George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 10 November 1778

From Major General John Sullivan

Providence [R.I.] Novemr 10th 1778

My Dear General

I had the honor of Receiving your Excellenceys favors of the 3d & 5th Instant & have Since waited in Expectation of having it in my power to give your Excellencey Some Intelligence of Importance from this Quarter There was an appearance Some time Since of an Evacuation of Rhode Island: about three Days Since I thought it almost Certain; but Some new maneuvres have Since taken place which Renders it at Least Doubtful. The Letter yr Excy did me the Honor to Inclose for the Marquis was Sent to Boston but he having Departed for Head Quarters it was Returned to this town & Delivered to Major Nevill his Aid who was then in this town & I Suppose has Since Delivered it.1 I have the Honor to Inclose your Excy an Acct of the Loss of the Somersett as also the Demonstration of Byrons Fleet before Boston Harbor agreable to Your Excellenceys Prediction.2 The Fleet of 108 Sail which Left the Hook the 3d Inst. have not arrived3 Eleven Sail only have Lately arrived which I Suppose to be the Fleet yr Excy mentioned in your former Letter Joined by Some others Accidentally—There are now thirteen Sail off the Harbor mostly Small vessels which I Suppose to be a wood Fleet. as Count D. Estaing has Sailed Several Days Since it is probable he may fall in with Biron in his Scattered Condition & take advantage of it. yr Excy may Depend upon the most punctual & Early Intelligence from this Quarter. I have the honor to be with the most Lively Sentiments of Esteem your Excellenceys most oblidged & obedt Servt

Jno. Sullivan


2The enclosed letter from “E.P.” to Maj. Nicholas Van Cortlandt, dated 7 Nov. at Boston, reads: “Last Saturday, Sabbath-day and monday, we had a violent storm, the wind being at N.E. though variable, the British fleet, under the command of admiral Byron, consisting of 14 sail of the line, and 15 frigates, were cruizing near Cape-Cod; where they have been these 5 Days past; And on monday, the Somerset of 64 guns, commanded by Captain Ourey, was cast ashore near the Race, at the head of the Cape; The ship is entirely lost, & 60 or 70 of the hands were drowned: The Captain, officers and men, surrendered themselves prisoners of war, to the United-States. There was 490 hands on board when the ship went on shore. Since the storm, which was very severe, several of the fleet were seen, with their masts, yards, &c. gone. We hope in our next to give a more particular account of this piratical fleet.

“yesterday arrived in town, the Honorable Major General Gates with his Lady and suite. He commands the troops in this Department.

“The above is extracted from Saturday’s Boston news-paper” (DLC:GW).

A severe gale struck coastal New England from Boston to New York from 31 Oct. to 2 Nov. 1778, causing many British and American ships to sink or run aground (see Whinyates, Services of Francis Downman description begins F. A. Whinyates, ed. The Services of Lieut.-Colonel Francis Downman, R.A., in France, North America, and the West Indies, between the Years 1758 and 1784. Woolwich, England, 1898. description ends , 89, and Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:414–15). Among the gale’s victims was the British 64-gun ship Somerset. The Somerset was laid down in England in 1746; stood in Boston Harbor at the outset of the war in 1775 (as immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride”); participated in the reduction of the Delaware River forts in November 1777; and ran aground near Provincetown, Cape Cod, on 2 Nov. 1778. American civilians then looted the ship’s stores and rounded up the captain, George Ourry (d. 1800), and approximately 480 surviving British seamen, who were escorted to Boston and later exchanged for American prisoners in British hands. Reports of the grounding appeared on 9 Nov. in the Boston Gazette; on 12 Nov. in the Continental Journal, and Weekly Advertiser (Boston); and on 14 Nov. in the Providence Gazette and Country Journal. For more on the Somerset and the disposition of her cannon and crew, see Jean Holker to GW, 6 Nov.; William Heath to GW, 7 Nov.; and Horatio Gates to GW, this date, 27 Dec. 1778, and 26 Jan. 1779.

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