George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General William Smallwood, 25 December 1777

From Brigadier General William Smallwood

Wilmington [Del.] Decemr 25th 1777

Dr sir,

I have not yet been joined by one Militia Man, I inclose you Genl Pattersons Ltr, which is not very promising of any considerable Aid from them, tho he is now endeavoring to draw them out.1

Our Fortifications go on slower than I cou’d wish, as I am not able to procure more Tools than for 150 Men to work wth at once, but every Effort shall be exerted to render the Place tenable.

The Eagle & 25 topsail Transports with 5 Sloops & Schooners passed down Yesterday, & anchored abreast and below Newcastle, in the Cove above reedy Island, Lord Howe is on board I imagine from the Flagg being hoisted on the foremast head; I dispatch’d a trusty Spy to Newcastle to discover if possible their Destination, who returned in the Evening with no other Intelligence but their Mooring & a few Boats Landing about two Miles below Newcastle, I detatched a good Officer with 100 men & a Guide last Night at 7 Oclock, to scour the Shores, intercept such as might Land, & to make discoveries, who has not yet returned. The Evening before last I received Intelligence of 20 Sail standing up the Bay, & that they had come to, off Bomby Hook; by a Person who I had sent the Day before to discover whether there were any Ships below, & whether they had landed any Troops as was reported here, these 20 Sail got as high as Newcastle Yesterday, & are now going up the River by this Place;2 I cannot learn where they came from, or that any Troops have been landed on this Side the Delaware below; I inclose the Informn received from a Person who was landed by one of the Transports about five Miles above this Yesterday.3

The British Army have had no other Views than to forage, from their remaining in their Position about Derby so long, but imagine they have returned by this Time—we are in great want of light Horse, I have been obliged to empress Horses & detatch Officers to reconoitre & watch their Motions, at this Post, without which a Surprize cannot be sufficiently guarded agt in our Rear, which is the most vulnerable part. When I ordered Colo. Sheriff to impress some Horses the Night before last, the Express’s Horse was unknown to me taken among others, this & waiting the return of necessary discoveries has detained him.

I wrote you a Ltr on the 22d Inst. (which is now inclosed) by one Musgrove of whom I had a very good Character Given who passed his Word of Honor to deliver it with his own hand but on hearg the Enemy had come out he got frighten’d & return’d back with the Ltr Yesterday.

It might be well to order the Comy Genl to send down the Articles of Soap Liquors & some Salt there being none in this Quarter wou’d be glad to know your pleasure respecting setting one of these Mils to work for this part of the Army which might be supplied not only with Flower but wou’d furnish a great pt of the Horses Food from the Grain which will be collected from the North Side of the Brandewine. in haste I have the honor to be wth sincere Regard Your Excellencys most Obedt Hble Sert

W. Smallwood

P.S. I have got your Spy Glass.

Capt. Kirkwood has just returned from Newcastle with 7 Prisoners who give no other Account but that some of the Fleet are going to Ireland & others to Newyork.


1Delaware president George Read had ordered militia general Samuel Patterson to assemble the New Castle County militia in response to GW’s letter to Read of 19 December. Patterson’s letter to Smallwood, written at Newark on 23 Dec., reads: “Yours of yesterday came to hand and observe the contents—for answer am to acquaint you, that last night. I arrived at this place from our genl assembly at Dover; at which place I received orders from our commander in chief to assemble forthwith the whole militia of this county, and march to your place and be under your command.

“In consequence of which I wrote to Col. [Thomas] Duff last night and sent off by break of day this morning to march forthwith to Wilmington and as his troops are in the vicinage, make no doubt but he will march some companies immediately. As to Light Horse we have none in this county. But I shall send off to Genl [Caesar] Rodney at Dover for his, if they can be got. there is about 20 in all found—am sorry to acquaint you that the times of the militia of this place which was service for 2 months is out some, & the whole in about 3 days—as usual such at the day went off, so that very few remain here; and am sorry to say that the spirit which used to appear is languishing much. No part of this business shall be left undone by me to forward the troops to you. Before I read your favor I intended this day to have waited on you. I shall acquaint you of my success from time to time in this business” (DLC:GW).

2Lord Howe’s secretary, Ambrose Serle, on board H.M.S. Eagle, gives an account of the vessels’ actions in his journal entry for 24 Dec.: “Fell down to Newcastle, where, meeting with near 30 Sail of private Traders &c. from N. York, we came to anchor in order to give Directions for their Conduct” (Tatum, Serle’s Journal description begins Edward H. Tatum, Jr., ed. The American Journal of Ambrose Serle: Secretary to Lord Howe, 1776–1778. San Marino, Calif., 1940. description ends , 268). Serle’s entry for 25 Dec. says only that “the Wind coming round to the S. we could not proceed from Newcastle,” and it was 26 Dec. before the Eagle fell down to Port Penn, off Reedy Island (ibid., 269). Bombay Hook Island, Del., on the Delaware River, is separated from the mainland by a narrow and winding inlet called Duck Creek. Woodland Beach is its only significant town. A list of customhouse entries in the 3 Jan. 1778 issue of the Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia) gives the names of seventeen British vessels that arrived at Philadelphia on 27 Dec. 1777: brigs Friendship, Chance, Thomas and William, Quebec, and Griffy; schooners Little Hope, Elizabeth, Polly, Nancy, and Minerva; and sloops Sachem, St. Augustine, Nonpareil, Sally, Maria, Clarissa, and another Sally. All of these vessels were from New York except the schooner Elizabeth, which was from Delaware.

3This enclosure has not bee identified.

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