George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Brigadier General William Maxwell, 7 May 1778

To Brigadier General William Maxwell

[Valley Forge, 7 May 1778]


The detachment under your comd is designed to answer the following purposes—become a security to this Camp, & the Country between the Schuylkill & Delaware. interrupt the communication with Philadelphia—obtain intelligence of the motion, and designs of the enemy—and, aided by the Militia, prevent small parties of the Enemy from patrolling, to cover the market people; whilst large Parties, especially if any attempt should be made on this side the Delaware to destroy the Vessels above Bristol, are to be harrassed as much as possible, till notice there of can be communicated to me.

Our parties of foot & horse betwn the Rivers, are to be under your commd & to form part of your detachment. which had best not be stationary, that the enemy may be less able to comprehend the design, or take advantage of your situation which at all times—& in all places should be guarded against surprizes. On Monday se’nnight you are to Return.1

As great complaints have been made of the disorderly conduct of the Parties which have been sent toward the enemys lines, it is expected that you will be very attentive in preventing abuses of the like nature, and will enquire how far the complaints already made, are founded in justice.

You will make particular enquiry into, and obtain the most authentic testimony of the conduct of the British Troops toward the Militia under the comd of Brigr Genl Lacey on the [ ] Instt that if the facts alledged be true a proper representation of it may he made to the Comr in chief of the British Troops.2 Given under my hand at head Qrs Valley-forge this 7th day of May 1778

Go: Washington

ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Monday sennight was 18 May. GW ordered the Pennsylvania militia under Maxwell and Brig. Gen. John Lacey, Jr., to Crossroads, Pa., in the hopes of intercepting the British raiding party that destroyed the frigates Effingham and Washington (see Stephen Moylan to GW, 7–9 May, n.3, and GW to Henry Laurens, 12 May, to William Livingston, 12 May, and to Philemon Dickinson, 13 May).

An undated letter from Maxwell to GW, apparently written between 7 and 10 May, reads: “As I was coming on the road To the Spring Tavern I Recd you Excellencys Favour & I heard to Day from one Mr Bankson that he saw a Mr Pugh from Philidelphia that assured him the Enemy was Returned down the River to Philidelphia last night and that great part of those in Phila. crossed the Schoolkill last nigh, and as I thought I could do nothing at the Cross Roads, I thought I was coming in good time this way, but I am now going back by way of Grahm Park and from there will push on towards Newton to morrow a good many of the Men is lame. I have wrote to the cross roads to General Lacey to leave two small partys there one to conduct the Canon and another to observe the Motions of the Enemy from Philidelphia, and proceed on with the others towards Burlington” (DLC:GW).

On 10 May, Alexander Hamilton wrote Maxwell on GW’s behalf, apparently in response to the preceding letter: “His Excellency has received yours from Horsam meeting House. He is a good deal surprized that you left your Artillery behind as one principal aim of the detachment was to protect the Vessels in the River in which Cannon would be essential. His Question to you on the Subject was rather intended to indicate his desire that you should take cannon with your Party. He desires you will immediately march towards the River opposite BordenTown and there act according to circumstances Though you may not be able to do any thing without Cannon, the approach of a body of Men whom the Enemy will suppose to be provided with Artillery may possibly alarm and induce them to return. Perhaps by throwing a part of your men on the heights the opposite side of the river, you may be able to give them some Annoyance. This you will best judge of when you get to the Place. A detachment of 200 men will march to join you immediately with two pieces of Artillery and some Provisions, they will take their rout to the Cross roads you will be pleased to leave at that place an Officer with directions how to conduct them to you” (DLC:GW).

The British returned to Philadelphia, however, before Maxwell could get his troops into position (see Maxwell to GW, 11 May, and Register of Pennsylvania, June 1829, 356). On 13 May, Tench Tilghman wrote Maxwell on GW’s behalf, in response to another letter that has not been found: “His Excellency commands me to acknowledge the Rect of yours of this date. He desires that you may not return with the detatchment untill the time has expired for which you were sent, but that you should make a Return of the provision wanted that it may be sent to you. It is impossible to describe the exact distance which you should keep from Philada but it should be such as will prevent your main Body from being surprised and at the same time enable you to keep patroles along the Enemy’s front” (DLC:GW).

2For information on the American defeat at Crooked Billet, Pa., on the night of 30 April–1 May, see John Lacey, Jr., to GW, 2 May.

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