear which we must endeavour to do in order to save Griffin.6

We are all of Opinion my dear General that something must be attempted to revive our expiring Credit give our Cause some Degree of Reputation & prevent a total Depreciation of the Continental Money which is coming on very fast—that even a Failure cannot be more fatal than to remain in our present Situation in short some Enterprize must be undertaken in our present Circumstances or we must give up the Cause—In a little Time the Continental Army is dissolved the Militia must be taken before their Spirits & Patience are exhausted & the scattered divided State of the Enemy affords us a fair Oppy of trying what our Men will do when called to an offensive Attack—Will it not be possible my dear Genl for your Troops or such Part of them as can act with Advantage to make a Diversion or something more at or about Trenton—the greater the Alarm the more likely Success will attend the Attacks—If we could possess ourselves again of New Jersey or any considerable Part of it the Effects would be greater than if we had never left it—Allow me to hope that you will consult your own good Judgment & Spirit, & not let the Goodness of your Heart subject you to the Influence of Opinions from Men in every Respect your Inferiours. Something must be attempted before the 60 Days expires which the Commissioners have allowed7—for however many affect to despise it—it is very evident that a very serious Attention is paid to it—& I am confident that unless some more favourable Appearance attends our Arms & Cause before that Time a very great Number of the Militia Officers here will follow the Example of those of Jersey, & take Benefit from it.

I will not disguise my own Sentiments that our Cause is desperate & hopeless if we do not take the Oppy of the Collection of Troops at present to strike some Stroke. Our Affairs are hasting fast to Ruin if we do not retrieve them by some happy Event. Delay with us is now equal to a total Defeat.

Be not deceived my dear General with small flatterg Appearances, we must not suffer our selves to be lulld into Security & Inacti[o]n because the Enemy does not cross the River—It is but a Reprieve the Execution is the more certain for I am very clear that they can & will cross the River in Spite of any Opposition we can give them.

Pardon the Freedom I have used, the Love of my Country, a Wife & 4 Children in the Enemys Hands, the Respect & Attachment I have to you—the Ruin & Poverty that must attend me & thousands of others will plead my Excuse for so much Freedom. I am with the greatest Respect & Regard D. Sir Your Obed. & Affect. Hbble Servt

J. Reed


1This American spy might be William Pomroy who was enrolled in the Burlington County militia in 1793 (see Norton, New Jersey in 1793 description begins James S. Norton. New Jersey in 1793: An abstract and index to the 1793 Militia Census of the State of New Jersey. Salt Lake City, 1973. description ends , 6).

2This Loyalist officer probably is Elisha Lawrence of Monmouth County, N.J. (see John Cadwalader to GW, 31 December).

3Col. Samuel Griffin crossed the Delaware River from Philadelphia to New Jersey with two companies of Virginia troops about 13 Dec. and subsequently assembled enough New Jersey militia to bring the strength of his force up to about five hundred men (see 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 , 31, 34, and “Reed’s Narrative, 1776–77,” description begins “General Joseph Reed’s Narrative of the Movements of the American Army in the Neighborhood of Trenton in the Winter of 1776–77.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 8 (1884): 391–402. description ends 392).

4On the manuscript Read first wrote “a Body of Men.” He then struck out those words and wrote “the main Body here” above the line.

5Reed may be referring to Mansfield Square, N.J., which is about three miles north of Black Horse (Columbus).

6For an account of the skirmishes between the Hessians and the American militia north of Mount Holly, N.J., on this date and at Mount Holly on 23 Dec., see 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 , 35–39.

7For the Howe brothers’ proclamation of 30 Nov. offering pardons to any rebelling Americans who took an oath of allegiance to the king during the next sixty days, see Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 3:927–28.

Index Entries