George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Israel Putnam, 28 March 1779

From Major General Israel Putnam

Camp Reading [Redding, Conn.] 28 March. 1779

Dear Sir

By the return of Major Humphrys from New London I am just informed, of the situation of matters in that quarter, & the apprehensions, the inhabitants are under of an immediate attack upon the Fortifications & shipping in the Harbour.1

On Sunday last, a fleet of twenty eight sail of transports appeared off Fishers Island, standing from the Eastward, under convoy of a 50 Gun Ship, and in the Gale of Wind on monday, fourteen of them were stranded on Gardeners Island, in such a manner as gives but little prospect of their being got off—This account is given by Captain Conckling of the Privateer Sloop Eagle, who saw & counted them on tuesday, who also captured a Schooner of the same fleet, which with seven other sails was standing into Sagg Harbour, the remaining six, have not been heard of, since the Storm—The prisoners inform that the abovementioned, were light transports bound from New Port to Sagg Harbour, the object unknown to them—But as there are neither forage, fuel, or provisions there, it is almost certain, the troops at that place were to embark on Board of it—The Renown came to anchor the 24th Inst. of[f] New London Harbour, within three miles off the light House, so as not only effectually to block up a Frigate & two 20 Gun Ships in that Harbour, But also to prevent the two Frigates in Connecticut River from being got out, whether a more serious design, is not formed against them your Excellency will determine for yourself, & in that case whether the disaster their fleet has met with, will only retard or entirely frustrate it.2

The arrival of Sir Harry Clinton at the East end of the Island, the appearance of this fleet, the news that another had entered the Sound by the way of Hell Gate, & the concurring accounts from all quarters that the Enemy were preparing to make a descent on the Coast, induced the Inhabitants to prevail on General Parsons (who was returning by my order to Camp) to reassume the Command there, untill he could hear from me, & also to solicit that a reinforcement might be sent if possible.3

From Lieut. Col. Sherman who is on the advanced Lines, I have likewise intelligence that Worms’ Yagers have embarked, that 61 Sail of Transports lie of[f] White Stone Ferry, & that the inhabitants on Long Island report the Enemy are forming an expedition against New London.4

By a Letter from Lt Col. Gray this Moment recd, I learn that thirty Sail passed the Harbour of Norwalk Yesterday, standing to the Easward, And Major Alden, who arriv’d last evening from Fairfield mentions, that there were a large number of Shipping under the Long Island Shore, as far as the eye could reach.5

We have also a report that a large fleet has been seen on the South Side of Long Island, said by the Enemy to contain a reinforcement from England, but by some of our friends, to be the fleet from Georgia, on its Return to New York.6

In this situation of affairs, I thought it my duty, to dispatch another Express, And so I hope to receive Your Excellencys Commands by the former before this shall reach you, Yet I think in such a critical conjuncture, your directions cannot be too explicit, & I must accordingly most earnestly desire to be inform’d by the return of this bearer, Whether you would have the Troops remain in their present position, or advanced to the Sea Coast, Whether you would have the Detachment at New London withdrawn, continued in their present situation, or reinforced—And in general what plan of operation you would wish me to pursue—For you may rest assured I shall ever receive your Orders with pleasure & execute them with fidelity.7

Since my last Hazen’s Regt has march’d, as has also the first Division of Poors Brigade—The Roads have been & still continue so impassable, that the remainder have not yet moved from this ground.8 I am with great respect Your Excellencys Most Obedient Humble Servant

Israel Putnam


1Maj. David Humphreys had become an aide-de-camp to Putnam in December 1778.

2The Connecticut Gazette: and the Universal Intelligencer (New London) for Thursday, 25 March, reported British naval movements that essentially corroborate Putnam’s account. The British warship Renown carried fifty guns.

Edward Conkling (1745–1779) fled his home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., for Connecticut in 1776 and filed bond for a Continental letter of marque to command the privateer Eagle on 20 Nov. 1778 (see DNA:PCC, item 196). He died in early May 1779 when prisoners from his prizes overpowered his outnumbered crew and went on a murderous rampage (see Connecticut Gazette; and the Universal Intelligencer, 13 May, and Providence Gazette; and Country Journal, 15 May). The Connecticut Gazette; and the Universal Intelligencer for 3 June reported that “the Sloop Eagle, late commanded by the brave but unfortunate Capt. Conkling, was lately blown up at New York by Means of a Boy’s snapping a Pistol among some Powder, which communicated to the Magazine. It is said, that a Number of Persons were in the Vessel at the Time, who lost their Lives, among them the infamous Murphy who murdered Capt. Conkling.”

3For GW’s displeasure with the excessive leaves of Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons, see GW to Putnam, 10 Feb. and 6 March, and n.3 to each of those documents.

The Connecticut Gazette; and the Universal Intelligencer for 25 March described a fleet that had entered Long Island Sound through Hell Gate as “about 20 Sail of Transports” along with “a Number of flat-bottom Boats, several Row-Gallies and Sloops of War.”

4Lt. Col. Isaac Sherman of the 2d Connecticut Regiment apparently provided some inaccurate intelligence because Lt. Col. Ludwig Johann Adolph von Wurmb’s Hessian jägers were then in winter quarters at Flushing, N.Y., and did not resume active operations until late May (see Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 158–60). Wurmb assumed command of the Jäger Corps on 23 July 1777 as a lieutenant colonel, gained a reputation as an able battalion commander, and was promoted to colonel with date of rank 3 Jan. 1778. He formally surrendered the posts at Kings Bridge and McGown’s Pass, N.Y., to the Americans on 21 Nov. 1783 and soon after embarked with his troops from New York City for England.

5The letter from Lt. Col. Ebenezer Gray to Putnam has not been identified. Capt.-Lt. Roger Alden of the 2d Connecticut Regiment was brigade major to Brig. Gen. Jedediah Huntington.

6This British fleet may have been twenty-nine provision ships under convoy of the Romulus that arrived in New York harbor on 26 March after leaving England on 2 Jan. and first stopping in the West Indies (see 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 , 260–61).

7GW advised Putnam on troop dispositions in Connecticut in letters of 27 March and 1 April. For the British decision in early April to abandon plans for an attack on New London, see William Maxwell to GW, 25 March, n.2.

8For the movements of Col. Moses Hazen’s 2d Canadian Regiment and troops from Brig. Gen. Enoch Poor’s brigade, see GW to Putnam, 6 March, and notes 1 and 2 to that document, and Putnam to GW, 22 March (first letter), and n.1 to that document.

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