George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 21 October 1777

To John Hancock

Head Qrs near White Marsh [Pa.] Octo. 21st 1777.


I last night had the honor to receive your Letter of the 17th Instant with its several Inclosures.

I heartily wish the States may feel the importance of filling their Batallions, and may, in consequence of the Recommendation of Congress, adopt such measures as will prove effectual for the purpose. I cannot but think that heretofore, there has been a want of attention in this instance, and that the subject, tho interesting to the last degree, has been viewed with too much indifference. The Resolution respecting Deserters, I hope will also have their notice. It is highly necessary, that they should come into some regulations for apprehending them and punishing those who give them countenance. If this is not done, our force will be always diminishing, and no exertions in the Army will prevent it. I shall try the effects of a proclamation on those who are now delinquents, and shall be happy if it meets with success—But confess from the experiment I have made that I am not sanguine in my expectations, that it will be the case.1

As to the Recruiting Officers, I must observe that notwithstanding the Resolution of Congress of the 31st of July and my circular Letter on the Subject of it to many of the States, I have not received an account that any Officers have been appointed except in Connecticut & Jersey.2

On Sunday the Enemy evacuated German Town and withdrew themselves within their Lines near the City.3 They seem determined to reduce the Forts, if possible, and for this purpose have thrown Several parties over on province Island. I was informed this afternoon, that a Detachment also passed the Delaware at Coopers Ferry in the morning. If the account be true, and I have no doubt of it, It is highly probable they mean to make an Attack upon the Garrison at Red Bank. I am taking every measure in my power to counteract them, and have written to Genls Foreman & Newcomb of Jersey to afford every aid they can to releive the Fort, in case they do invest it.4 Against Fort Mifflin they have kept up a Canonade more or less every day & have thrown several Shells, but without doing any considerable damage. The explosion of One killed a private and wounded three Others, who were in a Barrack where it fell. They also set fire to two Ammunition boxes with a Hot Ball on the 19th which did some injury to the Barracks. I do not recollect that we have suffered lately in any instances besides these. I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir Yr Most Obedt servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy (extract), Ct: Trumbull Papers; copy (extract), MHi: William Livingston Papers; copy (extract), PHarH: Records of Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments, 1775–90; copy (extract), R-Ar; copy (extract), Vi: Executive Department, Governor’s Office, Letters Received; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 24 Oct. and ordered that copies of the second and third paragraphs regarding recruiting and deserters “be sent to the executive powers of each State” (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 , 9:837).

1The copies of Congress’s resolutions of 17 Oct. that Hancock enclosed in his letter to GW of that date include one that directs GW “to publish a proclamation offering pardon, to such as have deserted from the continental army and shall on or before such day as he shall think proper to fix in his proclamation, return to their respective corps or surrender themselves to the officers appointed to receive recruits and deserters in the respective states, or any other continental commission[ed] officer” (DLC:GW; see also 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 , 9:816). GW’s proclamation on deserters is dated 24 October.

Congress also recommended that the state legislatures pass laws for detecting and punishing persons who knowingly harbored or assisted deserters, and it increased the reward for apprehending each Continental deserter from five dollars to ten dollars and “twelve ninetieth parts of a dollar for each mile between the place in which he may be taken, & to which he may be conveyed” (DLC:GW; see also 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 , 9:814–15).

2See Circular to Various States, 4 August. Congress in its resolutions of 17 Oct. urges the states “to use their utmost endeavours for immediately compleating their several [recruiting] quotas,” and it directs GW “forthwith to order one or more of his officers that are or may be appointed to receive recruits & deserters agreeable to the resolution of the 31 of July last to apply to the supreme executive authority of each respective state for the names of the recruiting officers & of the places of rendezvous, which the said executive authority were requested to appoint by the resolution aforesaid” (DLC:GW; see also 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 , 9:813, 815). For the resolution of 31 July 1777 regarding recruiting officers, see ibid., 8:593–95.

3The previous Sunday was 19 October.

4See GW’s letters to David Forman and Silas Newcomb of 22 October [1] [2]. Capt. Johann Ewald of the Hessian jägers says in his diary entry for 21 Oct. that “about three o’clock in the morning the Jäger Corps marched to Cooper’s Ferry on the Delaware. The Corps crossed the Delaware in flatboats with the three Hessian grenadier battalions, Linsing, Minnigerode, and Lengerke, along with the Mirbach Regiment under [Lieutenant] Colonel [Justus Henrich von] Schieck, and landed about eight o’clock in the Province of Jersey. I had the advanced guard with sixty jägers, followed by the Corps, the Minnigerode battalion, the Mirbach Regiment, two 6–pounders, two howitzers, the Lengerke and Linsing battalions, and Captain [Friedrich Heinrich] Lorey with twenty mounted jägers. This corps under Colonel Donop, was ordered to seize by force Fort Red Bank, through which the garrison on Mud Island maintained its communication with the mainland. . . .

“This corps was still less than a half an hour away from the Delaware when it ran into an enemy party in the vicinity of Newton Township, which withdrew over Cooper’s Bridge toward Burlington. I pursued it up to the end of a wood, where I discovered several hundred men on both sides of Cooper’s Creek, with whom I skirmished until about four o’clock in the afternoon, after which time they withdrew. The colonel, who continued his march with the corps, had ordered me to occupy myself with the enemy until nightfall, and then to follow the corps to Haddonfield. He wanted to mislead the enemy and conceal his march. At eight o’clock in the evening I arrived at Haddonfield, where I found the corps encamped in a quadrangle on the heights” (Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 97; see also Whinyates, Services of Francis Downman description begins F. A. Whinyates, ed. The Services of Lieut.-Colonel Francis Downman, R.A., in France, North America, and the West Indies, between the Years 1758 and 1784. Woolwich, England, 1898. description ends , 43; Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 125–26; Muenchhausen, At General Howe’s Side description begins Friedrich von Muenchhausen. At General Howe’s Side, 1776–1778: The Diary of General William Howe’s Aide de Camp, Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen. Translated by Ernst Kipping. Annotated by Samuel Smith. Monmouth Beach, N.J., 1974. description ends , 41; and Scull, Montresor Journals description begins G. D. Scull, ed. The Montresor Journals. New York, 1882. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vol. 14. description ends , 469). For accounts of the attack on Fort Mercer at Red Bank, N.J., on 22 Oct., see Charles Stewart’s two letters to GW of 22 Oct. and Samuel Ward, Jr., to GW, 23 October.

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