George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General David Forman, 6 July 1777

From Brigadier General David Forman

Freehold [N.J.] July 6th 1777.


The Very busy Season of the Year renders it impossible to keep out a Sufficient Number of Guards to prevent the Enemy from plundering the Inhabitants, unless I take Post near to Sandy Hook. I have pitched on a peice of Ground that is so near as to prevent all small pillageing Parties coming Off, and at the same Time Commands a full prospect of Amboy, Staten Island, and the Bay as far up as the Narrows. The Ground by Nature is exceedingly Strong, a Small, but High Hill, Steep on every Side and only to be Approached through a Plain. A Small Redoubt with Two peices of Light Artillery would enable 150 Men to maintain it against a Large Number untill the Militia Could be Assembled to the Releif of the Garrisson, Without, they would be Verry Subject to be Surrounded and taken before they Could Possibly be Supported, as was the Case Last Winter.

If Your Excellency thinks proper to Indulge me with Two Iron Three or Four pounders Mounted on Travelling Carriages, and a proper Supply of Stores for them, I will have no Doubt of keeping the Gentry in good Order and be Enabled to furnish Accounts of every Movement of the Enemy’s Shipping. There are I am well inform’d a Number of Peices such as I request in Philadelphia, that are and in all Probability will be useless. I have raised a Small Militia Artillery Company for the Purpose.

I had Came into me the 4th of this Instant 4 Deserters from the British New Levies—Three of them had been taken at Bound Brook the other a Seaman and Compelled to enlist to obtain their Enlargement—Two of them I gave passes to Join Colon. Hands Regiment of Riflemen to whose Corps they belonged, the Other Two I sent to the Commanding Officer at Philadelphia. They Could give no Valuable Information, but agreed with Others that their Companies had never received any Pay, and the Most of them were disposed to desert. The Ships from Amboy and Prince’s Bay are gone up to New York.1 Yet from Some Circumstances I am led to beleive they Meditate an Expedition to the Westward by Water—They have a Number of Brigs, Schooners, and Sloops, prepared for taking Horses on board. Their Stalls are all Cover’d and the Sides lined with Sheepskins with the Wool on to prevent the Horses Chafing—they would not make Use of Such precautions if they Intended up the North or East River. I have this Minute a Deserter from the British Fleet, Enclosed Your Excellency has his, and George West’s Examination.2

Should Your Excellency think proper to have me Supplied with the Cannon, it will be Necessary to have Your Excellency’s Order to the Board of War for them and the necessary Stores. I have the Honour to be Your Excelly most obedient Humble Servant

David Forman


GW’s aide-de-camp Robert Hanson Harrison wrote a reply to this letter on 7 July 1777: “I have it in command from His Excellency, to acknowledge his receipt of your Letter of the 6th Instant, and to inform you, that the Cannon you request can not well be spared at this time; further, that he is apprehensive, if they could; they might become an Object of the Enemy’s attention and the means of drawing a greater part of their force into the Neighbourhood of the post where you would place ’em, than might have otherwise come. His Excellency is much obliged by the Intelligence you communicated and wishes you to transmit him an Account of every movement and occurrence on the part of the Enemy, that you may conceive material & interesting” (DLC:GW).

1Forman enclosed an undated “Account of Ships Come in from Sea Since Sunday the Thirtieth of June 1777,” which is located in DLC:GW. Since that date fifty vessels, “Some Very Large,” had sailed from Princes Bay to New York, eleven vessels had arrived at New York from the sea, and sixty-five vessels had left New York for open waters.

2Forman enclosed the examinations of Bertrand Detchevery, a deserter from the 676–ton British transport ship Dutton, and George West, an exiled Shrewsbury, N.J., Loyalist returning to Monmouth County to claim the benefit of the New Jersey general assembly’s recent act of free and general pardon. The examination of Detchevery, who appeared before Forman on this date, reads: “Bertrand Detchevery a Deserter from the Hospital Ship Dutton left her on Saturday Night 12 oClock 5th July 1777. The Examinant informs that the Ships that went from Princes Bay on Tuesday and Wednesday last had Hessian Troops on Board, that they now lay within the Narrows, and as it is reported among the Shipmen they are to wait there untill the Remainder of the Troops are Embarked. That the Light and Draft Horses were all Embarked Yesterday (Vizt Saturday the 5th of this Instant) on board of about fifty Brigs., Schooners, and Sloops. That on Thursday the Troops began to Imbark at the Watering Place, and were going on board every Day—The British Light Infantry Imbarked on Saturday. That a great Number of Baggage Waggons, Cannon &c. &c. are put on board—The Examinant further Says that the Hospital Ships are filled with Sick, that the present reigning Disease amongst them is the Bloody Flux—That the Troops in General appear much dejected. That he assisted to row one Boat to New York with 52 wounded Men on Thursday the 3d of July, and that Several other Boats were at the Same Time Employ’d in the Same Way. That all the Transports are Come from New York and now lay from the Point of the Narrows towards the Kills to the Amount of 300 Ships, Snows &c: &c: That no Ships has to his Knowledge gone up the North River With Troops. That the Common report Amongst the Sailors and Soldiers is that the Fleet is a going to Delaware—The Above Information is Just and True to the Best of my Knowledge and belief—So help me God” (DLC:GW).

The intelligence provided by George West appears in two documents of 27 June 1777, an unsigned statement and an affidavit signed by both West and Forman. The statement reads: “George West a Refugee Tory Came from New York on wednesday the 25th Instant June and Came through the Narrows about Nine O’Clock in the Morning—then lay at the Watering place 170 Ships and a number of Sloops about Twelve or fourteen prepared for taking Horses onboard—their Destination Unknown—The Examinant Says the Sloops prepared for Horses had orders to take Three Months Provisions for the Hands Onboard—That the Births made for the Horses, were all lined with Sheepskins to prevent the Horses having their Sides Chafed with the Working of the Vessels. That a Number more Brigs., Schooners and Sloops prepared for taking Horses on board were soon to fall Down to the Watering Place. That Genls Howe’s & Cornwallis’s Baggage Arrived at New York on Sunday last [22 June 1777]. That a General Gloom Appears on the Faces of all the Inhabitants, &c: &c:” (DLC:GW). The affidavit reads: “There Personally Appeared before me David Forman Brigadier General, George West a Refugee Tory formerly of Shrewsbury in the County of Monmouth and State of New Jersey, now return’d to claim the benefit of the Act of Grace of the State Afforesaid; being duly Sworn on the Holy Evangelists of Almighty God, deposeth and Saith, that on or About the fifth of this Instant June there was for Several Nights a very hot Press in the City of New York for Seamen, to man the British Fleet, then laying in that Harbour. That the press Gangs not being Able to Collect a Sufficient Number of Men to Answer their purpose, that this Deponent was inform’d from good Authority, and Verily believes it to be True, that they went to the provoost Guard and Compelled the Prisoners of War there Confin’d to go on board Said Ships to Serve his Britanish Majesty, and Further Saith not” (DLC:GW).

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