George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Stirling, 4 January 1779

From Major General Stirling

Middle Brook [N.J.] January 4 1779 2 oClock P.M.

Dear Sir

I had the Honor of writing to you Yesterday by Express, I have since received a Letter from Captn Burrowes by which he informs me of the sailing of a Fleet on the 29th consisting he says of 27 Ships 13 Brigs and Snows, and 13 Sloops and Schooners, in all 53 Sail, but the Messenger who brought me that Letter says that after the writing that Letter, more Vessels of various Siezes came down so as to increase the Number to above one hundred Sail, under the Convoy of one sixty four Gun Ship and two Frigates.1

3 oClock P.M. I have this Moment received the inclosed Letter from General Maxwell, If it should prove true that Count Estaing has taken the Cork Fleet, it will be an Event of the utmost Consequence.2 Distress may have put some of them to the Necessity of going to Sea with a short Allowance, and I suspect this last Fleet has pushed off so suddenly on this Account. A certain Captain Murray lately come from thence on his Parole, confirms their being in the greatest Distress on Account of the Want of Flour. In his Parole are these remarkable Words, “And a Subject to the United States of America.” This Parole was taken by Admiral Gambier and has given Disgust to the Commandant at N. York.3 On further Conversation with Captain Murray I find that two Fleets have sailed about the 29th and 30th the one to the We<st> Indies empty, he says, the other to Great Brittain wi<th> Invalids &c. This Accounts for the Addition which the Messenger gives to Burrowes Accounts. I can’t find from him that any Troops are embarked in either of these Fleets except the Invalids &c. The Sh<ip> of the Line, Convoy to the first Fleet before ment<ioned> he says is the Monmouth of 74 Guns, under Jury Masts going to England; he is going to Philadelphia tomorrow and I have desired him to wait on your Excellency to give you further Particulars—I have received some N. York News Papers this Afternoon which I now inclose.

They have at Staten Island been under terrible Apprehentions of our attacking them. they may now sleep secure till another Froast alarms their Fears—I know of Nothing more to add than that I am Your Excellencies most assured Humble Servant



1The ships had assembled for convoys to England and the West Indies; the ice forced several vessels aground before they could leave New York (see Stirling to GW, 13 Jan., n.2.; and Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 243, 247).

2The enclosed letter from Brig. Gen. William Maxwell to Stirling, dated 4 Jan. at Elizabeth, N.J., reads: “I wish you the Compliments of the season. By every account I can get the Count De Estang has taken the Cork Fleet Coll Shrieve sends me an account yesterday morning, which he says came out of New York, by the way of Bergan, and by a good friend to us; that the Cork Fleet is all taken, only one vessel and she had got into Rhode Island about the Begining of the last storm. I had four Deserters of the Island yesterday & 3 some days before. they all have heard that the Fleet is taken and now they have nothing served in stead of Flour but mostly sower Oat-meal” (DLC:GW). The British provision fleet from Cork, Ireland, had not been taken, and arrived in New York on 8 Jan. (see Stirling to GW, 30 Dec. 1778, n.1).

3Alexander Murray (1755–1821) of Chestertown, Md., had been appointed a second lieutenant in Col. William Smallwood’s Maryland Regiment in January 1776, and he was promoted to first lieutenant in August 1776. He became a captain in the 1st Maryland Regiment in December 1776 and served until June 1777, when he resigned the army in order to enter the Maryland navy. He took command of the sloop General Mercer in June 1777, and he commanded the brig Saratoga from May until November 1778, when his ship was captured by a British frigate. Murray left New York on parole in December 1778 and was exchanged in February 1779, commanding the brigs Columbus, Revenge, and Prosperity, and enduring another period as a British prisoner from October 1780 to November 1781. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the Continental navy in July 1781. Murray was commissioned a captain in the U.S. Navy in July 1798, and he commanded the U.S.S. Constellation during the Quasi-War with France in 1798–99 and against the Barbary pirates of North Africa from 1801 until 1803. In 1813 he became first commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and he was superintendent of gunboats there from 1808 until his death.

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