George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Brigadier General William Smallwood, 18 April 1778

To Brigadier General William Smallwood

Head Quarters Valley Forge 18th April 1778

Dear Sir

I have this moment recd yours of yesterday by Capt. patton.1 Suffering so audacious an insurrection as that you mention, to go unpunished or to gain any head, will be of so dangerous a tendency, that I desire you will immediately take the most effectual means to suppress it.2 As you have scarce any Baggage to incumber you, you may, if the Case requires it, send what little you have, somewhere back of Wilmington under a proper guard, and march with all the remainder of the division against the insurgents. But as I suppose by the time this reaches you, you will have heard something more certain, you can proportion your force to the occasion. If you can crush them at once and seize the Ring leaders it will put an end to any further trouble.

I will direct the Commy General to take the speediest methods of relieving Capt. Patton from the engagements which he has entered into for the public3—The Act of Congress against persons supplying the Enemy with provision continued in force untill the 10th of this Month,4 but if you succeed in your intended expedition, perhaps some more worthy of being made examples of may fall into your hands, and therefore I would have you suspend the Execution of any of those convicted, till you see the issue of the disturbance in Kent—I shall be glad to have a line from you by Retu⟨rn⟩ of the Express. I am &c.

P.S. All communication between the City of Philada and the lower Counties should be now totally stopped if possible.

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Smallwood’s letter of 17 April has not been found. John Patten (1746–1800) was commissioned a lieutenant in the Delaware Regiment in January 1776 and promoted to captain in November of that year. Promoted to major on 14 Dec. 1779, Patten was captured at the Battle of Camden on 16 Aug. 1780 and remained on parole to the end of the war. He later served in the Continental Congress, 1786, and the U.S. Congress, 1793–94 and 1795–97.

2Smallwood wrote Henry Laurens on 17 April: “The Inclosed letters recd yesterday will inform you of an Insurrection in this State below, which wou’d appear to be powerfull & increasing, but I imagine their is more smoke than Fire, as is too Common on these Occasions, I cannot believe there is half the Number of men reported, or that there are any British Officers or ⟨sol⟩diers among them, however it is not improbable but that they m⟨ay⟩ be joined by both, unless some steps are spedily taken to supress ⟨them.⟩ The present situation of this Garrison & my particular Instructions limit me in such a manner as to prevent my yeilding a Sufficient force for their reduction, I have therefore addressed the matter to Genl Washington & as my influence with the Legislature here is very Slender have desired him to press their drawing out a Body of Militia which in Conjunction with a small detachment of Continental Troops from this post, might Immediately quell & disperse the Insurgents, perhaps it may be Necessary for Congress also to press this Measure; for abstracted from the dangerous tendency of such a Commotion, a great quantity of our Stores are Critically Situated, at Charles Town, & within their scope & power of Intercepting, unless the earliest opportunity is taken to cover their removal & disperse the Insurgents” (DNA:PCC, item 161).

Smallwood’s information apparently derived from letters sent by Charles Pope on 14 April (MdAA) and Samuel Patterson on 15 April (DNA:PCC, item 163). Patterson reported from Dover: “about 10 miles from this place. at the head of chester River. is an Island. Called Jordans near mr Edward Tilghmans plantation or on it, by best accts the Tories are assembled in Arms. to 6 or 700 men. under the Command of China Clow. and some say Mr Tilghman and others. and have a Block house on the Island which Island contains about 30 Acres land.

“they are obligeing persons to go with them all around them which is not hard to be done. if they refuse they take their arms and amunition every where they can.

“I look upon it a dangerous Insurrection my oppinion differs from some here, what their design is immediately cannot say but some give out. they expect to be Joined soon by British forces. landing on the Delaware in the course of a few days. they have British forces by best Accts amongst them. officers and some men how they got there. cannot say. they are now bold in open day time go out 6 miles. last monday was the first ever heard of by whigs.”

For additional reports indicating that the insurrection of about 150 men was quickly quelled by Delaware militia, see Pope to Caesar Rodney, 14 and 16 April, Rodney to Thomas McKean, 18 April, and to Laurens, 24 April, in Ryden, Rodney Letters description begins George Herbert Ryden, ed. Letters to and from Caesar Rodney, 1756–1784. Philadelphia, 1933. description ends , 259–64.

3No such directive has been identified.

4GW is referring to the congressional resolution of 8 Oct. 1777 giving him authority to punish civilians supplying or giving intelligence to the enemy, extended on 30 Dec. 1777 to 10 April 1778 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 9:784, 1068). In response to Smallwood’s letter to Laurens of 17 April (see note 2), Congress resolved on 23 April that that authority and other powers vested in GW by resolutions of 17 Sept. and 10 Dec. 1777 (ibid., 8:751–53, 9:1013–15) “be renewed and extended to the 10 day of August, 1778” (ibid., 10:384).

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