George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Joseph Spencer, 30 April 1777

From Major General Joseph Spencer

Providence 30th April 1777

May it please your Excellency

Opportunity presenting, I readily improve it, to write by the Bearer who is Colonel Michael Fabricy a Kováts—A Gentleman from the Prussian Service, bound on a Tour to Visit your Excellency;1 though I have at the present, not much to write about—yet conclude it to be my Duty to Inform as nearly as may be of the State of the Enemy’s Army in this State, as well as Our own.

Within a few Weeks past, there have sundry Deserters left the Enemy and come to us, all of whom agree nearly as to their Numbers; which is at a Medium Six Hessian Regiments suppos’d to Consist of about five hundred Each, four British of near four hundred Each, One Company of British Granadiers of fifty; One ditto of light Infantry of the same Number, One Company of light Horse of forty; and One Company of Negros by the Enemy Inlisted on the Island, of about one hundred.

Last Sunday was taken a young Ensign of their 43d Regiment, by a small party from us;2 his Representation of the British Regts on the Island makes them five hundred and twenty each.

Our Army consists of Militia, who have been, and are frequently changing and Chang’d but expect shortly from Massechusets State two thousand to remain two Months; and have Encouragment from Connecticutt that they will Shortly furnish their stipulated Number.

Mr Webster of Philedelphia has been with me this day, who about three Weeks ago was Captivated by the Enemy near Block Island (while on his Passage from Philedelphia to Boston) and has been with the Enemy on Board their Ships untill Yesterday;3 he supposes that he has gain’d some Inteligence from them; Vizt that on the 12th of March, General Clinton was to Sail from Portsmouth with two Thousand Recruits from Hannau, two Thousand from Hesse; One Thousand from Brunswick Wolfenbuttle, who had been in England some Months—three thousand English recruits and one Regt of light Horse: that the Inteligence they have had by the date of the 5th of March. Mr Webster supposes there is a great Probability of the Enemy’s Attacking some further part of this State before long.

I Observe by the Resolutions of Congress pass’d the present month some particular Resolutions relative to the method of payment of the Army in general (in future) and regulating Pay and Deputy Pay-Masters in seperate Departments,4 which I am very glad has been attended to, as much Inconvenience has arose in this part of the Army for want of an Officer furnished, to Execute that trust; am something at a Loss by what means an appointment will be made for this part of the Army and by whom, but suppose it to be necessary; and should be glad it might take place as soon as convenient—If it is your Excellencys Appointment (or Colo. Palfrey’s) I should be glad to nominate and recommend a Gentleman Mr Hezekiah Bissell of Connecticut of Education and Business, he has been here from Decr last in the Service, first as a Captain, some Weeks as Brigade Major, and more lately, and at the present one of my Aids de Camp,5 he would be thankfull for the appointment, I should be glad he might have it; and doubt not but he would well and faithfully serve the publick in that Place. I am sir with due Respect your Excellencys most Obedt Humble Servt

Jos. Spencer


1Michael de Kowats (1724–1779), a Hungarian aristocrat who had served in a hussar regiment with the Austrian army during the War of the Austrian Succession and had commanded his own hussar corps in the Prussian army during the Seven Years’ War, sailed from Bordeaux on 25 Feb. 1777 and landed in New England sometime earlier this month. Setting off to offer his services to Congress, Kowats reached Providence on 28 April and resumed his journey to Philadelphia on 1 May (see the Providence Gazette; and Country Journal, 3 May 1777). Congress on 23 May declined to accept his services, undoubtedly because he was not fluent in English (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 , 8:384, and Kowats to Benjamin Franklin, 13 Jan. 1777, Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 40 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959—. description ends , 23:173). Kowats remained in America, however. In January 1778 Pulaski named Kowats exercise master for the Continental cavalry, and on 18 April 1778 Congress appointed Kowats colonel commandant of Pulaski’s Legion (see Pulaski to GW, 9 Jan. 1778, and GW to Pulaski, 14 Jan. 1778, DLC:GW; 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 , 10:364). Kowats was killed in South Carolina on 11 May 1779 during an attack on the British forces advancing on Charleston.

2The previous Sunday was 27 April. The unidentified ensign and a party of fifteen men were searching for a British deserter on the shore of the island of Rhode Island when they were surprised and routed by a detachment of American troops who had crossed to the island from the mainland in two whaleboats. The ensign arrived under guard at Providence on this date (see the Providence Gazette; and Country Journal, 3 May 1777).

3Pelatiah Webster (1726–1795), a native of Connecticut who had been a merchant in Philadelphia since 1755, was captured while sailing to Boston with a cargo of flour and iron. During the British occupation of Philadelphia later this year, Webster was confined in the city jail, and much of his property was confiscated. Beginning in October 1776 Webster wrote a series of newspaper essays that were collected and published in 1791 as Political Essays on the Nature and Operation of Money, Public Finance, and Other Subjects; Published during the American War.

4For Congress’s resolutions on these subjects of 1–2 and 9 April, 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 , 7:214–15, 218, 248–49.

5Hezekiah Bissell (1743–1802), an attorney and leader of the Sons of Liberty in Windham, Conn., was appointed a commissary for the Connecticut forces in April 1775, and in October 1775 he was commissioned a captain in the state militia. Bissell became a colonel of the militia after the war, and he served in the Connecticut general assembly in 1779 and during the 1790s.

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