George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hancock, 9 September 1777

From John Hancock

Philada Septr 9th 1777.


I have the Honour to transmit at this Time Copies of two several Letters from Governor Livingston and Genl du Coudray to Congress. As Govr Livingston seems apprehensive of an Irruption from the Enemy on Staten Island, and says they are collecting there for this Purpose; the Congress have directed Genl Putnam to hold in Readiness fifteen Hundred Men under the Command of a Brigadier, to cross the North River when you may think proper to order it. A copy of the Resolve, I shall immediately forward to Genl Putnam.1

The enclosed Letter from Monsr du Coudray contains a Proposal of forming a Camp between Wilmington & Philadelphia—the Propriety of which, the Congress have referred entirely to you.2

Colonel Harrison’s Favour of the 7th Inst. was duely received.

I beg Leave to request your Attention to the Inclosures, and have the Honour to be, with the greatest Respect, Sir, your most obed. & very hble Servt

John Hancock Presidt

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 12A.

1The enclosed letter from William Livingston to Hancock, dated 7 Sept. at Philadelphia, reads: “On our late Attack of Staten-Island, the British Troops posted there threatened to return the Compliment in a few Days. I am since informed that they are collecting at that Post from Long-Island and New-york, both Men and Stores; and have the greatest reason to believe they will endeavour to perform their Promise. The Jersey Shore along the Sound opposite to Staten-Island is in a most defenceless Condition; and, without a Competent Guard, of easy Access to the Enemy. I lately ordered fourteen Hundred of our Militia to be there posted to prevent their Incursions; but of the Number ordered, I have the Mortification to learn from Col. [Frederick] Frelinghuysen who commands the Detachment, that but about four Hundred have turned out. Our Militia has indeed been so harrassed the last Winter, and our Law is so inadequate to the Purpose of compelling personal Service, that I despair of bringing out a sufficient Number to prevent the expected Irruption. Add to this that the most northern County of the State is almost totally disaffected, and the western Militia are mustering under Major-general Dickinson in Aid of the Troops under the Command of His Excellency General Washington. In this Situation of Things the Eastern Part of our State is in imminent Danger of being lost, or at least of suffering the most dreadful Depredation whenever the Enemy shall think proper to attack us. I would therefore humbly petition the Honorable Congress to propose to General Washington the Expediency of ordering fifteen Hundred of the Continental Troops now stationed at Peeks kill (where I presume no Attack is now apprehended) to be posted along the abovementioned Shore. These might be joined by such a Number of our Militia (who are more ready to come upon such Occasions than by themselves) as would render the State perfectly secure against any hostile Attempts from the Island. And from the Consideration of the important Succour which our Militia afforded the Troops of the United States during the last Winter, I am the more induced to flatter myself that the Congress will not now abandon us to fall a victim to the Enemy” (DLC:GW). For Congress’s resolution of 8 Sept. directing Putnam to hold the troops in readiness, 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 , 8:720.

2Du Coudray, who was in Philadelphia, says in his long letter to Hancock of 7 Sept.: “I have addressed to the board of War, and to the supreme Council of Pensylvania the result of the soundings of the [Delaware] river near Fort Mifflin, which I have made and which have been confirmed by those taken by the Navy Board; both which shew the necessity of defending only the passage of Billingsport, as I proposed in June, upon the first View of this spot, and upon considering the small number of Artillery, that could be furnished.

“I have been waiting these twelve days to know the measures that the Board of War, and Supreme Council would take upon this Subject, but whatever it may be, it is evident that, from the part which the ennemy have taken of making a descent in Cesepeak bay, the Object the least pressing is the defense of the Delaware.

“This being supposed, it is clear that the greatest Attention ought to be directed to defend, as well as possible, the Route which the Enemy have determined upon, by their landing in Chesepeak.”

Anxious not to miss the impending action, Du Coudray offers his services and those of his officers in defending Philadelphia against attack from this new direction and gives his views on strategy. GW, Du Coudray writes, “has very wisely thought proper to collect his first Efforts” at Wilmington, but “However strong this position may be supposed by nature, or may be rendered by Art; it appears to me, after what I have heard, that it will be possible for the enemy to pass it on the flank or perhaps force it; considering especially the small number of Artillery belonging to his Excellency’s Army.

“It appears to me then prudent for Congress to think of providing beforehand for their Army, another fortifyed Position, which may secure the Army in case they are obliged to abandon the first, and where they may collect new force against an enemy, whom the first success may render more audacious; and, especially, as Schulkill is the only considerable river that impedes their March to Philadelphia; and that this river offers at Grays ferry a Passage which No Officer can (I should think) propose to defend.”

Du Coudray asks Congress “to communicate this proposition” to GW. He also requests that he be given as “a principal Cooperator, General Mifflin, . . . by whom the works would be executed” and that Congress “bring forward, as soon as possible, the remainder of the fifty two [artillery] pieces brought in the Amphitrite. . . . These thirty remaining pieces of the said fifty two, will be so much the more necessary, as Artillery is the foundation of all defensive war; and that of these thirty pieces, there are twenty one which being of a greater length than the others, and even any pieces in the Army, are for that reason better for defending the intrenchments” (DLC:GW).

For Congress’s resolution of 8 Sept. referring to Du Coudray’s letter to GW, 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 , 8:720. For GW’s negative response to Du Coudray’s proposal, see Robert Hanson Harrison to Hancock, 10 September.

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