George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Owen Biddle, 14 April 1777

To Owen Biddle

Head Quarters Morris Town 14th April 1777


I was this morning favd with yours of yesterday, inclosing Copy of a letter from Mr Henry Fisher of Lewis Town.1 The Ships therein mentioned are certainly meant for no other purpose than to distress and cut off the Trade in Delaware Bay, you may depend, that when an Attack upon the Works below the Town is really intended, there will be a co-operation of their land and sea Forces. I would notwithstanding have sent down the detatchment of your Artillery under the command of Lt Colo. Stroboch, could they have possibly been spared at this Juncture, but as we have not a Man of the Continental Artillery yet arrived, I am obliged to keep them a little while longer. Genl Knox tells me that he expects part of Colo. Cranes Regt in ten days from this time. The moment they arrive Colo. Stroboch shall be releived. Lieut. Robb with the small detatchment of the pennsylvania Regt goes off tomorrow, I shall send down Collin’s under his Guard.2

The Enemy came out early yesterday Morning from Brunswk with an intent to surprise Genl Lincoln at Bound Brook, and had like to have effected their design by the Carelessness of a Militia Guard at one of the fords upon Rariton. But the Genl got notice of their Approach time enough to withdraw himself and most of his Men to the Mountain just in the Rear of the Town. Our chief and almost only loss was two peices of Artillery and with them Lieutenants Ferguson and Turnbull with about twenty Men of Colo. proctors Regt. A party of Horse was pushed so suddenly upon them that they could not possibly get off. The Enemy staid about an hour and an half and then went back to Brunswic. Genl Lincoln took his Post again with a Reinforcement.3

I am afraid from the Situation of Billingsport that the Works which you are constructing there, cannot be Supported, if an attack is made upon it by land, and I should therefore think, that a small Work with a few peices of heavy cannon, would be all that would be necessary. You may depend that no Attack will ever be made by shipping alone, and as you must ever count upon losing so remote a post if attacked by land, the fewer Number of Men and Stores that are risqued the better. As I have never seen a plan of the Works, I only speak from information. But I would recommend a compact work to contain about three hundred Men in preference to a larger. If there were but a few Cannon, they might possibly be removed, if there should be a necessity of evacuating. You will oblige me by putting the inclosed Letters in the post Office.4 I have the honor to be Sir Yr.

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

2Col. Morgan Connor wrote Owen Biddle on 19 April from Morristown: “Lieut. [John] Robb of the Pennsylvania State Regt, who will deliver you this, is charged with a certain Thomas W. Collins, (a State prisoner) taken up some time ago, and confined here on suspicion of being one of the late James Molesworth’s accomplishes. I inclose you a paper sent by the above Collins to His Excellency the Commander in Chief, by way of justification. It may be of service to compare with his future examination. Lt Robb is order’d to Deliver him to your Board” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 5:315). The paper that Collins sent to GW has not been identified.

3Cornwallis deployed three columns of British and Hessian troops from New Brunswick to attack Lincoln’s post at Bound Brook seven miles up the Raritan River on the morning of 13 April. A detachment of fifty dragoons and four hundred Hessian grenadiers under Colonel Donop marched up the south side of the Raritan and seized a pontoon bridge leading across the river to the town, while north of the Raritan thirty Hessian jägers and a battalion of British guards commanded by Gen. James Grant attacked the town from the east, crossing a stone causeway through a marsh. The principal surprise was effected by the third column, which consisted of fifty light horsemen under Lt. Col. William Harcourt, two battalions of British light infantry under Lt. Col. Robert Abercromby, and a battalion of British grenadiers under Lt. Col. William Meadows. Marching around Bound Brook by way of Hillsborough, N.J., about six miles to the south, that column attacked the town from the west, crossing the Raritan at a ford which the American militia guard apparently had deserted without warning (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 , 56–59; 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 , 1:112–13; Nathanael Greene to Jacob Greene, 20 April 1777, Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 2:59–60). Lincoln, Nathanael Greene wrote John Adams on 13 April, “had but Just time to draw off the Troops from between the heads of their two flank Columns which kept up a warm fire as our people past between them” (ibid., 55–56; see also Joseph Ward to John Adams, 19 April 1777, Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977—. description ends , 5:155–57).

British officer Stephen Kemble says in his journal entry for 13 April that “the Rebels were surprised, and run off in their Shirts and hid in the Woods near[by]; a few were killed, about 80 taken, with three field Pieces, two 3’s and one 6 pounder; most of their Baggage fell into our hands” (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 , 1:113; see also Lydenberg, Robertson’s 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 , 126). Henry Knox wrote Nicholas Eveleigh on 5 May that the American loss at Bound Brook was “25 or 30 prisiners and 6 Kill’d” (NNGL: Knox Papers).

William Ferguson (c.1753–1791), who had joined Capt. Thomas Proctor’s Pennsylvania artillery as a bombardier in October 1775 and had been promoted to corporal in December 1775, was commissioned a third lieutenant in Proctor’s artillery battalion in October 1776, and on 14 Mar. 1777 he became a captain lieutenant in Proctor’s artillery regiment. Ferguson was exchanged in December 1780, and he soon returned to service as a captain in Proctor’s regiment, which by that time had been designated as the 4th Continental Artillery Regiment. Ferguson served in that capacity until the end of the war. In October 1785 Ferguson was named a captain in the U.S. Artillery, and in September 1789 he became a captain in the Artillery Battalion of the U.S. Army. Promoted to major commandant of that battalion in March 1791, Ferguson was killed on 4 Nov. 1791 in Arthur St. Clair’s defeat by Indians in Ohio.

GW’s aide-de-camp George Johnston wrote Gen. Nathaniel Heard of the New Jersey militia on 14 April: “His Excellency has heard that upon the Alarm Yesterday morning your whole Brigade ran from their post to Sour Land [Ridge]—with very great Concern he received this Intelligence & sincerely hopes that it wants foundation—however he commands me to desire that you will immediately relate the fact as it realy was—Should there be truth in it he is determined to shew no mercy to the Cowardly dastards and insists that he may be informed of their names” (DLC:GW). No reply to this letter has been identified.

4These letters, which probably were written to correspondents in Virginia, have not been identified.

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