George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major John Clark, Jr., 22 November 1777

From Major John Clark, Jr.

Mr Rees’s [Philadelphia County, Pa.]1
22d Novr 1777 10 oClock A.M.


This will inform you one of my Spies has this moment come to me from Philadelphia, he delivered the Dispatches to Sr Wm & has been through his Army says those remaining at Philadelphia do not exceed 5000, the Soldiers much fatigued & grumble at the severe duty they are obliged to do & are exceedingly averse to the service2 their Redoubts have from two to three Feild pieces in each, in front at the distance of seventy Yards, they have abattis from the Schuylkill to Delaware, made of the Apple Trees collected from the different Orchards near the City, the Hessians are encamped on the right, the Grenadiers, on the left, light Infantry & Scotch in the Centre, a few Hessians & one Battalion of the seventy first ly near the Middle Ferry, they are exceeding watchful of the Inhabitants; if they discover three or four of them talking together, they order them to disperse, & converse very little with them—they Troops have plenty of salt provisions & are badly cloathed.

Yesterday afternoon, I did myself the honor to wait on the Enemy with a Flag at the Middle Ferry. I was politely recieved by Captn Baum a relation of Lieut. Col: Baum a Hessian Officer at their advanced Centry, who insisted on my going down to the Ferry where he was quartered, which I accepted Major Brigade Erskine met me at the Ferry & I gave him the Letter to Mrs Budden & some Money, which he assured me he wou’d immediately forward her,3 they informed me Lord Cornwallis was in possession of Red bank & had burnt some of our Vessells in the River—A few Young Scotch Officers of the seventy first asked me some impertinent questions to which I gave a impertinent answer, one thing I must not omit telling you as I think it will afford you a laugh—I walked to the Ferry & viewed the Bridge, their Encampment, and Redoubts, without molestation; when I was coming away, the Hessian Officer told me he was sorry he had received Orders to blindfold me—I replied ’twas customary & gave him my Handkerchief to do it He tied rather loose & it being very thin Gauze my sight was not much obstructed I was led about six Rod, & then permitted to take of my Handkerchief—They have a Captain’s Guard at the Ferry, consisting of about 30 Men, the Troops are encamped from Governor Penns House along the Common,4 towards Kensington—appear’d very busy in the Evening—were making a great noise—on the Hill above the Middle Ferry towards the City on each side the Road they have a Battery, to the right of the road a little below the Stables built by the Continent they have a two Gun Battery, without any Cannon it commands the Ferry on this side in flank, they have on this side the Schuylkill a small circular redoubt for Musketry flanked on each side by a House with a few Apple Trees in form of an Abbatti—I am told they have a Picket at Mr Bob Morris’s House up Schuylkill a little way from the upper Ferry—on what is called the Rich Road, another at Mr Richd Wister’s House, in front of which there is a small Redoubt, his Orchard is also cut down & converted into an Abatti & his Barn levelled to the Ground5—I have information that some persons employed by me have waited on you with intelligence agreeable to my directions I shou’d be glad to know if it’s true—Day before Yesterday I wrote to you & informed a Person wou’d call on you Yesterday as he was to leave the City for that purpose6—If a Mr Irvine shou’d call on you soon (or has done it already) with intelligence from the City you may rely on it7—The Person first mentioned in this Letter who has just arrived is very intelligent & been employed a considerable time by me. I am in the greatest haste Your Excellency’s Most Obedt Humble servt

Jno. Clark Junr

P.S. We hear a Cannonading at red bank the Enemy in the City are afraid of an Attack this you may rely on.


I am now going a reconnatring—I think Trees ought to be lopp’d across all the Roads on this side, ’twou’d have obstructed His Lordships march very much had it been done e’er this.

ALS, DLC:GW. The cover indicates that this letter was sent “per Colo: [Thomas] Duff.”

1Thomas Rees owned land in Providence Township, Philadelphia County. Rees was elected to the Pennsylvania general assembly in 1781.

3Jakob Baum (1733–1785) of Borken, Hesse, became a captain in Knyphausens regiment in December 1776, and he was promoted to staff captain in February 1777. Captured by the Americans in September 1779, Baum returned to active service with his regiment by 1782. Mrs. Budden may be Susannah Carter Budden (c.1713–1801), widow of Richard Budden, a sea captain in the Philadelphia-London trade before his death in the 1760s.

4The common was the open land in west Philadelphia, which did not extend much beyond Eighth Street at this time. By “Governor Penns House” Clark may be referring to “Penn’s seat & vineyard” at the Springettsbury plantation, just outside the British redoubts, which was built by Thomas Penn, a proprietor, near the present-day intersection of Twentieth and Hamilton streets (Watson, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania description begins John F. Watson. Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, in the Olden Time; Being a Collection of Memoirs, Anecdotes, and Incidents of the City and Its Inhabitants, and of the Earliest Settlements of the Inland Part of Pennsylvania, from the Days of the Founders. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1850. description ends , 2:478–79).

5Robert Morris’s country seat The Hills was on a knoll on the east side of the Schuylkill River, about two miles from Philadelphia in 1777 but now within the city’s Fairmount Park. Hessian officer Johann Ewald describes the estate in his journal entry for 28 Nov.: “The Jäger Corps received orders to station itself behind the defile of the Morris plantation, which was situated on the Schuylkill in front of the army’s left flank. The officers and the greater part of the Corps had cantoned partly in the very beautiful country house, built in the Italian style, and partly in the farm buildings, which numbered some twenty. Now, since no brushwood or woodland was in the vicinity of our post, and these buildings were situated eight hundred to one thousand paces before our front, all of them, together with the splendid fruit trees, were torn down to build huts. Mr. Morris, who was indeed a distinguished man in the Congress, must have suffered a loss of twenty thousand dollars, without counting the irreparable damage which resulted from the loss of his large and lovely fruit trees” (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 , 105–8). The Morrises at the time were staying at yet another home, The Castle, a mansion at their Manheim estate in Lancaster County, Pa., to which they had fled when the British approached Philadelphia in September 1777 (see Hart, “Mary White,” description begins Charles Henry Hart. “Mary White—Mrs. Robert Morris.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 2 (1878): 157–84. description ends 161–62).

Richard Wistar (Wister; 1727–1781), a prominent Philadelphia artisan who made brass buttons and glass at his house on Market Street in the city, also owned land in the Northern Liberties near Philadelphia, in the Chestnut Hill Township of Northampton County, Pa., and in New Jersey. It is unclear whether Clark is referring to an orchard on Wistar’s tract in the Northern Liberties or to Morris’s orchard. Wistar in 1765 had advertised as wanting “400 Apple Trees, of a suitable Size to plant for an Orchard,” and at least one of Wistar’s properties, his plantation in Alloways Creek Township, Salem County, N.J., where he operated a second glassworks and a sizable gristmill, was said in 1798 to have a “good orchard and garden” (Pennsylvania Gazette [Philadelphia], 26 Sept. 1765, 3 Jan. 1798).

6Clark is referring to John Fawkes (see Clark’s second letter to GW, this date, and note 2). Clark’s letter to GW of 20 Nov. has not been found.

7Irvine has not been identified, and it is not known whether he provided intelligence to GW. There is, however, an unsigned intelligence report of 21 Nov. in DLC:GW, which reads: “The Lines at the North End of the City are nearly Compleat, they are ditchd & facined from Deleware to Schuylkill, between each Redoubt—They have damd the run at the upper end of second street, in order to keep the back water in, the more to obstruct yor Coming up to their works; on Monday [17 Nov.] night Lord Cornwallis & Sir Wm Erskine, with a large detatchmt some say four, some 5 thousd men Marchd thro’ Derby downwards, Crossd the Deleware & took Red bank which was evacuated before thay Came to it, in Consequence of which, our brave little fleet were put to the rout I believe all the Gundelows & two topsails made a safe retreat up the River, the others are all burnd—this morning 21st Novr 1777.

“One Oclock P.M. Just now a boat Came from Wm Coopers ferry with a flag of truce Bringing a Hessian doctor & four Ladies over, soon after she left the wharft, the Deleware Frigate fired a Shot at her, she proceeded, till the frigates Boat met her took them all out & made the officer & his Crew prisoners the passengers were sett at liberty & the others took to Jail, The reason of this Violation I cannot guess, perhaps the flag was not properly authenticated by a General officer, Or, they werere Exasperated at the Burning our fleet.

“They continue getting up provisions by way of Schuylkill, they sell Rum at a Guiney pr Gall: pork they plenty, Beef & Butter they have none, their flower all very Musty, they begin at the Chevaux de fries to Morrow, they say Cornwallis is to scower the Jerseys, whilst How is to Maintain this City with about 3000 Men, they appear to be in the greatest security, notwithstanding I have the greatest reason to beleive from every Acct that they do not exceed that Number.

“Their different preparations plainly denote their determination of wintering here.

“They have pulled down peal hall & all the rest of the houses faceing their Redoubts They have orderd all the wood within their lines to be Cutt for the use of the army they are takeing up houses & when the Empty ones are full they quarter the rest on the Inhabitants. Beef in Market is sold for 5/ pr lb. paper, & 3/9 hard money, thank God, the Quakers Idol is fallen 1/4 already, & I hope soon will to Nothing, tis reported & I blieve it to be fact the Quakers have lent them 90,000 pounds the better to Carry on the war & some of them at this time refuse to take it for goods.

“The army are very healthy & very saucy, say they have men Enough to defend their Lines whilst Cornwallis Clears the Country.

“I hope His Excellency General Washington will soon Convince them to the Contrary.”

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