George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Captain Lewis J. Costigin, 19 December 1778

From Captain Lewis J. Costigin

New Yk 19 Decr 78


Mr James Willing, with Two Officers said to be deserters from the British service, at Pensacola have been lately taken in a small sloop from that Quartr bound as suppos’d to Philadelphia. the three on being brought to this place found means to make their escape from the prize, and got into the City.

Mr Willing who is some way connected with Lawr. Kirtwright immediatly repair’d to his house, but unhappily found no shelter there, he being a person of Consequence was given up and is now in confinement he being no Seaman, and taken unarm’d it is generally said he will be held up for <(Lt> call’d Colo.) Connelly—the other Gentlemen are not yet discover’d.1

The Jamacia fleet have not yet sail’d and I find there will be in the whole 40 or 50 sail—a number of them Arm’d.



1James Willing (c.1750–1801), a struggling Philadelphia merchant with business interests on the lower Mississippi River, persuaded Congress in January 1778 to finance him in an expedition against Loyalist settlements along the river above New Orleans. Willing accordingly was commissioned a captain in the Continental navy, and with twenty-nine men of the 13th Virginia Regiment, later joined by “a Body of Banditti, amounting in the whole to about one hundred men,” he left Fort Pitt on 11 Jan. 1778 on the gunboat U.S.S. Rattletrap (see Haynes, “James Willing” description begins Robert V. Haynes. “James Willing and the Planters of Natchez: The American Revolution Comes to the Southwest.” Journal of Mississippi History, 37 (1975): 1-40. description ends ).

Willing’s party proceeded down the Ohio River to the Mississippi, reaching Natchez, Miss., on 19 Feb., raiding the surrounding countryside, and carrying a substantial amount of plunder into Spanish-controlled New Orleans. Willing’s presence in that city embarrassed the Spanish governor and enraged and alarmed Loyalists all the way to Florida, spurring the British to reinforce West Florida and send a flotilla to blockade New Orleans and the Mississippi. Willing was unable to leave New Orleans until October 1778, when he boarded a sloop for Philadelphia and was captured as described here by Costigin. The British, perhaps unsurprisingly, did not treat Willing well; and it was not until the spring of 1781, after being “peculiarly severely treated by the enemy,” that he was exchanged (GW to Board of War, 1 May 1781). For more on Willing’s expedition, see Caughey, “Willing’s Expedition” description begins John Caughey. “Willing’s Expedition Down the Mississippi, 1778.” Louisiana Historical Quarterly, 15 (1932), 5-36. description ends ; and Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 10:769, 780).

“Lawr. Kirtwright” apparently was Lawrence Kortright, whose house near Harlem Heights, N.Y., had served as a headquarters for American officers in the autumn of 1776 (see General Orders, 18 Sept. 1776, and n.2 to that document).

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