George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Captain Henry Lee, Jr., 18 January 1778

From Captain Henry Lee, Jr.

Scotts farm [Pa.] Jany 18th [1778]


Col. Hellum of the militia, now a prisoner in Philada, in a memorandum of intelligence sent me this day, says, that an officer of the Anspachers engages to bring off three hundred of that corps, provided the command can be ensured him.1 He also mentions, that there are several persons throughout the country contracting for horses for the use of the Philada, light dragoons now raising.

There are a few horses in this neighbourhood well adapted for the service, whose value is superior to the price allowed by the states. These horses will fall into the enemys hands. There is lately an instance, of one of them being stolen & taken into the city—With the most profound respect your Excellencys most Obt H. Servt

Heny Lee Jr

ALS, DLC:GW. Lee indicated on the cover that the letter was carried “pr dragoon.”

Robert Hanson Harrison replied to Lee on this date: “His Excellency has been favoured with yours of this date by Mr peake. The proposition of the Officer you mention will be most chearfully acceded to by the Genl, and you are authorised to inform your Correspondent, or any other person fit to be entrusted with the matter, that he may give the assurance required. The subject is delicate and if it should be known, the consequences in all probability would be fatal to our Friend—The General therefore wishes you to manage the negociation with proper caution & address, that he may be secure. Should the measure proposed take place, It will alarm the Enemy greatly & be the source of discontent & jealousy, if not of other advantages to us. I would advise you in the course of your negociation to say as little of the Genl as you can, as in case of accident or double dealing, it would give our Adversaries a handle for ridicule and possess them of Evidence for the purpose.

“In respect to the Horses which you mention, His Excellency is willing that you shoud purchase them at a reasonable and generous price—They will be much wanted, and If we do not get em, the Enemy will by force or by fraud. The General wishes you could discover the persons employed by the Enemy to purchase in this instance that they might be dealt with according to their demerit & rascality” (DLC:GW).

1“Col. Hellum” may be Col. John Hannum of the Chester County militia, who was imprisoned at this time in the Walnut Street jail in Philadelphia. Many in the American army considered the German Ansbach-Bayreuth regiments, which had engaged in a mutiny before leaving Germany in March 1777, to be unreliable and thus vulnerable to incitements to desert (see Lowell, The Hessians description begins Edward J. Lowell. The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. 1884. Reprint. Williamstown, Mass., 1970. description ends , 48–49, 212–13; see also GW to John Augustine Washington, 4 July 1778). Nothing, however, appears to have come of this scheme to induce large-scale Hessian desertion.

Lee also had written Tench Tilghman on 14 Jan. from “Scotts farm” with information on the situation in Philadelphia: “I think it proper to transmit to Headquarters some intelligence this moment received from Philada. It comes by a confidential friend from a friend in the city & is corroborated by observations made by the bearer. I have advised the Commanding officer at Radnor meeting house of the information received.

“Copy of a memorandum sent by a correspondent in the city.

“The forrage is nearly exhausted. Every appearance of a move, in the army.

“The Hessians are much discontented. Many resignations among the British troops.

“The officers say, an accomodation will certainly take place before the opening of the campaign.

“The prisoners, officers & privates are closely confined in the new jail, the doors locked at ½ past three & not opened till nine next morning.

“I have sent for your amusemt two Philada papers” (DLC:GW).

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