George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Jay, 7–9 May 1779

To John Jay

Head Quarters [Middlebrook] May 7[–9]th 1779


I do myself the honor of transmitting to Your Excellency the following Extract of a Letter from General Maxwell of the 5 Instt which I received last night. “My intelligence from the Enemy is, that 4000 Troops chiefly British are embarked for the West Indies or Georgia, though the latter is the most suspected. Generals Vaughan & Leslie are supposed to take the command—they were to embark this day—and the Fleet to sail on their voyage immediately.”

I also transmit an Extract of a Letter of the same date from Lt Colonel Ford on command at Shrewsbury. “Twenty seven square rigged Vessels of the Enemy’s fleet and twelve or fourteen Sloops & Schooners put to sea this Evening—they steered a South East course till they got out of sight—By a person from New York who was a prisoner I am informed, that the report there was, that between 6 & 7000 Troops were embarked—he sailed in company with them from New York to the Watering place—saw a vast number of Light Horse on board and that the fleet was very full of Men—that their destination was a secret the Officers appeared anxious to know—that their conjectures were various about it—some talked of Georgia—some of Maryland—and Others of Rhode Island.[”]

From these several accounts and the particularity with which they are related, there can be no doubt but that a body of Troops have embarked and sailed. What their number is cannot be ascertained, but even according to the lowest estimate, which from a consideration of the Fleet and many other circumstances, I should suppose to be as high as it possibly can be—and to exceed their real amount, it is formidable. I wish the West Indies may be their Object; but from their having Horse and other considerations, it is to be feared their operations will be on our Southern Continent.

Your Excellency will be pleased to receive a Copy of the Report by the Gentlemen appointed on our part to negociate a Cartel for the general exchange of prisoners or an Agreement for a more partial relief.1 I have the Honor to be with great respect & esteem Yr Excellency’s Most Obt servant

Go: Washington

P.S. I have this minute received a Letter from General Schuyler—transmitting Minutes and proceedings in the Enterprize against Onondaga, commanded by Colonel Van scaick. An Extract from the former and a Copy of the latter—Your Excellency will find inclosed.2

Colo. Ford’s account of a Fleet’s sailing out of the Hook is confirmed by Others just come to hand. The latter make the Fleet something larger, and One says, owing to a 64 Gun ship, which had a flag at the Foretop mast head, not getting out, they came to an Anchor in the Evening on the Sea side—and were there yesterday morning at 9 OClock. They also add that Genl Clinton was on board himself, a circumstance mentioned by the person Colonel Ford saw; this however seems very improbable.3

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; two copies (extracts), MdAA; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 10 May and referred it to the Board of War (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 14:566).

2GW received Philip Schuyler’s letter of 27 April on 9 May; see GW to Schuyler, 10 May.

3The new intelligence probably included a letter from Maj. John Conway of the 3d New Jersey Regiment to Tench Tilghman, dated 6 May at “Crow’s ferry, Near Amboy” N.J.: “I was at Middletown yesterday & saw forty sail of the Enemy’s Shiping go out of the Hook between 12 & 2 o’Clock. This fleet consisted of 21 ships, 9 Briggs, 6 schooners & 4 sloops; they came down from the Narrows in the morning, & had been several days waiting for a wind. After they had cleared the Hook, a large Ship (a 64 with a white flag at the foretopmast head) fired a gun, & attempted to go out, bubut cast the wrong way, & it being near low water, she came too again, on which the fleet immediately lay too, & towards evening came to an Anchor without the Hook, where I saw them lying this morning at 9 o’Clock, by which I judge the large ship is an Admiral & they are waiting for him as part of their Convoy. I saw two inhabitants who were carryed off by the Enemy, & permited to return home on Sunday, who informed me that through the interest of their tory relations they were suffered to walk the streets in York, & that they saw a great number of troops embark onboard this fleet, generally said to be six or seven thousand, British, Hessian & the 42 Highlanders, Genl Clinton is embarqued with them, their destination a great secret. some say they were going to Halifax, others to Boston & others to the southward. they have flat bottomed boats with them, & two of their fleet had Horses onboard, the embarquation was very sudden & expeditious, the refugees are in high spirits, their officers are put on the establishment. the men that gave me this information lay at the narrows wind bound, & had a fine opportunity of seeing the fleet, they declare that the soldiers were much crouded onboard the Transports. The celberated Capt. Cunningham is taken & carried into York with eight other priz⟨es⟩ some of which are french. There were several men of War in the fleet that went out yesterday, one of them a two decker with either a flag or broad pendant at the foretopmast head. I had a good glass, & from a hight called garret’s hill had an excellent opportunity of seeing the fleet” (DLC:GW).

GW apparently received another piece of intelligence in the form of a letter from Capt. John Burrowes to Major General Stirling, dated 6 May at “Middletownpoint,” N.J.: “Yesterday come down from the watering place & went out a fleet Consisting of twenty five ships, Seven Briggs two S[c]hooners and twenty Seven Sloops, under Convoy of four Ships of war. A person that was taken when the enemy were over at Middletown, come home night before last. he had the liberty of the town Granted him on account of his being a friend to Goverment.

“he says General Clinton with 7000 Troops are on board of the fleet and going on a secret expedition—how true that may be, I cant tell” (DLC:GW).

Gen. Henry Clinton did not accompany this British expedition, which was bound for Portsmouth, Va.; see William Maxwell to GW, 3 May, n.2.

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