George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 31 May 1777

To John Hancock

Head Quarters Middle Brook Camp 31st May 1777


Since I did myself the honor to write to you the 29th I have recd the inclosed intelligence.1 As it comes from a person of Veracity, and one who is much in the confidence of the Enemy, I have no doubt as to the fact of the two Brigades having come over from New York to Amboy, and also that a Number of Waggons have been brought from Staten and Long Island. These accounts are corroborated by information of the same kind from several different Quarters. But I do not place so much dependance upon the account of the intended attack upon this place, because I think if such a matter was really in agitation, it would be kept a profound secret. I rather am of opinion that it is thrown out to deceive. But at any rate, taking it for granted that they are assembling their Troops & Carriages, what can they have in View but a move, either immediately, or when their reinforcement (if they get any) arrives, and if they do move, I can see no other object but Philadelphia. It is true they have seemed for some time past to have laid aside all thoughts of attempting that City by land, but if they had only the attacking this Army in contemplation, they would never incumber themselves with a large train of Waggons, which, if they were successful would retard them in their pursuit, and if defeated, would be in danger of falling into our Hands.2

I inclose you an extract of a letter which I recd from Genl Sullivan,3 if the two India Ships, which have been cut down, are gone out to sea, I should suppose they are intended for the Delaware, because they are not capable of performing a rough or long Voyage. This, if true, looks as if a sudden corresponding move by land was intended, for they will never send their Ships long before their Troops.

These you will please to observe are mere conjectures upon circumstances, for the actions of the Enemy have, for a long time past, been so different from appearances, that I hardly dare to form an opinion. But I would wish to profit by every peice of intelligence, and be prepared to ward off every danger that threatens. I would therefore recommend that the pennsylvania Militia, who are assembling at Bristol for the express purpose of guarding the River and opposing the passage of the enemy, should be put under the command of a good General Officer, who would see that they are kept to their duty and prepared for a sudden emergency. Except this is done they may as well be at home.

I last Night recd a letter from General Mcdougal, an extract of which you have inclosed.4 By this it appears that a Reinforcement is arrived, but whether from Canada or Europe is uncertain. You will observe that he likewise mentions that eight Transports with Foot and a Schooner with Horses & Hay had fallen down. We can only form conjectures at present of the place of their destination, but if they stand southward, Philadelphia is the most probable place.

I have the pleasure to communicate a very agreeable peice of intelligence which I have recd from Genl Parsons of the destruction of 12 of the Enemy’s Vessels in Sag Harbour upon the East End of Long Island. I give you his letter at length, which I think reflects high honor upon the Conduct and Bravery of Colo. Meigs, his Officers and Men.5 I have the honor to be Sir most respectfully Yours

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 2 June (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 , 8:409–10).

1This anonymous intelligence report of 29 May reads: “This Morning two Brigades sailed from New York for Amboy—and 300 Waggons also brought over from Long Island—some sent over Staten Island and others by Water to Amboy—some passed over this day. He cannot be positive but imagines the two Brigades came from Rhode Island—Genl Howe had just got every thing ready for a very sudden attack on two or three of our out posts, which from their late Situation, they were sure of carrying. They are much disappointed with the present disposition, but nevertheless are determined to make a sudden and violent Attack on our Camp—New York, Amboy, Bonum Town and Staten Island to be evacuated by the regular Troops, so as to form an Army of 12000 Men for the Intended attack—He does not positively know the day fixed, but from the best information he could collect he thinks it will be on sunday Morning next [1 June] an hour before day—They appear much vexed with Genl Putnam being sent up the North River but assert in the strongest Terms that they will have him within two Weeks in the same manner they got General Lee. When they make the intended Attack they purpose a very violent one, and as they know that General Washington will retreat, they are determined to follow him, if it is to Albany. They have determined the destruction of Genl Washingtons Army before the Reinforcement arrives, and when that joins them they are to force their way into New England. Genl [James] Grant had his Horses Head shot off the day before Yesterday. They are determined to force Genl Washington at all events. The Reinforcement sailed from England the 2d April last” (DNA:PCC, item 152).

2Tench Tilghman sent a copy of this report to John Sullivan at Princeton on 30 May, and in his covering letter to Sullivan of that date, Tilghman says that the report “comes from a person of undoubted credibility, and much intrusted by the Enemy. Although there is no doubt that he has been informed of all that he reports, yet it is more than probable that it is thrown out to cover some other design. Perhaps they may think that while they amuse us by threatening an attack upon our camp they may find an opportunity of making a hasty march to Delaware through your quarters. His Excellency [GW], therefore desires that you will endeavour to keep some persons in the neighbourhood of Brunswick in pay, who will contrive to give you the earliest intelligence of any move either towards you or from Brunswick, towards us. If you can get intelligent persons to venture in, they can inform you of what is doing, and by comparing their accounts with the inclosed, you may judge of the truth.”

In a postscript to the above letter, Tilghman says: “The officer at the advanced picket nearest Brunswick, this moment sends word that the Enemy, this morning struck all their tents” (transcript, DLC: Peter Force Collection).

3For this extract from Sullivan’s letter to GW of 29 May, see GW to Sullivan, 29 May, n.1.

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