From Brigadier General William Smallwood
Wilmington [Del.] March 17th 1778
For this two Days past the Enemys Fleet have been passing by here, to amount of 150 Sail, of which there were 70 or 80 Sloops & Schoners, some few flat Bottom and a number of Ships Boats on Deck & in Tow besides—there destination not known, it’s said there are Troops on board, but it is not reduced to a Certainty, if any, they were kept below, as there was no great appearance on Deck—The Communication with Philadelphia for some Days past, since this Fleet has been equipping, & falling down, has been much checked, & the Intelligence very doubtful—its probable if any Troops have embarqued, they meditate a Trip up Chesapeake, to visit Annapolis Baltimore & the adjacent Counties on the head of the Bay, or perhaps may extend their Views up Patowmack—I shou’d have wrote you Yesterday, but wanted to discover their destination—they came too off this Place, & lay some Time I believe on acct of the Fog & Tide, but fell down below Reedy Island yesterday afternoon and anchored, I ha⟨ve⟩ waited all this Morning for the Return of som⟨e horse⟩men I sent to dog them to discover whethe⟨r they⟩ stood out for the Capes—but as they have ⟨not⟩ returned, & I have this Opportunity, have been induced to forward this Intelligence,1 and remain with sincere Regard your Excellencys Obedt Hble Sert
excuse Papers being scarce.
ALS, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Henry Laurens, 18 Mar., DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169. The copies do not include the postscript. Words mutilated on the ALS have been supplied within angle brackets from the copy enclosed to Laurens.
1. British officer Archibald Robertson, who accompanied the British expedition, recorded the fleet’s movements in his diary: “March 12th the 17th, 27th, 46th Regiments and Queen’s Rangers being embark’d in Transports Sail’d under the Command of Colonel Mawhood with the Small Craft in order to get Forrage down the River Delaware. . . . Anchor’d off Gloucester Point. 13th Anchored at Mud Island. 14th All the small Craft pass’d the Chevaux de Frises and Anchored at Billings Port. 15th The Man of War and Transports pass’d and we all Anchored about a mile below Marquo’s Hook. 16th pass’d Willmington and Newcastle. Anchor’d off Reedy Point opposite Salem Creek. 17th got into our Boats at 3 in the morning and at 7 we landed in Salem Creek and march’d directly to Salem. A few shots fired by some Militia” (Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 164). The British troops continued foraging in the area until 27 March and returned to Philadelphia between 28 and 30 March.