From Major Richard Howell
Tinton falls [N.J.]1 9th Octr—78.
Your Excellency’s Letter of the 5th last has reach’d me and I am alarm’d at the supposition of my Inattention to Duty—Your Excellency may rest assur’d that I am every Day in person at black-point & nothing can escape my Notice—The report you mention is false & the heavy Ships are now in View off the Neversinks. The princess Royal of 90 With a flag, two 80s & a 74. The rest of the fleet are seen in the Narrows about to heave down2—By a Spy I sent last Evning, I am assur’d that Admiral Biron is now at New York, and an Officer of the fleet assur’d him that the fleet would sail as soon as possible perhaps in a Day or two suppos’d to design for Boston.3 I have already sent Intelligence of the fleet destin’d for Eggharbour & by two Topsail Vessels coming in I Imagine they are on their return4—There is no reinforcement as yet arriv’d at the Hook as I was inform’d but they are expected dayly—As to parties of Observation, alas! I have but thirty men insufficient to Guard our little post & am unable to detach a party on so dangerous a command, but oblig’d to expose my person every Day alone—By every appearance I am to expect a Vizit & will have the reputation of engaging them with 30 men only. I have made good Connexions and believe I shall be master of every Intelligence so as to communicate it speedily to your Excellency—rest assur’d I cannot be so wanting in respect to your Excellency & regard to my Honor, as not to be vigelant to the outmost. I am yr Excellency’s very humble Servt
Note there are but 4 ships fallen down as yet & two transports, which appear to be watring the others.
Howell conveyed this intelligence more concisely in his letter to Brig. Gen. William Maxwell of this date, which is in DLC:GW. That letter may be one of the two letters from Howell that Stirling enclosed in his first letter to GW of 11 October.
1. Tinton Falls is on a branch of the Navesink River in Monmouth County, N.J., about six miles east of Freehold.
2. On the manuscript, GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton underlined the words “heave down” and put a double dagger near them in the left margin, which refers to the following note that Hamilton wrote at the end of the letter: “he must mean Come down to the Hook instead of Heave down.”
3. Admiral Byron sailed on either 18 or 19 October. British captain John Peebles says in his diary that Byron left Sandy Hook on 18 Oct. “with 13 ships of the Line & some frigates. the fleet bound home [to Britain] & to Halifax sail’d along with him[,] he is to convoy them some distance off the Coast it was a large fleet altogether—probably he may fall in with D’Estaing” (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 , 227). According to another British officer, Stephen Kemble, Byron sailed on 19 Oct. “to Cruise for Monsr. D’Estaing off Boston,” and the fleet of transports returning to England departed at the same time “under Convoy of the Leviathan” (Kemble Papers description begins [Stephen Kemble]. The Kemble Papers. 2 vols. New York, 1884-85. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 16–17. description ends , 1:164). British Brig. Gen. James Pattison also says that Byron and the transport fleet sailed on 19 Oct. (Ritchie, “New York Diary,” description begins Carson I. A. Ritchie, ed. “A New York Diary [British army officer’s journal] of the Revolutionary War.” New-York Historical Society Quarterly 50 (1966): 221–80, 401–46. description ends 401). Byron had no intention of attacking d’Estaing’s fleet in Boston Harbor, but he hoped to be able to engage the French when they came out into open water. A storm on 1 Nov. disrupted Byron’s plans, scattering his ships and forcing him to go to Newport without encountering d’Estaing’s fleet, which sailed from Boston on 4 November.