George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 10 April 1777

To John Hancock

Morris town April the 10th 1777


I was just now honored with your Letter of the 9th Instant, covering Sundry Resolutions of Congress. Those for regulating the Hospital and medical department, I trust, will prove of the most salutary consequences. It is only to be regretted, that this necessary and liberal institution had not been gone into and compleated at an earlier period.

The Honors Congress have decreed to the memory of Generals Warren and Mercer, afford me the highest pleasure. Their character and merit had a just claim to every mark of respect, and I heartily wish, that every Officer of the United States, emulating their virtues, may by their Actions secure to themselves, the same right to the grateful Tributes of their Country.

Since writing to you Yesterday, I have received further intelligence of the Enemy’s preparations in York indicating a movement before long. It is contained in the inclosed Letter No. 1 and corroborates the Opinion I have long entertained, that they would make a push against Philadelphia. The Tory Regiments mentioned, we are told, are at Heckensec & are about Five Hundred strong, exclusive of a Company of Highlanders which is with them.1

The inclosed Letter from Le Chevalier Count of Vrecourt came to hand this morning, and which I have thought proper to transmit to Congress that they may consider his case and adopt such measures respecting him, as his character & testimonials deserve. I never heard of him before, but if he is a skilful Engineer, he will be extremely usefull and should be employed, though he may not understand our Language. At this time we have not One with the army, nor One to join it of the least reputation or pretensions to skill. If this Gentleman came in consequence of an Agreement with Dr Franklin and brought credentials from him, I should suppose him to be acquainted with what he was recommended for.2

The Cartel proposed to be settled & so long in Agitation, is not accomplished yet. The last meeting, on that business, was the 2 Instant, when nothing was done—nor is a further interview appointed respecting it. I have transmitted a Copy of Lord Cornwallis’s Letter which came out the next day with that of the paper alluded to by him, which Mr Harrison refused to receive from Colo. Walcot, and of my Answer to the latter in a Letter to Genl Howe.3 The Objections or Articles mentioned by Colo. Walcot were those Genl Greene had with him & which he left when he came from Philadelphia. The Original I have by me. Those points were insisted on again and rejected, and a tender made of the paper by Colo. Walcot which he brought with him prepared.

I have appointed John Wilkens, John Steel, Mathew Irvine & Samuel Kersley, Esqrs. Captains of Companies to be raised by them in consequence of the recommendation of Genl Armstrong. As the Interest of those Gentlemen lies in Pensylvania cheifly, and it would be drawing money from the pay master here to carry to Philadelphia, supposing there was a Supply in the Chest, which is not the case, I shall be obliged by Congress’s ordering Six hundred Dollars to be advanced to each of them on account of the recruiting service, the first of whom I immagine is in Philadelphia. If this requisition can be complied with, he I presume will give notice to the rest, or if Genl Armstrong is informed of it, he will do it.4 I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir Yr Most Obedt Sert

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 11 April 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 , 7:253).

1The enclosed undated examination of an unnamed person, which is in John Fitzgerald’s writing, reads: “Left New York on 3 OClock Monday Afternoon [7 April]—On Sunday Afternoon he saw 32 flat Bottom Boats about 6 feet Wide & 14 or 15 feet long, Scantling & Plank all prepar’d & Mark’d for laying a Bridge, they told him it was to be compleated that Night—near 30 Rod long—wide enough for 8 Men to March abreast 2 Anchors to each Boat about 63 Transports drawn into the North River with 3½ Months Provisions on board; Wooded & Water’d & ready to take in Men—About 12 Transports & 1 Ship had fallen down to the Watering place bound (as was said) to the Bay of Fundy for Provisions—another small fleet was preparing to sail for Canada—was told that they had obtain’d 2 Chev. de Frize Pilots for Deleware River—About 8 or 10 provision Vessells arriv’d on Sunday, one of which was destroy’d by the Chev. de Frize in the East River—in New York 6 times as many Soldiers as he saw in it at any time during the Winter Saw them Exercis’d & paraded—Hessians Sickly—English Soldiers not—The 10th day of this Month every Officer & Man was order’d to be at his respective Corps—& the Officers said the 20th was the day on which they would open the Campaign, when they would give the Rebels a Devil of a Drubbing.

“The Tory Regimts, Van Boskirks, Dongans &c. abo’t 300 in all, were put over last Friday to Bergen & the English Neighbourhood to recruit, as was said, No Regulars or field Pieces that he could hear of & that he had it from one James Hetfield who put them over.

“He saw a Number of large Brass Cannon put on board of the Transports in the North River & one large Mortar bed which he saw Three Horses drawing, & were sett in doing it—Also a large Number of shells &c. &c.” (DNA:PCC, item 152).

Abraham Van Buskirk and Edward Vaughan Dongan (c.1748–1777), an attorney from Rahway, N.J., each commanded a battalion in the New Jersey Volunteers. James Hetfield (Hatfield), a ferryman from Elizabeth, N.J., continued running his ferry from Staten Island during the war and frequently acted as a guide for the British army.

2This enclosure apparently is Vrecourt’s letter to Hancock of 2 April in DNA:PCC, item 78, which is docketed in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing. Vrecourt, a native of Luxembourg who had served as a captain of engineers and artillery in the French army during the Seven Years’ War, says in this letter, which was written in English at Philadelphia evidently with the help of a translator: “I have been very anxious, since my arrival here, to pay my respects to your Excellency but the fatigues I underwent during a voiage of fifteen weeks with a very scanty allowance of provisions, and the vexation occasioned by the loss of my bagage, when the vessel was taken, amounting to about 400 guineas had so impaired my health as to put it out of my power.

“From what Mr Franklin said at Nants I understood an Engineer was greatly wanted here & am much surprised that the Honbe member[s] of Congress have not yet mentioned any thing to me relative to my profession, notwithstanding the pressing occasion there is for some works to protect the city & batteries for the defence of the river, some plans for which I have presented.

“I have not as yet any rank or appointments fixed, nor received any money, tho twenty days here, which surprises me much after having produced my articles of agreement in France, which were transmitted to the Honbe Congress more than three months since, & my departure was determined as soon as Mr Franklin arrived” (DNA:PCC, item 78; see also Vrecourt’s undated memorial to the Secret Committee of Congress, Pliarne, Penet, & Co. to the Secret Committee, 9–30 Nov. 1776, and Vrecourt’s two certificates of 24 Nov. 1776, DNA:PCC, item 78, and James Hutchinson’s diary, 3, 16 Mar. 1777, in 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 , 8:23–25, 129–30).

Congress on 12 April appointed Vrecourt an engineer with the rank and pay of a colonel, and three days later it advanced him two months’ pay (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 , 7:259, 269).

3See Paper from William Walcott, 2 April, and the source note to that document, in which Cornwallis’s covering letter to GW of 3 April is quoted, and see GW to William Howe, 9 April.

4Between 14 April and 11 June Congress advanced each of these captains $1,000 for raising his company, and on 14 June it also advanced $300 to Steel, $450 to Irvine, and $500 to Kearsley for the same purpose (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 , 7:260, 347, 8:427, 453, 464). Matthew Irvine (c.1755–1827) studied medicine in Carlisle, Pa., under the direction of his older brother William Irvine before July 1775 when he joined Capt. Daniel Morgan’s rifle company as an ensign. Irvine accompanied Morgan’s company on Arnold’s expedition to Quebec during the fall of 1775 until he was incapacitated by severe illness (see Roberts, March to Quebec description begins Kenneth Roberts, ed. March to Quebec: Journals of the Members of Arnold’s Expedition. New York, 1938. description ends , 205–6). The independent company that Irvine raised in Pennsylvania during this spring and summer was incorporated in Col. William Malcom’s Additional Continental Regiment on 13 Oct. 1777 (see General Orders, that date). Irvine resigned his captaincy in January 1778. Later, he became a surgeon in Lee’s Legion, with which he served in the southern campaigns of 1781 and 1782. At the end of the war, Irvine settled in Georgetown, S.C., and about ten years later he moved to Charleston. Irvine was a member of the South Carolina general assembly from 1788 to 1790.

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