George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Stirling, 11 October 1778

From Major General Stirling

Aquakanoc [N.J.] Octobr 11th 1778—9 oClo. p.m.

Dear Sir

I wrote your Excellency at three oClock this day, I have Since received the enclosed letters and Intelligence from Colonel Dayton whom I on the 9th desired to go to Elizabeth Town for the purpose of getting Intelligence.1 Ad: Keppel Certainly makes the best of it, he does not pretend to say a Word of the loss of the french, it is Clear he had no Choice left but to return to Port[.]2 The Letter from Dr Caldwel in answer to one I wrote him Yesterday; shews the State forrage &c. in his district, his fears for the Shores are Just;3 my troops are placed in Such possition as can best afford them protection in Case of Need, but till the Enemy move off from their present possition, I cannot Justify myself in divideing them more than they are at present, I shall further explain this hereafter; I must do General Winds the Justice to say that he has on this Occasion behaved with great Merrit. I am your Excellencys Most Humble Servt


As I have not been able to keep Copies of my letters without looseing I must request the favour of your Excellency to order them to be preserved.


1Col. Elias Dayton says in the enclosed letter that he wrote to Stirling from Elizabeth, N.J., on 10 Oct. that “enclosed is a letter I have just receiv’d from a person on Staten Island, who has promised to serve us in giving intelligence by ev’ry opportunity, hoping that in consequence of these services he may hereafter be permitted to return to his friends who are inhabitants of this state.

“The verbal accounts I have received coincide with those contain’d in the inclos’d letter; it is directed to a tory in this State to prevent any evil consequences, should it unfortunately fall into the hands of the British—but it was order’d to be deliver’d to me.

“The 5th 27th 40th 55th Regts the Waldecks & Greens are now upon the Island excepting seven or eight hundred which are detach’d on an expedition to Egg harbour.

“I do myself the honour to inclose to your lordship the British account of the action between the Brest fleet & theirs by which I think it pretty clearly appears, they have at least got a check. There is a report in New York that the Brest fleet are arriv’d in Halifax, which I hope to have confirm’d as the writer of the inclosed letter goes thither tomorrow from Staten Island for the purpose of getting intelligence” (DLC:GW).

The letter conveying intelligence from Staten Island that Dayton enclosed to Stirling had been written on 9 Oct. by John Vanderhovan to his father, Cornelius Vanderhovan. It reads: “I send you the best intelligence, that I am capable of getting at present—there seems something odd to me in the movements in [New] York there is a great quantity of iron pots, pans & stoves shipping on board some large ships & the Qr Master of the Waldecks stationed on this [Staten] Island informs me that their Regt has recd orders to embark in two or three days for Quebec—[Lt.] Colo: [Thomas] Stirling of the 42d inform’d me that all the invalids are to be embodied & sent to garrison the Island of Bermudas And all the offi cers of the 5th & 55th still expect orders ev’ry hour to embark for the west Indies. I was inform’d yesterday by a gentleman in York, that a certain Captn of a Seventy four was heard to say in the Coffee house that an express from Rhode Island had brought disagreable news & that the Brest fleet was arrived at Halifax & that Admiral Keppel was killed & two of his fleet distroy’d—how far this may be depended on is uncertain but I am apt to think there is something in the report, as there is a downcast look this two days in many of the officers of my acquaintance.

“I left the army at Newbridge [N.J.] yesterday & am quite asham’d to inform you of the treatment the unhappy people meet with—the whole country stript naked, I saw a poor tory who has been six months in confinement at Morris town & the fellow was begging [ ] of the soldiers for his children thus fare the tories in this quarter. I am surpriz’d to hear nothing of the green c[o]ats & some companies drafted from the 5th & 55th who went to Egg harbour; as there is much expected from them here. . . .

“[P.S.] Afternoon 4 oClock—I am this instant inform’d that some ships have fallen down to the narrows to take on board, troops & it is said the 40th Regt.

“I have stored a quantity of wines where you can get them in a short time & should be very happy to see you if possible.

“N.B. If such a thing could be as for me to come privately & see you I should be very happy & beg you will let me know by the bearer” (DLC:GW). John Vanderhovan, who sometimes signed his intelligence reports with the pseudonym “D. Littel,” was one of several agents whom Dayton had recruited in 1777, and he eventually directed several subagents. Vanderhovan continued his intelligence activities until at least the fall of 1780 (see Bakeless, Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes description begins John Bakeless. Turncoats, Traitors and Heroes. Philadelphia, 1959. description ends , 179–81).

The British account of the battle between the British and French fleets at Ushant on 27 July 1778 that Dayton enclosed to Stirling was probably a copy of Adm. Augustus Keppel’s letter to Admiralty secretary Philip Stevens of 30 July 1778 that had been published in an extraordinary edition of the London Gazette on 2 Aug. 1778 (see GW to d’Estaing, 13 Oct., and note 2 to that document, and GW to Henry Laurens, 14 Oct., and note 1 to that document). For other accounts of the battle, see William Heath to GW, 21 Sept., and Lafayette to GW, 21 Sept., and note 4 to that document. For accounts of the British expedition to Little Egg Harbor, N.J., that Drayton mentions, see Stirling to GW, 7, 14, and 22 Oct., and the notes to those documents.

2Stirling apparently is referring to Admiral Keppel’s letter to Philip Stevens of 30 July 1778 concerning the Battle of Ushant, a copy of which had been enclosed in Dayton’s letter to him of 10 Oct. (see note 1).

3James Caldwell wrote in his letter to Stirling of 11 Oct. from Springfield, N.J., that “at this place we have about one hundered Tuns of Hay. From Westfield along by the Scots plains to Piscattaway, upwards of two hundered Tuns in Barns and Barracks—but not much in one place. From Woodbridge to Raway scattered in Barns above the Country Road, about two hundered Tuns more. The Hay in Raway & Woodbridge Necks and near Amboy which the Inhabitants have put up with a view to sell it to the public we are daily removing either to Morris Town or 10 or 12 Miles back from the Water side. My intention in the beginning of the Summer was not to have stored any Hay lower down than this place, the Scots Plains & Bound Brook. But when our Army moved thro’, to save expence, & Teams, so much needed for other purposes, the Plan was altered & my orders were to store as we have done. And all things considered, I do not see how we can better ourselves. We cannot command Teams to remove the Hay over the Mountains faster than we now do.

“As to other Forage or stores we have none, belonging to the public. We purchassed the grain so generally last Winter that the poor inhabitan[t]s really suffer. And altho’ the Tavern Keeper[s] give 20/ pr Bushel for Oats they cannot procure enough to supply their customers. Many Farmers it is true have yet on hand considerable quantities, but have not yet time to thrash it.

“I am urging the people to gather their new corn as fast as possible, & am purchassing as much as I possibly can, which I will remove back—And shall be glad by your Lordships directions how far—Whether you think it may be stored any where below the Mountains. I am very certain if the Enemy have not some capital and distant object in view, for the remainder of the Campaign, & are not ordered off, the[y] will yet enter & pilliage this Country, at least near the Waters edge. In Woodbridge Neck I suppose there is 1000 Tun of Hay, private property—1000 Cattle & a vast quantity of Corn. That Neck is favourable for them to invade—But I cannot believe they will penetrate the Country far Back.

“I do not see how your Lordship can take a Position more favourable for the defence of the Country than your present, while the Enemy continue as they are. Provided such a Watch can be kept as will prevent their filling off to Statten Island undiscovered. If two Regiments coud be spared for Eliz. Town, we shoud be exceeding glad. They woud there be in a center & coud help either way. And in case of an invation woud encourage the Militia. This is the only alteration I woud wish at present. But Your Lordship knows the Country, & has the defence of the whole at heart.

“I am sorry our Militia have acted as they did. And yet much is to be said in their favour. Many of their families are without Bread at home. And nothing short of famine threatned some of them if they coud not be at home to save their Buckwheat & Indian Corn. If the Governour, or the General Officers, after the first three days had called, two, three or even four, Classes, the Men woud have gone. One Neighbour woud then assist another. But by trying to keep out all they will forever lose All.

“It distresses me much that I cannot send on grain to supply the Horses with your Lordship. Old grain is not to be obtained here—the New will not answer—& for several Weeks they have Not had any at Trenton to send to us. But I have Teams there, & the prospect of some soon. In the mean time the Farmers in your Neighbourhood, who have not heretofore been exhausted, must supply with grain & I will go among them & pay them for it. Shall do myself the pleasure to wait upon Your Lordship as soon as possible” (DLC:GW). Stirling’s letter to Caldwell of 10 Oct. has not been identified.

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