From the Pennsylvania Board of War
Pennsylvania War Office Philadelphia April 13th 1777
By the inclosed copy of a letter which we have received this morning from our signal at Cape henlopen, your Excellency will be informed of the appearance of several of the Enemy’s ships in our Bay1—whether this is intended as a feint, or a real attack upon this City, we are yet at a loss to determine, but as our defence on the river is greatly weakened by a detatchment of our state Regiment of Artillery being at Camp with your Excellency, we thought it our duty to acquaint you therewith, and to request you would Order Lieut. Col. Strohbogh and Lieutenant Robb with such of our State Troops as they have with them, to this City.2 We should not make this request, but on the report of Colonel Proctor it appears that the Men belonging to his Regiment of Artillery at Fort Island do not exceed 60 effective and Non-effective Men—The other State Regt has about 300 effective Men; they are at present employ’d on the Fortifications at Billingsport—if that place can be made defensible, it is intended they should remain there, unless ordered otherwise by your Excellency or the Commanding Officer at this place. As your Excellency is a more competent judge of the necessity of retaining our State Troops at Head Quarters, we shall rest satisfied with yr determination respecting them, after stating the above facts for your Excellencys consideration. I have the Honor to be Your Excellency most Humble servt
Owen Biddle, Chairman
LS, DLC:GW. For GW’s reply to this letter, see GW to Owen Biddle, 14 April.
1. The enclosed copy of the letter that Henry Fisher wrote to the Pennsylvania navy board on 12 April at Lewes, Del., reads: “Yesterday Morning the Ship Morris, Captain Anderson was chased into the mouth of our Bay by a Frigate. the Roebuck laying in the road, made Sail after her, Captain Anderson run his Ship on shore about half a Mile from the Light House, the two ships continually firing at him, and he return’d the fire for near three Hours in a most brave and Gallant manner—The ships sent three Boats which was beat off by the Morris, Captain Anderson landed his Packet for the Congress which I have forwarded up by two french Gentlemen—when finding he could defend her no longer, he laid a train and blew the ship up, and I am sorry to tell you that so brave a man has fell in the Attempt—The Mate and fourteen of the Crew are safe on shore, The Scene was horrible to behold, The Cargo is in part blown on shore viz., Guns, Cloaths, Gunlocks &c., &c. &c. &c.—We have a Number of men saving the Cargo—The Roebuck is now in the Road and two Frigates at Anchor upon the lower part of the Brown. There is a second Flag from the Roebuck, The Officer says they expect their whole Squadron in shortly, and should they arrive I will give you the earliest advice in my power.” In a postscript dated “Saturday Morning [12 April] 9 oClock,” Fisher adds: “After Writing the Within the two ships that lay at the Brown are making Sail up the Bay, the Wind at N.N.E., therefore sent the Alarm” (DLC:GW). This letter was published by order of the Pennsylvania board of war in the Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 16 April 1777, and as a broadside printed by John Dunlap of Philadelphia (see Christie’s catalog, item 218, 9 June 1992).
Henry Fisher (1735–1792), a prominent pilot at Lewes, Del., had been engaged by the Pennsylvania committee of safety on 16 Sept. 1775 to keep the council informed of the arrival of British warships at the Delaware capes. A major in the Sussex County, Del., militia, Fisher also maintained a guard at the Cape Henlopen lighthouse and armed whaleboats in the nearby creeks.
The ship Morris, commanded by Capt. James Anderson, was returning from Nantes with a cargo of military supplies when it was chased into Delaware Bay by the British frigate Camilla (see the Camilla’s journal, 11 April, 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 , 8:321–22). Andrew Snape Hamond, captain of the Roebuck, which joined the Camilla in pursuit of the Morris, says that the Morris “blew up with a most terrible explosion, forming a column of liquid Fire to a great height, and then spread into a head of black smoke, showering down burnt pieces of wood &c which covered a space round about for near ½ a Mile on the Water” (Hamond’s autobiography, 10–11 April 1777, ibid., 321). The third British warship at the Delaware capes was the frigate Thames.
2. John Martin Strobagh (d. 1778), who had served as a lieutenant of marines aboard the Continental navy sloop Hornet from Feburary to May 1776, was commissioned third lieutenant of Capt. Thomas Proctor’s Pennsylvania state artillery company in June 1776. In August 1776 Proctor’s artillery became a battalion consisting of two companies, and in October 1776 Strobagh was named captain of one of the companies and was sent with it to Fort Montgomery, New York. Strobagh’s company rejoined Major Proctor’s battalion at Morristown on 16 Jan. 1777. On 6 Feb. 1777 the Pennsylvania council of safety promoted Proctor to colonel and authorized him to raise a full regiment of artillery. Strobagh was appointed lieutenant colonel of Proctor’s regiment on 3 Mar. 1777, and he served in that capacity until his death on 2 Dec. 1778. For a previous request for the return of Lt. John Robb and his men to Philadelphia, see the Pennsylvania Council of Safety to GW, 8 Feb. 1777, and GW to the Pennsylvania Council of Safety, 14 Feb. 1777.