George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General John Lacey, Jr., 9 April 1778

From Brigadier General John Lacey, Jr.

Doyls Town [Pa.] April 9th 1778


About two oClock in the morning of the 8th Instant Capt. Humphreys with a small party of Continental Troops were surprised at Smithfield by a body of the Enemy supposed to be about 300 the greatest part of which were Refugees and new Levies, Capt. Humphreys narrowly made his escap out of a house where he was lodging, got part of his men out of another House by the back way just as the Enemy entered in at the Front leaving their Arms behind them he run to another little party he had at some little distance had them paraded which number was about twelve men, from this number he kept up such a warm fire as obliged the Enemy to leave the houses and retire the Capts. loss was one man killed & two wounded and one Officer taken Prisoner the loss of the Enemy is not known, but from the blood found on the road next morning their loss must have been considerable.1 The same morning about ten oClock a Scouting party of Militia fell in with a body of the Enemy near Doctor Benvils on the York Road by which five of the Militia were killed & two badly wounded, one of the latter is made Prisoner.2

Inclosed is a return of the Militia under my Command the body of which lays at the ⟨Billet is⟩3 also inclosed is the prooceeding of a Genl Court Martial which is now sitting at this place two of the Persons who has been tryed, are notorious offenders James McGill & John Wiggons who it appears has made a Constant trade of going to Philadelphia.4 I remain your Excy’s most obedt Hble Servt

John Lacey jr B.G.

P.S. the Court is to Continue Siting from day to day till the Prisoners are all tryed, which are Nineteen in Number I have Sent the proceedings of Yesterday for your Excelys approbation and would be glad to have an answer by the Barer, I will send also the Remainder Proceedings as Soon as they are finished.



1The Royal Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 10 April, gave a very different account of the engagement at Smithfield: “On Tuesday afternoon, information being received, that a body of rebels had made their appearance at Frankfort, Captain [Richard] Hoveden, with forty of the Philadelphia light dragoons, and Captain [William] Thomas, with fifty Bucks volunteers, were sent out after them: About twelve o’clock at night they came up to the rebel advanced picquet, consisting of a Lieutenant and eighteen privates, at a house near Smithfield, who were soon drove back, with the loss of two men, to a party of fity, placed at half a miles distance to support them. This party had formed themselves, as if they meant to make a stand, but being vigorously attacked, they soon fled to their main body, consisting of two hundred men, at half a miles distance, having first thrown into a stone house, on the way, eighteen of their party, unobserved. The dragoons and volunteers pursued, with design to attack the main body, but receiving as they passed by, a heavy fire from the house, they faced about, and stormed the house, with such activity, that the rebels had not an opportunity of firing a second time. In the pursuit, and at this house, they killed eight, and took nine prisoners. Immediately after, they formed again, and pressed forward to attack the main body, now consisting of two hundred and fifty men. This they performed with so much spirit and conduct, as to oblige the rebels to fly with precipitation into the woods. In this little action, which lasted near an hour, not a man was killed or wounded on the side of the dragoons and volunteers, and only two horses slightly wounded” (see also Pennsylvania Evening Post [Philadelphia], 10 April). For other reports of a British triumph, see 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 , 484; Gruber, Peebles’ American War description begins Ira D. Gruber, ed. John Peebles’ American War: The Diary of a Scottish Grenadier, 1776–1782. Mechanicsburg, Pa., 1998. description ends , 173–74; and Boyle, From Redcoat to Rebel description begins Joseph Lee Boyle, ed. From Redcoat to Rebel: The Thomas Sullivan Journal. Bowie, Md., 1997. description ends , 214–15. “Capt. Humphreys” was probably Jacob Humphrey (1751–1826), who had been commissioned a captain of the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment on 15 Feb. 1777 but claimed rank from September 1776, having served as a captain in the flying camp during that month. Humphrey remained with the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment until it disbanded in January 1783, when he transferred to the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment, where he served until at least September of that year. Lt. Robert Walker of the 12th Massachusetts Regiment was captured on this date in the general area of the reported engagement (Ford, “British and American Prisoners,” description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford. “British and American Prisoners of War, 1778.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 17 (1893): 159–74, 316–24. description ends 316; Return of American Officers and Other Prisoners on Parole on Long Island, n.d., DNA: RG 93, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775–1783).

2The property of Dr. George De Benneville (1703–1793) was situated in Bristol Township, Philadelphia County, about seven miles north of Philadelphia.

3GW enclosed the return, dated 6 April, with his letter to Thomas Wharton, Jr., of 11 April. The return has not been found, but Lacey later reported to Maj. Gen. John Armstrong that on 6 April he had “One hundred and fifty eight present, fit for duty—110 on command” (Register of Pennsylvania, 30 May 1829, p. 142 [342]). The same numbers appear in Adj. Gen. Alexander Scammell’s general return of troops for 11 April, with the addition of 19 “Sick present,” 23 officers, and 28 noncommissioned officers (DNA: RG 93, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775–1783).

4This court-martial, held near Doylestown, Pa., met on 7 April and adjourned to 8 April, when it passed sentences on four men before adjourning to 9 April. James McGill, who pleaded guilty to the charge of “trading with the Enemy,” was sentenced to “fifty Lashes well laid on his Bare Back and to be Imprisoned During the present War.” John Jamison, also charged with trading with the enemy, admitted to “taking Some Small Articles to Market, in View of geting Some Salt,” and was sentenced “to Receive twenty five Lashes on his bare Back well Laid on.” William Morgan, who pleaded guilty to “taking Marketing to Philada,” was sentenced “to be Imprisoned Six Months.” And James Wiggons, who pleaded guilty to “Supplying the Enemy in Philada with Provisions,” was sentenced “to Receive Twenty five Lashes, on his Bare Back, and to be Imprisoned During the War” (DLC:GW). For more on the fate of McGill, Morgan, and Wiggons, see Lacey to GW, 12 April, and note 1 to that document.

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