George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Israel Putnam, 19 July 1777

From Major General Israel Putnam

Head Qurs Peeks kills [N.Y.] July 1 [9]th 17771

Dear Genl;

I herewith Send you a Copy of a letter Just received from Col. Mead containing some intelligence respecting the Enemy’s fleet.2

I have taken One Edmund Palmer, who went to the Enemy Some time past, who belonged at Crumpond, has ever Since been lurking about here plundering & driving off cattle to the Enemy, breaking up & robbing houses—he broke Open a house in the Night belonging to an Officer in our Army presented his Pistol to his wife’s breast as She Sat in bed, Strip’d the rings from her fingers, then fell upon the father an old Gentleman, abused, beat, & left him, to appearance dead, he took an Express as he was Coming from Connecticut to me, he has been about recruiting for the Enemy & Spying our Army—he was taken in arms with a Villian who escaped from the Guard house, under Sentence of death, Sometime past. Palmers brother that was with him is Supposed to be killed—he Says he is a Leiut: in Hows Army appointed by Genl Orders, but has no Commission I have ordered him in Irons & directed his Trial to be next Tuesday.3

A Question is made, wheither he may be Tried by a Genl Court martial by the articles of war—because he belonged to this State & Owed Allegiance to it, I think, the Speedy Execution of Spie’s is agreable to the laws of Nature & nations & absolutely necessary to the preservation of the Army & without Such power in the Army, it must be incompetent for its own Safety—Should be glad of your Excellency’s Advice & direction in the premises.

I have ordered a board of Officers to Set next Monday4 to enquire into the claims of the Candidates for the two vacant Cols. in Genl Parson’s Brigade agreable to your Orders. With the highest esteem & affection I am your Excellency’s Obedt humble Servt

Israel Putnam


1This letter is dated “July 18th 1777,” but its enclosure indicates that it was written the following day (see note 2).

2The enclosed copy of Col. John Mead’s unaddressed letter, dated “Byrom River July 19th 1777” but apparently written on the evening of the previous date, reads: “I would Inform you that about five oClock this afternoon a Fleet of Ships and other Vessels hove in Sight in the Sound, about thirty or forty sail, the End of them could not be discoverd—they are Steering Eastward—Some of the Eastermost are off Rye, Maronak & New-Rochell—they doubtless are the Enemys Fleet on their old plan of Mischief” (DLC:GW). Mead’s letter seems to have been written to Brig. Gen. Gold Selleck Silliman, who forwarded it to Putnam from Fairfield, Conn., in a letter of 19 July: “By Express, from Coll Mead who came off Last evening I am informed they then could see, 40 Sail of the Enemys Fleet; at this time 25 of them are in sight of my House all standing directly in for this town & I Expect they will be on shore before night—I have therefore to intreat you to march as fast as possible for our Relief, not a momen[t] Ought to be lost, how Large their fleet is, we cant yet Ascertain, but suppose that we have yet, seen but a part Of them” (DLC:GW). The vessels, a British convoy consisting of transports and victuallers returning to England and Ireland, had sailed as far as Rhode Island by 20 July (see Mackenzie, Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 1:156, and the Connecticut Courant, and Hartford Weekly Intelligencer, 28 July 1777). Two other letters containing intelligence about the movement of British vessels around this time were forwarded to GW by Putnam (see Putnam to GW, 21 July, n.1).

3Edmund Palmer (d. 1777) of Cortlandt Manor, Westchester County, N.Y., was captured near Peekskill on 15 July 1777 after allegedly breaking into the house of a “Mr. Willis” and attacking its occupants. He was tried and convicted of spying and sentenced to death by a court-martial at Peekskill in late July. Although Palmer’s wife appealed directly to Putnam to spare her husband’s life and the British tried to save Palmer by claiming that he held a lieutenant’s commission in a Loyalist regiment and thus should be exchanged as a prisoner of war, Palmer was hanged at “Gallows Hill” at Cortlandtown on 1 Aug. (see Putnam to GW, 26 July and 15 Aug. 1777; see also William Hotham to George Montagu, 3 Aug. 1777, Montfort Browne’s certificate regarding Palmer’s commission, 3 Aug. 1777, and Putnam to the officer at Verplanck Point, 4 Aug. 1777, all in DLC:GW, and Putnam to the New York Council of Safety, 28 July 1777, and the council of safety’s reply, 28 July 1777, both in N.Y. Prov. Congress Journals description begins Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety, and Council of Safety of the State of New-York, 1775–1776–1777. 2 vols. Albany, 1842. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends , 1:1020).

4The following Monday was 21 July 1777.

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