George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Alexander McDougall, 21 March 1779

From Major General Alexander McDougall

Head Quarters Peeks-Kill [N.Y.] March 21st 1779 11 P.M.


I had the Honor to address you Yesterday, by the Express which handed me your’s1—The other with whom I intended to transmit these Inclosures, went off unknown to me.2

The Gold by Mr Lawrance and Colonel Malcom was received in due Time—You have herewith some of the first Fruits of it3—The Person, who brought me General Tryon’s Letter of November has, so establish’d his Reputation with the Enemy, by some General Accounts I gave him, to carry in, that he is intrusted with a Letter to General Haldimund, a Copy of which I have taken, marked Number one4—It is wrote in such general Terms, that clearly mark it, to be only an Experiment, to try his Fidelity—I have advised him to go on, for obvious Reasons; and to notice with great attention, the Route and Friends of the Enemy on it. And if any Companion of his, returns with him, on the same Errand, to advise me of it, before he passes our Lines.

The Inhabitant of this State, mentioned to you in mine, which covered a Copy of General Tryon’s first Letter, to him, has had a second, Number two is a Copy; taken and inspected by me5—Number three, is Instructions which have been sent to him, from Sir Harry Clintons Office.6

The Enemy have had so many Persons of Rank, Trust and Office from us, that he greedily and credulously embraces, every Intimation of Convertion, of any; however oppos’d to him, he might have been. He is fully persuaded, three fourths of this Country, are for a Reunion of the Empire, on the Terms hinted by the Commissioners.7

I have gone deep into the Syst⟨e⟩m of Deception—But I could wish the Link of the Chain to me, was more dispos’d, to confine his Intelligence—He setts off to morrow, for your Quarters and Philadelphia, for such Intelligence, as your Excellency and the President of Congress, shall think proper to give him, to keep up the Deception8—The Intelligence brought from New York by the Link to Sir Harry &c., is contained in the Notes inclos’d.9 I have the Honor to be Your Excellency’s very humble Servant

Alexr McDougall

LS, DLC:GW. A notation on the cover reads “not to be opened but by His Excellency General Washington.”

2McDougall probably is referring to the express rider who delivered GW’s letter to him of this date from Middlebrook, which reads: “Be pleased to grant a Flag to Major Talmadge to proceed with him to the Enemy’s lines” (LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, CSmH. GW franked the cover).

3See GW to McDougall, 3 March, and notes 2 and 3 to that document.

4Although not marked “Number one,” McDougall apparently is referring to an enclosure that is the copy of a letter, found in DLC:GW, from Maj. Gen. William Tryon to Maj. Gen. Frederick Haldimand, both British officers, written at King’s Bridge, N.Y., on 13 March, which reads: “I send you a few publications, which will satisfy you, of the prosperous Affairs of great Britain—The whole Province of Georgia is reclaimed, and the Inhabitants returned to their Allegiance—St Lucia reduced—and Count De Eastaign’s Fleet, block’d up by Admirals Byron and Barrington at Port Royal Martinico—The Kings Troops both here and Rhode-Island in the best Health and Courage, waiting impatiently for the proper Season, to take the Field—The Northern Powers and Holland ready to take Part with England, should Spain interfere in the American quarrel—The Supplies for the ensuing year ready, and the minority most weak and impotent—The Febuary Packet, is expected every Day, which will probably chalk out the Plan of Operations, for next Campaign—Most of the Remittances intended for France, from this Continent, are brought into this Port, the west Indies, and other British Ports. so that, if they like to cherish Rebellion, they must pay the piper.

“We are sensible, that the northern Frontiers of South and North Carolina, are full of the Kings Friends, and large Reinforcements, to Genl Provost’s Army in Georgia, expected from those quarters—South Carolina and Charles Town, will probably revolt from the states, if hard press’d—they have a Surfeit of the Tyranny of their new Masters.

“Pray remember me to Monsr Montgolsier and all Friends—The Rebels say the Canadians are disaffected, to the Kings Cause—but I will not believe they are such ignorants as to wish, to change a State of prosperity and Ease, for Anarchy, Ruin and Misery—We expect something from your endeavors this Summer, also from Brant, Butler and their Associates, so that all contributing their Mites, I hope the antient prosperity and Harmony, may be restored to the Empire—Major Holland & Family is at Halifax—He lost his Passage to Canada last fall.” The person supplying this intelligence to McDougall was Elijah Hunter (see McDougall to GW, 22 March).

5The enclosure, marked “No. 2” and found in DLC:GW, is the copy (misdated 1778) of a letter from “N:W:” to “R.E.” written on 13 March 1779, which reads: “I have received your Letter, with my former inclos’d; as my public Endeavors are directed, to a happy and liberal Reunion of this distracted Empire, harbouring neither Rancor nor Malignity in my Heart, I shall be gratefully thankfull, to those who will put any means in my power, towards accomplishing a Restoration of its Peace and Harmony—That of good Intelligence of the Designs and Motions of our Enemies, as well as their Assurances of foreign Connections, is important—and you must have it within your Reach, to be essentially serviceable in these Points. I am sensible you will furnish yourself on your Return, with such substantial and full Information as will satisfy all my Questions, when we meet.

“The Person you are going to, has not I believe the proper Temper of mind, sufficiently divested of ambitious Views, to foresee, the accumulated Miseries, he is heaping upon his Countrymen—nor can I think, his good Sense, will allow him to be so vain, as to believe his state Politicks sufficiently refined, to baffle the Exertions of great Britain and her Allies, or much longer, dupe the Americans, and the fallacious Assurances, that despotick and Tyrannical Measures, are the surest Guides to Liberty—You will oblige me by delivering the inclos’d, as directed—I hold that Gentleman in intimate Friendship, and have not yet divested myself of friendly Esteem towards him.”

6The enclosure marked “Number three” has not been identified.

7McDougall is referring to British peace commissioners whose conciliatory terms did not include recognition of American independence (see Henry Laurens to GW, 18 June 1778, and n.4 to that document, 18 July 1778, and n.3 to that document; and GW to George Clinton, 8 Oct. 1778, and n.4 to that document).

8McDougall wrote John Jay, president of Congress, on this date, introducing “Elijah Hunter whom I suppose you know, as a Friend to the common Cause of America. He goes to Philadelphia on a Matter of importance, which he will communicate to you. It is of a very important and delicate Nature, And I have my Doubts on the Expediency of it’s being divulged to any other Person whatsoever. If it is, there is Danger, that the Object of the Plan will be frustrated. It is already unavoidably into many Hands. The Lives of four Citizens depend on it’s remaining a secret; besides the great Utility intended by the System” (Morris, John Jay: The Making of a Revolutionary description begins Richard B. Morris et al., eds. John Jay: The Making of a Revolutionary. Unpublished Papers, 1745–1780. New York, 1975. description ends , 578–79). Jay’s reply of 28 March seconded McDougall’s call for secrecy (see Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 12:256). For Jay’s confidence in Hunter, see his letter to GW of the same date; see also GW to McDougall, 25 and 28 March.

9The enclosure, found in DLC:GW, is McDougall’s summary of his interview with Elijah Hunter, “who brought out the Originals of the Copies, transmitted herewith—21st March 1779.

“He was closeted by Generals Clinton and Tryons, The Mayor [David Matthews] and William Smith lately sent in from this state.

“The Privateers (15 in Number) are detained for some expedition.

“He was questioned on the State of Provision Vessels in Norwich River Connecticut; and what other Vessels were there.

“No Appearance of the Evacuation of New York.

“He was desired by General Tryon to assure the Link of the Chain to me, to load Vessels with Flour, send it to New York, with a Flag—the Proceeds should be returned to him.

“And that he ought by no means, to come in, or resign, nor refuse any preferment, offered to him, The more Confidence he got, the more he could serve in reuniting the Empire.

“To be sure, to act apparently zealous for America—Not to shake the Confidence of his Countrymen.

“He was to go to Philadelphia, and obtain Intelligence there, and to your Cantonment for the same purpose.

“No particular Questions asked about the Works in the Highlands—but anxious to know, what those are, at Kings Ferry.

“Mr Jay is the person alluded to, in General Tryon’s Letter, ‘pursuing State politicks,’ and Doctor John Jones for whom ‘he had, and still has a Friendship.’

“Good Intelligence by other Hands a Week since—About thirty Sail of Transports, all that were in New York—These ready to take on Board Troops, Sails bent, and Victualed for six Months—Four Regiments ordered to be ready to embark.... some Troops actually embarked.

“I have advis’d Governor Trumbull by Express of their ⟨ap⟩parent Designs for New-London.”

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